‘Through Adversity to the Stars’. Royal Flying Corps mechanics at work, 1915.
For every pilot soaring above the trenches, numerous mechanics would be beavering away in the background to keep the planes aloft, and some paid the ultimate price, more often than not through enemy bombing, I would imagine, the number of air raids from both sides increasing as aircraft design, bomb capacity and range improved as the war progressed. Most of the men pictured in this post were air mechanics, and some of them were among those injured or wounded during the war.
The Royal Flying Corps came into being on 13th April 1912 – two days before the Titanic disaster, by the way, but you knew that – when King George V accepted the recommendations of the Committee of Imperial Defence that a flying corps consisting of military & naval wings, a flying school and an aircraft factory, should be established. However, the R.F.C. was not the first flying unit of the British Army, because the A.B.R.E. preceded it. Did you know that, I wonder?
What, pray tell, was the A.B.R.E.? In 1888 the British Army set up a training & test centre for experiments with airships & balloons. Known as the School of Ballooning, and later the Balloon Factory (and from 1912 the Royal Aircraft Factory), in 1911 a section of the Factory became the Air Battalion Royal Engineers, and it was the A.B.R.E. that was the first unit of the British Army to attempt to explore the skies with heavier-than-air machines. Interestingly, although officers could come from any branch of the service, other ranks were exclusively taken from the Royal Engineers. The A.B.R.E would become part of the R.F.C. on its formation in 1912, which by the end of the year was operating thirty six aeroplanes, as well as a number of balloons. On 1st July 1914 the Royal Navy formally separated the naval wing of the R.F.C. and the Royal Naval Air Service was created, and on 1st April 1918 the R.F.C. & the R.N.A.S. were once again amalgamated, with the creation of the Royal Air Force.
It is actually quite difficult to establish exactly how many men of the R.F.C., R.N.A.S. & R.A.F. were killed during the war. Figures of 6,166 killed, 7,245 wounded and 3,212 missing crop up quite frequently, although if you search the CWGC database you will find a figure of 10,358 U.K. air force deaths. These, however, are some of the men who came home.