This book, written while the Great War was still in progress highlights some of the glorious achievements of early British aviators. In only two years time the airplane went from being a mere oddity to a crucial weapon, and the feats of many of the world's first flying aces are here recorded for posterity.
THE GLORIOUS ACHIEVEMENT OF LIEUT. WARNEFORD, V.C.
In this war of wonders to many people the most wonderful thing is, perhaps, the part which aircraft has played. Very few of us realized less than three years ago what a formidable weapon aircraft was to prove, and most of us can remember the days—they seem not so very distant—when flying was treated as a great mad joke save on occasion when it became a tragedy through some 'mad-brained enthusiast' being killed during an experimental flight. Novelists, who are free to be prophets, naturally seized upon the subject of flight and predicted all sorts of things which perhaps they themselves did not believe would happen; a few men, wiser than their generation, and gifted with far-seeing eyes, seriously insisted on the military importance of aircraft in the near future, but people generally believed that many years must elapse before aircraft could be of practical value.
Then came the war, which in due course revealed unsuspected uses to which aircraft could be put. Very soon it was discovered that the flying men were the eyes of the navies and of the armies, and as time went on it was realized that the side which obtained ascendancy in the air was well on the way to victory. It is now safe to predict, in view of all that has happened, that aircraft will play a decisive part in the final stages of the mighty conflict. The increased range of the heaviest guns, both naval and military, demand methods of observation different from any previously known and utilized; in fact, it may be said that long-range guns—at least guns of such a range as now in use—have been made effectively possible only by aerial observation. The character of trench warfare, also, similar in some respects to, yet in others very different from, the war of trenches in other conflicts, has demanded the aerial scout, even as that latest ingenious war device, the Tank, calls for assistance from the aeroplane.
This little book, however, is not a serious study of aircraft in war, but, as its title indicates, a compilation of thrilling deeds of British airmen chosen from a very large number to illustrate various types and phases of aerial operations. Sometimes the telling has been in the nature of making bricks without straw, because of the absence of details in so many official reports. I trust, however, that in expanding such terse accounts of what obviously were heroic incidents I have not done violence to truth. My aim has been to present what were probably the facts, and I have carefully followed the suggestions contained in the brief originals with that object in view. What wonderful stories, indeed, must be hidden behind some of the cold phraseology of official communiques! What courage, what sheer audacity! Some day, perhaps, we may be allowed to know more, and then the world will be thrilled indeed.
I am aware that many of our gallant flying men desire to remain anonymous, and because of that the only cases in which names are given in the book are those in which the official reports have lifted the curtain of anonymity. Very often details could have been given which would have made certain things much clearer, but discretion demanded that those details should be omitted, as being in the nature of secrets.
The book is intended to be a tribute to the gallant men of the air—the humble tribute of one who is not a flier, but who has a great admiration for those who are. I hope that it may be privileged to play some small part in keeping alive the widespread interest which has been aroused in the doings of the Flying Services.