Avon Dale Babb – Mystery Revealed

Back in May I published a story about Avon Dale Babb. There was a mysterious war medal that was sitting on the photo that was in turn photographed. At the time of the post, I had no idea what branch of service it belonged. I just could see the Crown atop the medal and theorized it came from England.

One of his descendants has reached out to give the Medal some context. As I researched their story, I began to find so much more about Avon Dale Babb and gained a new perspective on his life that I’d like to share here.

The family story is short but gives additional context to his life. “The biplane he is standing in front of in the photo is the same one he used to fly to Canada to enlist in the Royal Canadian Army. He was just 14 years old when he flew up there and the entry age was 15.” This would mean that he had to lie about his age to enlist.

I figured that if a 14-year-old could fly a plane then he could just as well have lied about his age too. So, I set about trying to find a corresponding paper trail.

The first fact that I didn’t know is that he was born as Avon Babb and later had his name formally changed to Avon Dale Babb because he liked the sound of it. The Delayed Birth Certificate below contains a statement to such effect just above the seal imprint. The record claims that he made this change in 1912, however we will see in a moment that the real date was earlier.

Delayed Birth Certificate – Avon Dale Babb

Avon was born on 19 Aug 1895, so he would have been 14 in 1909. But before we get to that, his guardianship was handled 21 Feb 1902. There is no one in the family by the name of Louis. I believe this is a misprint and should read Louisa, who is his mother.

Andrew Jackson Babb – Guardianship of Byrd, Clay and Avon

We find him next in the 1910 Census where he is already going by the name Avon D. Babb. He is with his mother and siblings at this time and is 15 years old.

Between 1911 and 1915 there is a good series of articles that talk about his days in High School. In 1911 he passes his 8th Grade Exams and is headed to High School. The article brags about the large number of students who will be joining him. In 1912 he attends Irving High School. In 1915 he is a cast member in the school play and ends up graduating 2nd in his class. Spoiler alert, there were only 2 graduates that year. Yet he gives Graduation Orations (a formal speech) at the Commencement titled “War Lords”.

Military Career

Avon’s military career starts in 1917, during what would become the late stages of WWI, when he is listed as a member of the Aviation Corps of San Diego.

He finally makes his way to the Canadian Royal Flying Corps in Deseronto, Canada (about halfway between Toronto and Ottawa).

27 Sep 1917

Avon did see combat during his service having made what looks to be at least two trips to the front.

His first trip left 31 Jan 1918 aboard a military transport ship simply titled “501” leaving NY, NY. While serving in France, he writes to his mother and the account is covered in the newspaper. We don’t have the letter he wrote, but the account helps display his character and mood.

09 Jun 1918

He second trip is recorded on a cryptic passenger list that doesn’t include the year. However, given his dates of service it could have only been 25 Aug 1918. This time he is aboard the SS Philadelphia. This is not to be confused with the USS Philadelphia which sailed in WWII.

SS Philadelphia (aka SS Paris) circa 1890
By Johnston, John S., photographer for the Detroit Publishing Company – Library of Congress, Public Domain

WWI officially ends on 11 Nov 1918 and the final transport home on 14 Jul 1919 shows that the trip purpose was casual, meaning that it was not part of a military operation. They were aboard the USS Missouri. The Missouri would be sold for scrap less than 2 years later.

USS Missouri in 1912

Avon would receive an honorable discharge which he filed with the County Clerk in his hometown on 26 Aug 1919. He would go on to become a respected member of society throughout the rest of his life. I’ll let the story tell itself from here on out.

While there isn’t evidence to support the idea that he flew to Canada at the age of 14, we can say for certain that he made that journey in 1917 at the age of 22. Armed with that information, it seems likely that this photo is of him taken at about that time when he first took to the skies!

I hope you’ve enjoyed the transport back in time.

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