The Flyer: British Culture and the Royal Air Force 1939-1945

Susan Pedersen writes:

Francis is interested in exploring the image and allure of the blue-clad ‘fly-boys’, but he also situates it within a more complex reality. Flyers – and especially fighter pilots – dominated the popular mind, but they were always a tiny minority of the Royal Air Force, more than four-fifths of whom were support staff and never left the ground. Moreover, of the 17 per cent who flew, the vast majority were air crew in Bomber Command, not the solitary ace in a Spitfire. Flying personnel were also extremely polyglot, with contingents of Czech and Polish pilots incorporated early in the war, and almost half of the air crew was recruited from the Dominions. These quintessential English heroes – the Rupert Brookes of the Second World War – often came from Sydney, Salisbury or Prague.

(LRB 25 February 2010)

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