No Empty Chairs: The Short and Heroic Lives of the Young Aviators Who Fought and Died in the First World War

No Empty Chairs: The Short and Heroic Lives of the Young Aviators Who Fought and Died in the First World War

by Ian Mackersey

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The 1914-18 conflict narrated through the voices of the men whose combat was in the air.

'This moving book uses letters and diaries to evoke the terrible cost of such warfare...Sleepless nights, separated lovers and grieving parents are recalled with painful immediacy in this meticulously researched tribute to those who died or were lucky enough to survive' DAILY MAIL

The empty chairs belonged, all too briefly, to the doomed young First World War airmen who failed to return from the terrifying daily aerial combats above the trenches of the Western Front. The edict of their commander-in-chief was the missing aviators were to be immediately replaced. Before the new faces could arrive, the departed men's vacant seats at the squadron dinner table were sometimes poignantly occupied by their caps and boots, placed there in a sad ritual by their surviving colleagues as they drank to their memory.

Life for most of the pilots of the Royal Flying Corps was appallingly short. If they graduated alive and unmaimed from the flying training that killed more than half of them before they reached the front line, only a few would for very long survive the daily battles they fought over the ravaged moonscape of no-man's-land. Their average life expectancy at the height of the war was measured only in weeks. Parachutes that began to save their German enemies were denied them.

Fear of incarceration, and the daily spectacle of watching close colleagues die in burning aircraft, took a devastating toll on the nerves of the world's first fighter pilots. Many became mentally ill. As they waited for death, or with luck the survivable wound that would send them back to 'Blighty', they poured their emotions into their diaries and streams of letters to their loved ones at home.

Drawing on these remarkable testimonies and pilots' memoirs, Ian Mackersey has brilliantly reconstructed the First Great Air War through the lives of its participants. As they waited to die, the men shared their loneliness, their fears, triumphs - and squadron gossip - with the families who lived in daily dread of the knock on the door that would bring the War Office telegram in its fateful green envelope.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780297859956
Publisher: Orion Publishing Group, Limited
Publication date: 05/10/2012
Sold by: Hachette Digital, Inc.
Format: NOOK Book
File size: 5 MB

About the Author

Ian Mackersey is a writer and documentary film-maker; his speciality is aviation biography. He began his career as a writer for The Dominion and later the New Zealand Herald, and has lived in Britain, Rhodesia and Zambia, before returning to New Zealand.

Visit his website at

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations vii

Prologue 1

1 The Reluctant Inventors 7

2 The Aeroplane Goes to War 17

3 Enter 'Boom' 28

4 Brave Lives Given for Others 38

5 The Fokker Scourge 47

6 Public Schoolboys Wanted 58

7 The Instructors Who Stuttered 67

8 Unhappiness in Parliament 79

9 Giants Dripping Death 86

10 Zeppelin Stalkers 98

11 The 'Fees' Come to France 104

12 Terror Above the Somme 108

13 Morale and the Offensive Spirit 114

14 Bloody April 127

15 Going 'Mad Dog' 141

16 An Airman's Wife 156

17 The Mothers 164

18 The 'Bloody Wonderful Drunks' 181

19 They Also Served 190

20 The Majors 204

21 The Raid That Never Was 209

22 Gothas 223

23 America Comes to London 236

24 Operation Michael 242

25 Death of the Red Baron 249

26 The Spent Capital of Courage 260

27 The Working-Class Heroes 270

28 Flamerinoes 280

29 Waning of the Spirit 293

30 The Eleventh Hour of the Eleventh Day 309

31 Silence of a Desolate Land 320

Epilogue 327

Acknowledgements 336

Select Bibliography 342

Source Notes 348

Index 364

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