This is a rewarding read and it debunks a few myths in the process. The subject was an adventurer, not uncommon in Victorian and Edwardian Britain. One of the great misconceptions of the air war on the Western Front during the Great War is that pilots were all spotty youths, fresh from school and unlikely to survive more than a few days. This book reads more like a 39 Steps era novel. Excellent account of an extraordinary individual.
NAME: from Colonial Warrior to Western Front Flyer, The Five Wars of Sydney Herbert Bywater Harris
AUTHOR: Carole McEntee-Taylor
PUBLISHER: Pen & Sword
BINDING: hard back
GENRE: Non Fiction
SUBJECT: WWI, First World War, World War One, US 6th Cavalry, Klondike,, Boxer Rebellion,Philippines Insurrection, Royal Flying Corps, Spanish Civil War, RAFVR
DESCRIPTION: This is a rewarding read and it debunks a few myths in the process. The subject was an adventurer, not uncommon in Victorian and Edwardian Britain. One of the great misconceptions of the air war on the Western Front during the Great War is that pilots were all spotty youths, fresh from school and unlikely to survive more than a few days. This book reads more like a 39 Steps era novel. Excellent account of an extraordinary individual.
The RNAS had many mature pilots, partly because of the innovative flying training program begun by the Royal Navy in 1911. Most of the RNAS pilots in the pre-WWI period were full Lieutenants from the Royal Navy and similar ranked officers from the Royal Marines Light Infantry and the Royal Marines Artillery. By 1914, they were already in their late 20s or older. Even after the massive expansion of British Forces after August 1914, the Royal Navy continued to train a higher proportion of mature officers as pilots and navigators because it was intended that they would have broad naval knowledge and experience. One source of recruits was from Coastal Forces where many torpedo boat skippers transferred to the RNAS and went on to be transferred into the RAF in 1918, when it was formed, and on through the peacetime service to fly in WWII.
The RFC was somewhat different and did include a great many very young and inexperienced pilots straight from school or college. These youngsters were the basis of a widespread belief that the RFC was almost entirely staffed by schoolboy pilots. The reality was that the RFC also included pilots who were older and had a great varied experience. The subject of this book is not unique but is perhaps unusual. The RFC had a number of challenges that the RNAS did not face. The RN had, for hundreds of years, been at the technological forefront in every generation. Naval officers had to sit exams and learn about the technology on which their ships depended and pioneered. The Army was composed of Regiments and Corps that enjoyed some autonomy and it was not long since Cardwell’s Army Reforms stopped the practice of buying commissions. Even then there were creative ways around the reforms and ‘established’ Regiments took in cadets who were placed in harms way to justify the award of a field commission.
Most of the Army in 1914 still regraded aeroplanes as nasty noisy smelly things that frightened the horses. Pilots were often regarded as chauffeurs and that encouraged the Army to think of placing an officer in the back seat to be ‘driven’ around by an NCO, as he would be on land. That all began to change after 1914 and to demand for pilots led to the recruitment of very young newly minted 2nd Lieutenants.
The more unusual and mature recruits had already served Britain, or some other country, in one of the many small wars that flared up around the world before 1914. What they mostly had in common was a love of adventure. Where today a ‘gap year’ student might back-pack around the Pacific, the Edwardian adventurers went on gold rushes, whaling, sheep or cattle farming and ended up in civil wars, insurrections and larger, but still minor wars in China, India, Africa, or the Americas.
The author has traced the progress of one of theses adventurers. The style is comfortable and mobile. There is something of the novel in the range of experiences and emotions. There are also many well-chosen images to support the text and these provide a number of fresh insights. A good story, well-told.