The early days of air warfare explored in new book

Aircrew uniforms and equipment from the air war over the Western Front are explored in a new book by Fontwell historian Mark Hillier. Royal Flying Corps Kitbag has been published by Frontline at £25, available from Amazon and direct from the website of the publishers, Pen and Sword.

Mark Hillier
Mark Hillier

The Royal Flying Corps was the precursor to the RAF.

Mark, aged 47, said: “I have been an avid aviation enthusiast and pilot for many years and loved researching aviation in both world wars.

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“However, I developed an interest in the Royal Flying Corps after finding out that a great, great uncle was an officer in the RFC. I wanted to understand more about the RFC, its aircraft and equipment and the problems faced by the air and ground crew. Although I could find a number of autobiographies, books on aircraft etc I could not find much on what kit they had, were equipped with or how they coped with open cockpit flying in extreme conditions.

“I started collecting any kit I could find and pilots’ log books from the period along with period photos. I came up with the idea of producing a series of books that looked specifically at the flying clothing and uniforms for specific periods of aerial conflict. I have flown open cockpit biplanes for years out of Goodwood and understand how bitterly cold and challenging this type of flying can be. I felt that if I could explain the environment that these young men operated in and what they had available to them people may look at this aspect of aviation in a new light. The book is set out to not only be a resource to collectors, history buffs etc but also to those who may have had relatives in the RFC that may want to know what great grandad wore, used and fought in! I hope that I have created a general interest book on the topic that is informative to all and will provide a great insight into early aviation on the front line, more of an art form at that time than a science!”

Mark added: “I had already completed two similar books on the Battle of Britain period and thoroughly enjoyed adding pictures of kit and equipment in personal collections around the world, alongside period images.

“Add this to first-hand accounts from the pilots and aircrew on the problems they faced and the usefulness of their equipment, it adds a new dynamic to the topic.

“So I wanted to try the same approach to the topic of WWI aviation and specifically the Royal Flying Corps which eventually became the RAF on April 1 1918. The book starts with an outline of some of the problems faced by early aviators, cold, damp, exposure to the elements, being covered in caster oil, dust and mud in the eyes, along with the ever-present danger of a serious crash with little protection around them.

“I then go on to explore the use of early motoring equipment and then look at some of the early documentation produced by the army on what they felt might be adequate for protecting the early aeronaut.

“The first chapter the explores early flying helmets and leather caps, goggles, flying coats, life jackets of the time and other flying kit. The book explores how some pilots took to covering themselves in whale fat to keep out the cold at altitude, some took to layering with jumpers, coats etc.

“The problem was always that if you dressed too early you would sweat too much and this would freeze the moisture into your clothes and be very uncomfortable! Some took handwarmers with charcoal but more than one pilot suffered with burns to the flesh when they couldn’t retrieve the hot device from their clothing at altitude!”

Mark added: “I have been writing books for the past ten years, my first project being Westhapmnett at War, a self-published book on the wartime role of Goodwood aerodrome. I caught the writing bug and I now have ten books published, two more finished for this year including RAF Tangmere in 100 objects and a further two projects signed up for Frontline books over the next two years.

“I have done a number of biographies of both pilots and ground crew in both World Wars as well as the Kit Bag series. I also contributed to Britain at War magazine for a number of years. I still enjoy researching the wartime role of Goodwood and still contribute articles for the Goodwood Flying Club on its aviation roots and its RAF Connection.”


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