The Jewish contribution to the Royal Flying Corps in the First World War

This November we will commemorate the Centenary of the end of World War I (The Armistice) and of 100 years of the RAF (RAF 100). The accepted story of the First World War is of the huge loss of life, mud and the trenches, but a different more nuanced story has emerged, one of which was huge advances in technology which impacted on aerial warfare.

At the start of the War in 1914, it was only just over ten years since man’s first flight so aeroplanes were still very basic machines, made of wood, canvas and wires, and were not able to travel very far or very fast and certainly not in bad weather. The Royal Flying Corp’s role in the early part of the war was to support the British Army in a reconnaissance role for the artillery as the army’s eyes in the air and to report on the German positions and troop activity. Unlike Observation Balloons which could only observe from behind their own frontlines aeroplanes had the freedom to fly over the enemy lines and carry out aerial reconnaissance.

As the war progressed, radios speeded up communication with the ground and the success of aerial reconnaissance led to the development of fighter aeroplanes whose role was to shoot down enemy aircraft. Advances In aircraft reliability, speed and technology in the war led to the development for specialised aircraft such as long range bombers and the use of cameras in aerial reconnaissance work.  The First World War defined the role of aeroplanes in aerial warfare and led to the formation of the RAF in 1918 whose strategic role today is very similar to what it was back then.

Out of 50,000 Jews who served in the British armed forces, 2515 Jews, 2174 men and 341 Officers, died on active service and over 1000 received awards and decorations including five Victoria Crosses, the highest decoration that can be given for bravery. Approximately 2000 Jews served with the Royal Flying Corps and The Royal Naval Air Service. The highest scoring British Jewish ace of WWI was Captain Solomon Clifford Joseph with 13 victories. Three days after he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) for gallantry he was granted a Bar to his DFC in lieu of a second award.

The story of British Jewry’s involvement with the Royal Flying Corps in the First World War is both glorious and inglorious, full of bravery and the mundane. The Jewish experience of the war was no different to that of other sections of British society as all sectors of Anglo-Jewry lost many of their young men.

Dr Ronnie Fraser will be giving a talk ‘Stories of the Jewish contribution to the Royal Flying Corps during the First World War’ on Monday 8th October 2018 from 18.20pm – 19.50pm at Finchley Church End Library 318 Regents Park Road, London N3 2LN.

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About the Author
Dr Ronnie Fraser is a retired Mathematics lecturer and a member of the UCU. He is also Director of the Academic Friends of Israel which campaigns against the academic boycott of Israel and antisemitism on campus. Ronnie was awarded his doctorate in 2014 by Royal Holloway College, London for his research into the British trade union movement and their attitude to Israel between 1945 and 1982.
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