The Marvel and Horrors of Flight

The development of flight during the First World War could be awe-inspiring, as seen here – Bristol F.2B Fighter aircraft of No. 139 Squadron, R.A.F crossing the Italian Alps in 1918. Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/ PA-006343.

Last week we began discussing the impression that aerial combat had on those watching from below in the trenches. Although last week’s account ended in a chorus of cheers, these outcomes were sadly few and far in-between. Today we go back to the memoirs of Canadian Sniper Frank S. Iriam:

“It was cruel to see the way the red devils shoot them to pieces sending them down in flames every day. Our airmen were a game lot continuing to face the enemy with obsolete contraptions… The fuselage of these old buses stuck out some distance in front of the wings. I have seen our airman standing on the forward nose while the bus was plunging through space in flames. They climbed out on the nose to get as far as possible from the flames in a forlorn hope that they might chance to reach earth before the wings burned off or the tank exploded. Usually, they were driven to jumping into space to escape the fierce heat or were thrown off when the plane turned over in its death plunge… spinning end-over-end like a wheel in mid-air… It was a heart-rendering thing to see and not be able to render any assistance… our airmen face back and give battle again in these old coffins after seeing what had happened to their comrades a minute before, fully knowing they would meet a like fate… Could human courage go any further?” (Glenn R. Iriam, In The Trenches 1914-1918, p. 197).

The helpless inability to assist their airmen weighed heavily on those in the trenches. Depicted here is the “wreckage of a RFC aeroplane lying in no man’s land in front of a trench in the La Bassee Sector held on 15th March 1918 by the 7th Battalion, Liverpool Regiment (55th Division)”. © IWM (Q 11564)