Aloha Wanderwell | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Aloha Wanderwell

Aloha Wanderwell, adventurer (b Idris Hall at Winnipeg 13 October 1906; d at Newport Beach, California 4 June 1996). Aloha Wanderwell was the daughter of British Army reservist Herbert Hall, an extremely prosperous Vancouver Island rancher and developer.

Aloha Wanderwell

Aloha Wanderwell, adventurer (b Idris Hall at Winnipeg 13 October 1906; d at Newport Beach, California 4 June 1996). Aloha Wanderwell was the daughter of British Army reservist Herbert Hall, an extremely prosperous Vancouver Island rancher and developer. Aloha spent much of her childhood in Parksville and Duncan. Her father joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force in 1914, and in England accepted a commission as lieutenant in the Durham Light Infantry, a unit raised not far from Tickhill, Yorkshire, where he grew up.

Her mother, Margaret Headley Hall, took Idris and her younger daughter, Margaret, to England and later to Belgium and France, where they lived in comfort behind the lines to be closer to Herbert. Idris was tall for her age and was something of a scamp. She devoured boys' books and dreamed of travel and adventure in contrast to most other young girls of her generation. She admitted years later that had she been born a boy, she might have joined the navy.

After Herbert was killed in action at Ypres in June 1917, Margaret (presumably to curb her elder daughter's "tomboy" tendencies) enrolled Idris in the Benedictine Soeurs du Saint-Sacrement school in Courtrai, Belgium, and later at the Chateau Neuf in Nice, a private school run by two elderly ladies with, as she described them, "ardent royalist sentiments." Idris bided her time there, enduring the harsh, character-building discipline until 1924 when she fled to Paris to seek new opportunities for a young woman with ambition. As a result of a recruitment campaign, she was hired as secretary and driver for an around-the-world expedition headed by "Captain" Walter Wanderwell, who immediately changed the name of his new employee from Idris Hall to Aloha Wanderwell. The captain (b Valerian Johannes Pieczynski at Thurn, Poland in 1897) had no military rank and had changed his own name to one that Americans could more easily spell and pronounce.

Walter Wanderwell had started out as a seafarer before becoming a world-class hiker and traveller, and later was jailed as a spy during the war. On his release he married Nell Miller, born near Seattle, and began to develop a new international organization called the Work Around the World Educational Club for International Police (WAWEC), designed to promote the survival of the shaky, fledgling League of Nations through "Law, not war." In effect, it was a burgeoning private army (and potential subversive front outfit) with extremely strict discipline, which by the time Aloha joined it, had the full attention of the ambitious J. Edgar Hoover of the Bureau of Investigation (later the FBI).

In 1922 Nell and Walter led 2 competing 4-person teams on world-girdling expeditions in Ford armoured cars, ostensibly to see which team would log the most miles. The expeditions were funded by the sale of leaflets and souvenir cards, paid speaking engagements and the showing of films they shot and developed en route. Correspondence in various sources indicates they may also have had substantial financial and logistical support from Henry Ford, the Vacuum Oil Company (later Mobil Oil, part of the Standard Oil group), and other agencies eager to capitalize on the expeditions' advertising potential. At some point, Walter claimed Aloha (who was on his team) as his adopted sister, then abandoned and divorced Nell. US authorities entered the picture owing to possible Mann Act (transporting women across state lines for immoral purposes) infractions. On 7 April 1925, Walter and Aloha, age 29 and 18 respectively, were married in Los Angeles. They made a curious couple. Walter was 1.7 m (5'6") in height, and Aloha a full 1.8 m (6') tall with honey-blonde hair.

Tales of Aloha's exploits accumulated. Cartoonist and author Ben Dave "Stookie" Allen maintained that at one point Aloha cut her hair and, masquerading as a man, became one of the few women to serve successfully in the French Foreign Legion in its bloody Riffian campaign of the mid-1920s. Legonnaires are not easily fooled, and she was soon unmasked. In any case she was in at least one fire-fight with Arab irregulars during a crossing of the Sahara. Rachel Crowdy, a noted internationalist, reported seeing Aloha, dressed as a cowgirl, driving through Geneva perched on an armoured car and waving to the crowds. Aloha and Walter had two children, Nile and Valerie, born respectively in Capetown and Miami, the latter being WAWEC Headquarters.

Aloha and Walter carried on with their travels, making movies, selling various publications and getting into and out of all manner of scrapes. In China, captured by bandits, Aloha was only released when she taught them to set up and fire machine guns. She met Frank ("One-Arm") Sutton, the British soldier of fortune who ran the arsenal of the old warlord Marshall Chang Tso-Lin. In Hollywood, Aloha and Walter socialized with, among others, filmmaker and actor Douglas Fairbanks and his Canadian-born wife and fellow film legend Mary Pickford (Gladys Smith), who along with D.W. Griffith and Charlie Chaplin founded United Artists. Walter was nonetheless something of a nuisance to local authorities with his habit of impersonating military officers and his history of upsetting missionaries through his alleged communist subversive activities during the couple's travels. There were also accusations of fraud and perjury, not to mention Walter's constant misadventures involving other women.

In 1932 Walter acquired a questionably seaworthy decommissioned rum runner, the Carma, at auction in order that he and Aloha could take a group to the South Seas to make motion pictures. On the night of 5 Dec 1932, when the Carma lay at anchor in Long Beach Harbour being outfitted while Aloha made last-minute film deals up in Hollywood, someone crept into Walter's cabin and shot him in the back. Although two individuals were apprehended, no one was ever convicted of the crime. The suspects were Edward Eugene Fernando Montagu, remittance-man and second son of the Duke of Manchester, and William James ("Curly") Guy, a Welsh soldier of fortune who later flew for Haile Selassie against the Italians. Aloha was reported as being rather too friendly to Guy during the trial, given that he was her husband's accused murderer. Both men were under the close scrutiny of J. Edgar Hoover and his FBI investigators, and Guy was later deported.

Aloha carried on with various expeditions following Walter's death, learned to fly a float plane and participated in the search for the lost Percy Fawcett Expedition in Brazil, but never found the intrepid Fawcett nor his two companions. Her plane went down in the jungle near the Rio des Mortes, the River of Death, and she lived with a native tribe for several months until a rescue operation could be mounted. On 26 Dec 1933 she married Walter Baker, a former cameraman with WAWEC, 8 years her junior, in a simple ceremony in Gretna, Louisiana, just across the Mississippi delta from New Orleans. On one further adventure, the Carma, assigned by the courts to her young daughter, Valerie, and with Aloha's sister, Margaret aboard, went aground in Mexico and was abandoned.

Aloha carried on for a few years promoting hers and the late Walter's internationalist views, making several visits to Canada, and she and the second Walter settled in Cincinnati, where she took on various jobs in print and broadcast journalism.

Aloha and Walter finally moved to a gated community in California, where they both died. Upon her death, Aloha's ashes were buried at sea by the Neptune Society under the direction of her son, Nile.

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