This review is from: No Empty Chairs: The Short and Heroic Lives of the Young Aviators Who Fought and Died in the First World War (Kindle Edition)
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. On the technical side, he makes his in-depth knowledge and meticulous research accessible to the non-expert. The book includes numerous powerful photographs, showing this new technology in action, in addition to the men who flew it.
Mackersey's exploration of what they went through is as unflinching as it is compassionate. The popular, romanticised depiction of the flying ace is a great untruth, an untruth which the author deftly exposes. Over two-thirds of all pilots and observers died in training accidents at flying schools. If they did survive, these terrified, traumatised young men took off daily to face frightening battles in the air. Death was usually to go down in flames, the `flamerinoes', which survivors repeatedly witnessed. But they had to climb back into their planes and face it again the next day. Most only survived a number of weeks.
Mackersey digs deep into the associated psychological trauma suffered by those who flew. He presents their hell in their own words, with their diaries and letters home. We recognise today the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, with accounts of men crying, stuttering, having nightmares, undergoing dramatic mood changes and drinking too much. Even Germany's infamous Red Baron, Manfred Von Richthofen, was probably affected.
No-one can give these men back their lives. But Mackersey's thoughtful, engaging book serves as a noble tribute. Highly recommended.
Note: I received a free review copy of this book via the Historical Novel Society. This review (or an edited version) has appeared in the Historical Novels Review