Exploits of WW1 'Boy's Own' flying ace emerge
Some of the things that went on over the skies of France and Belgium throughout the war were deeply astonishing if the accounts in the various books in my collection are anything to go by. Johns himself was at pains to point out that aerial warfare during the Great War really was "stranger than fiction" and some of the stories he touches upon in the preface of his very first Biggles book The Camels Are Coming - not to mention some of the true-to-life adventures our hero gets caught up in - really do defy belief. Therefore to read about the real-life experiences of Major Robert Loraine is to be reminded that they are no exaggeration and that war-flying one hundred years ago was genuinely hair-raising stuff!
Major Robert Loraine, RFC
Loraine was ahead of the charge by all accounts, though, and it is heartening to see that his pioneering achievements all came before the war and were peaceful in nature. We also now know who to thank for the term "joystick", although it still isn't clear how the word came to be derived (and there are still other claims for the origin of this word). His war service, as already mentioned, was hugely heroic too and I'm glad to see he came out of it all right - and on to the London stage (& screen) of all places!
How daredevil British pilot 'buzzed' the Kaiser
The second series of recollections, committed to paper some forty years after they occurred (just weeks before the outbreak of hostilities) but unseen until now, read even more like the most humorous "Biggles" stories. A very cheeky chappie, the wonderfully-named Eric Gordon England sounded!
Eric Gordon England in 1913
The relaxed feelings of peacefulness and prosperity that so characterised the "golden summer" of 1914 in England can be readily felt through this story, I think. Not only by the actions of Gordon England in so comprehensively teasing the Germans both in the air and on the ground but also the sheer fact that Britain was still keen to provide aircraft to what would in barely a month's time be its most hated enemy. (I don't know if those of you in the UK managed to catch the excellent three-part drama 37 Days on B.B.C. Two earlier this year but to my mind that did a fantastic job of showing how quickly and ridiculously the whole run-up to war unfolded.)
The unearthing of these kinds of fantastic tales is one of the best aspects of the increased interest in the First World War as a result of the centenary. They serve to remind us of the human acts of courage and good old-fashioned derring-do that took place amid the carnage and decimation of 1914-18 and it is as excellent as ever to see them rediscovered for a new generation. Now I'm off to re-read some of my Biggles books, and maybe some more new accounts by the real airmen who inspired his creation!