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Airfields and Airmen, Ypres...


...a 'Battleground Europe' guide from Pen and Sword


Title: Airfields and Airmen Ypres

Author: Mike O'Connor

Publisher: Pen and Sword Books

ISBN: 978-0-85052-753-8

This is a new edition of this Battleground Europe guide first published back in 2001.  I remain a fan of these books and find them both interesting and useful.  This one is a little different to most of the others of these Battleground Guides, in that rather than the land war, this looks at the airborne aspect of WW1 and it is re-released as it covers the area of Ypres, an area recently brought to peoples attention in the 100th anniversary commemorations around the town for Passchendaele. In the introduction it mentions a thought that has come to my own mind while on my own visits to various CWGC (Commonwealth War Grave Commission) cemeteries on the continent.  You can visit a cemetery and see a headstone for a pilot or aircrew and wonder how they came to be there, where had they served that brought them to this point.  With the RFC and the RAF in WW1 there were many well known names, especially those 'Aces' and on the German side as well.  The airfields used in WW1 were primitive compared to a modern airbase, usually grass fields plus some huts and wooden hangers very often.  They have returned to agriculture or been a place for more modern building developments in the 100 years since the war.  Close to them however there are also a number of CWGC cemeteries where casualties from the airfield were buried.

The book is opened with Introductions from both the Series Editor and the author, gives some background on the Development of Military Flying in relation to WW1, an Explanation of German Ranks as well as the Oder of Battle for both the RFC 2 and 5 Brigades at the end of July 1917.  Then we get to the meat of the subject as the three main chapters split the region into Western, Southern and Northern Areas.  Each one provides details of the airfields in each area, the units which served there with which aircraft, and the stories of many of their pilots and their experiences.  Among the simple facts there are also plenty of testimonies from the pilots themselves, often in the form of extracts from their letters home.  These are accompanied with archive photos of many of the pilots, and their aircraft, plus archive pictures of the airfields.  Added to these are maps and modern aerial photos of the airfield sites with annotations of where hangers etc were situated.  These in turn go with the text which provides good clear directions for the battlefield visitor and explaining what they can see there now (subject to even more modern development of course).  With the suggested tour directions there are also references to the cemeteries that you will find there, and the airmen's graves which you will find at them.

If you add all these things together you can get a good picture of what happened where around Ypres during the war.  The historian will learn a good deal from it and the battlefield visitor will find it a fine guide to keep in the car while travelling in the area.  What struck me now though is that even if you are unable to travel to the area, if you used this on conjunction with looking at the modern day satellite maps available thanks to the internet, then you can still use the book to bring to life the ground that you can see in the satellite images.

Thanks to Pen and Sword for this review copy.


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