Vernon and Irene Castle - World War I: Vernon's Death

World War I: Vernon's Death

Vernon returned to the UK to become a pilot in the Royal Flying Corps during World War I. Flying over the Western Front, he shot down two aircraft and was awarded the Croix de Guerre in 1917. He was posted to Canada to train new pilots, and then promoted to Captain and posted to the U.S. to train American pilots.

While he was away, late in 1917 Irene appeared in a star-studded revue, Miss 1917. Although she was singled out for praise by reviewers, she was unhappy performing on stage without her husband: "I found myself hopelessly lost as a solo number. I had no training for dancing alone and I should never have tried it." Though successful with critics, the revue failed to attract an audience; at least not enough of one to pay for the lavish production. Castle's specialty song was challenged on copyright grounds, and management cut it. In addition, her business was scheduled for late in the evening, around 10:30, and she found it difficult to perform so late and then do film work during the day. As the show failed, she and others were let go by the producers. She later sued successfully, but by then the production company was bankrupt. For the rest of 1917, she made fashionable and successful appearances on behalf of the war effort.

On 15 February 1918, on a peaceful flying field at Benbrook Field, near Fort Worth, Texas, Vernon took emergency action shortly after takeoff to avoid a collision with another aircraft. His plane stalled, and he was unable to recover control in time before the plane hit the ground. Vernon was the only casualty. He died soon after the crash, on 15 February 1918(1918-02-15) (aged 30). Irene paid tribute to Vernon in her memoir My Husband, 1919. There is a street in Benbrook, Texas, named in his honor, and placed on the street is a monument dedicated to him. Vernon was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, New York. The grieving memorial figure on his grave was designed by Irene Castle's friend, the American sculptor Sally James Farnham (1869–1943).

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