Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Death at Christmas

Richard Nelville Hall graduated from Dartmouth on June 23, 1915. Six months later he was dead, the first Dartmouth man to perish in World War I, the Great War. By all accounts, he was a fine young man, greatly beloved by all who knew him. Born into an academic family in Ann Arbor, Michigan (where his childhood home still stands), he matriculated at the University of Michigan, then transferred to Dartmouth at the beginning of his sophomore year. His older brother, Louis, was a member of the Class of 1911.

Immediately upon graduation, Dick Hall volunteered to serve as a driver in the Dartmouth Ambulance Corps in France, which was part of the American Field Service Ambulance Corps. Keep in mind the fact that the United States did not officially enter the war until April 1917, so Hall’s service was that of a non-combatant and humanitarian. Nevertheless, he faced great danger and peril every day, and his courage and valor were legion.

Photographic portrait of Dick HallLate on the night of December 24, 1915, or in the early hours of December 25 (reports vary), a stray German shell hit the ambulance Hall was driving in the Vosges mountain range in eastern France, where fierce trench fighting was raging. He was killed instantly, and his body discovered several hours later in the ruined hulk of his ambulance. He is buried in the French Military Cemetery at Moosch, Alsace-Lorraine.

Edward Tuck, Class of 1862, that great benefactor of Dartmouth and ardent Francophile, paid for a fine memorial to Hall which may be seen just inside the west door of Baker Library on the lower level.

Photograph of Hall on Dartmouth CampusRauner Special Collections Library holds several highly evocative relics of Hall’s life and death, including the rusted casing of the shell that took his life, and the Red Cross insignia from the side of his ambulance. These were given to the College by his parents. Ask at the Rauner reference desk to see these items, or his alumnus file, which is unusually large and detailed for one whose life was so short.

Requiescat in pace, son of Dartmouth. On this, the centenary of your young death, we acclaim you, we honor you, and we remember you.