Images of War - Royal Flying Corps
Rare Photographs from Wartime Archives
By Alistair Smith
Pen and Sword (www.pen-and-sword.co.uk)
RRP GBP £14.99
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This is another interesting and well-presented book in the Images of War series. It combines an expert narrative with the display of numerous period photographs. No doubt any historian, student or interested party of the First World War will know that the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) was the forerunner of today’s Royal Air Force (RAF). This book charts the history of the RFC / RAF especially during its formative years.
The RFC was formed in April 1912 and it had a naval and military wing. From its outset the navy and military had differing requirements and this caused many problems. Soon after its formation the First World War started and the RFC was operationally deployed. It saw enormous growth over an incredibly short period and aircraft were then very new inventions. However many nations had seen the merits of aircraft in a combat role.
The archive photos in this volume have been sourced from four different photo albums. They all belong to men who served in the RFC. The first is focused on Tangmere (near Chichester, West Sussex) which is home to the Tangmere Military Aviation Museum and this base is well known for its role in the Battle of Britain (during World War 2). It was founded in 1917 and was used until 1918 as a training base for the RFC. After 1918 it became a training centre for American pilots and they used it until November 1918. For the next seven years it was mothballed until it was reopened by the Fleet Air Arm in 1925.
The second album was owned by an RFC serviceman who trained in Canada. The Canadian training mission was split into three stations and each became incredibly important in training officers and other ranks. This album illustrates how dangerous flying was in this era. They were safe from enemy action but there were numerous crashes and deaths. Indeed there were around 130 fatal crashes in the Canadian training mission and this album gives an insight into some of these accidents.
The next album is attributed to a Flight Lieutenant W Richards. This is the most extensive album in this collection. He became involved with the RFC in 1917 and they are many pictures of his training and numerous crashed / wrecked aircraft.
The final set of photographs consists of a series concerning flight in and around the River Couch in Essex. This area has a strong aeronautical history and the album amply illustrates this fact.
Overall this is a very interesting and entertaining book. All the photos are from the period and the vast majority have reproduced very well. Only a few have suffered the effects of sepia / bleaching / ageing etc. and they produce a very effective insight into the RFC and its operations. This set of albums is remarkable and the book achieves its objective by giving a photographic illustration of the RFC.