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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 Kindle Edition
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Top customer reviews
Ordinary people that managed extra ordinary things at the birth of the aerial combat.
You feel their loss, through the excellent writing of the author.
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
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. But there are good things - the chapter on bereavement is unusual as is the discussion of Billy Bishop's fraudulent victory claims. The revelation about Albert Ball's womanising was new, but perhaps not a surprise for a fighter pilot, and I was interested to learn that `High Cockalorum' was only banned in the 1950's.
This is not a book for the WW1 aviation aficionado who will have read the books on which it is based but should serve as a starting point for beginners. On the other hand you could get the First of the Few by Denis Winter and Ralph Barker's History of the RFC which do a better job in my view.
As is usual these days, the publishers have not bothered to get an editor who knew the subject. Had they done so, this could have been a much better book.
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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