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No Empty Chairs: The Short and Heroic Lives of the Young Aviators Who Fought and Died in the First World War [Paperback]

Ian Mackersey
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
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Book Description

3 Oct 2013

The empty chairs belonged, all too briefly, to the doomed young First World War airmen who failed to return from the terrifying daily aerial combats above the trenches of the Western Front. The edict of their commander-in-chief was the missing aviators were to be immediately replaced. Before the new faces could arrive, the departed men's vacant seats at the squadron dinner table were sometimes poignantly occupied by their caps and boots, placed there in a sad ritual by their surviving colleagues as they drank to their memory.

Life for most of the pilots of the Royal Flying Corps was appallingly short. If they graduated alive and unmaimed from the flying training that killed more than half of them before they reached the front line, only a few would for very long survive the daily battles they fought over the ravaged moonscape of no-man's-land. Their average life expectancy at the height of the war was measured only in weeks. Parachutes that began to save their German enemies were denied them.

Fear of incarceration, and the daily spectacle of watching close colleagues die in burning aircraft, took a devastating toll on the nerves of the world's first fighter pilots. Many became mentally ill. As they waited for death, or with luck the survivable wound that would send them back to 'Blighty', they poured their emotions into their diaries and streams of letters to their loved ones at home.

Drawing on these remarkable testimonies and pilots' memoirs, Ian Mackersey has brilliantly reconstructed the First Great Air War through the lives of its participants. As they waited to die, the men shared their loneliness, their fears, triumphs - and squadron gossip - with the families who lived in daily dread of the knock on the door that would bring the War Office telegram in its fateful green envelope.


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No Empty Chairs: The Short and Heroic Lives of the Young Aviators Who Fought and Died in the First World War + Open Cockpit + No Parachute: A Classic Account of War in the Air in WWI
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Product details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Phoenix (3 Oct 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0753828138
  • ISBN-13: 978-0753828137
  • Product Dimensions: 19 x 13 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 37,501 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

This moving book uses letters and diaries to evoke the terrible cost of such warfare...Sleepless nights, separated lovers and grieving parents are recalled with painful immediacy in this meticulously researched tribute to those who died or were lucky enough to survive. (SALLY MORRIS DAILY MAIL)

Book Description

The 1914-18 conflict narrated through the voices of the men whose combat was in the air.

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Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
4.8 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Could have been better 14 Mar 2013
Format:Hardcover
This is a sprawling, amorphous book which tries to do two things at once and does not quite succeed at either. The title suggests that this is a book on how WW1 fliers lived and died, but it isn't, or at least only partly. Much of the book is a history of the RFC/RAF on the Western Front, but an incomplete one, as it hasn't a great deal on the last year of the war. Much is left out and other matters are treated at disproportionate length. It is almost as though the author started with the idea of a social history of British fliers and then, as his research progressed, started to add chapters and background material that had little to do with his original objective. As a result Trenchard gets a disproportionate amount of attention based on Boyle's uncritical biography, there are two chapters on Mannock, a book of letters between pilot and wife rates a whole chapter, and two bereaved mothers get another. The Germans appear in Zeppelins, Gothas and in the shape of the Richtofen brothers. Elliot White Spring's book gets a chapter to itself as does the death of Richtofen. Some aeroplanes are studied in detail, others do not appear. The chapter on bravery deals with just two VC winners.
For a book that aims to cover all aviators not many are mentioned. Practically every chapter is based on a previously published work. This is a pity as it appears from the acknowledgements that Mackersey has done plenty of research, but not much shows up in the book, which is heavily reliant on a few books such as `Sagittarius Rising'.
There are minor quibbles. The front cover is a picture of a mess in Italy - which is never mentioned. A photograph of a dogfight is not described as the fake it is.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars No Empty Chairs 29 May 2012
Format:Hardcover
Ian Mackersey is a documentary film maker and an aviation writer of repute, whose books include the acclaimed biographies of the pioneer aviator Jean Batten, the great record breaking Australian pilot, Charles Kingsford Smith, and the Wright brothers. No Empty Chairs is his first book to deal with the aviators of the First World War and is a rare book, in that it is of interest not only to the general reader without a specialised knowledge of the subject, but also to those people who have studied the Great War and the part played in that conflict by the Royal Flying Corps, later the Royal Air Force.
The book is divided into thirty-one chapters, covering such diverse subjects as the proliferation of public schoolboys as commissioned pilots; flying training; the Fokker scourge; the raids by both Zeppelins and aircraft on Britain; Bloody April; the Bishop controversy; the death of Richthofen; the role played by Trenchard, etc.
Each chapter deals with an aspect of the RFC and RAF, from the early days to the end of the war, but collectively gives an excellent overall picture of the development of the RFC and RAF, putting the air war in context with the fighting on the ground, detailing the part played by the British air services in each of the main battles.
In the literature of the air war, the essential and all-important work of the two-seater crews of the reconnaissance and artillery spotting aeroplanes is all too often overshadowed by the more colourful, and wrongly perceived, glamour of the part played by the fighter pilots. The author has corrected this and has successfully detailed the part played by both.
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5.0 out of 5 stars No Empty Chairs 17 July 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
"No Empty Chairs" is an excellent personal history of those who fought in the air war during World War One. The author makes the point at the begining that he is not attempting to tell the whole history of that conflict so much as tell the stories of the individual pilots involved. In this he succeeds admirably.

I have read many books on the RFC but few which show the emotional and human aspects as well as this one. Numerous quotes from letters and diaries are used to describe the experiences of the pilots in their own words. In addition the book covers all the major aspects of the conflict in roughly chronological order, showing how the planes and tactics developed and discussing the effects of the war on individuals and families. The text mainly focuses on the RFC (there is little mention of the French air force), but it does also tell the story of the German airmen and shows how both sides suffered in similar ways.

This is an excellent book for anyone wanting to know what it was like to be a pilot in WWI, an experience every bit as traumatic as fighting in the trenches. Even if you have read other books on the air war this one gives a much more personal and sympathetic account then most histories. Highly reccomended.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
I picked this book up in my local library and just could not put it down.

For anybody interested reading about the experiences of the young airmen on both sides of the conflict in the First World war, this is the book to read.

In the past I have read many books on warfare topics and have to say this is one of the best researched. Its written in an easy to read flowing style that almost puts you there with them. The whole book was thoroughly enjoyable and unlike a lot of historical books it's well structured, doesn't get too bogged down in the fine detail and keeps you wanting to read more. I enjoyed every chapter, but especially liked the piece in Chapter 26 on Roy Brown and the relationship with his close friend Stearne Edwards and the mental pressures those young men had to endure. It brings home to you the human side of those bright young men, many just out of school or university, wrestling with those "old string bags", having been thrown into the deep end with little or no support or formal training.

I was so impressed with this book that for the first time in my life I just had to write to the author, just to complement him on such an excellent book.

Highly recommended - five stars.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Excellent WWI Book
Published 14 days ago by C R Cottingham
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Excellent value and provides a greater insight into the dangers airmen incurred during the first world war
Published 17 days ago by R WHEELHOUSE
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book. Despite being a historical tome it lives ...
Excellent book. Despite being a historical tome it lives and breathes by capturing the feelings and challenges of the protagonists.
Published 19 days ago by John Beynon
5.0 out of 5 stars through the excellent writing of the author
I have read quite a lot of books over the year on aviation WW1, and certainly prefer those that look at the people. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Sue
5.0 out of 5 stars We must remember them!
Shocking waste of young lives! Such bungling!
Published 1 month ago by NorthWalesSaint
5.0 out of 5 stars No Empty Chairs;short review,nuff said!
An excellently researched book and so very well delivered chronologically!
A must read!
I have read 25+ books recently on this subject and this could very well be the... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Ian Stewart Morris
4.0 out of 5 stars War at its best and it's worse.
I was amazed to read just how desperate it was for the pilots in the Great War. How so many of them managed to keep themselves sane in the circumstances is a major miracle. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Fozz
5.0 out of 5 stars great book
Fantastic book one of the very best book that I have read on this subject very awe inspiring. What a book
Published 4 months ago by adger
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful Book
WWI aviation is not a historical topic with which I am overly familiar but I was riveted by Mackersey's account from the first page. Read more
Published 10 months ago by E.M. Powell
5.0 out of 5 stars a good book
My father was a. RFC WWI. fighter pilot captain A.L Monger. Who died in 1961. Cancer of the throat. It was good to read what my father went through E A Monger (son)
Published 12 months ago by E. A. Monger
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