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Aviation in Canada: Fighter Pilots and Observers 1915–1939

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Aviation in Canada: Fighter Pilots and Observers 1915–1939 by Larry Milberry and Hugh A. Halliday. CANAV Books, 2018, 184 pp.   

The authors, Larry Milberry and Hugh A. Halliday, are two accomplished authors of aviation history in Canada. Mr. Milberry has authored or coauthored more than 40 titles in Canadian aviation. Mr. Halliday has authored several aviation books as well. Both are longstanding members of the Canadian Aviation Historical Society and recipients of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal (Book Jacket, 2018).  

Mr. Milberry further indicated that Aviation in Canada: Fighter Pilots and Observers 1915–1939 is Volume 8 in a series of Canadian Aviation History books that began almost 20 years ago. He reports that the series has more than 2,300 pages and 4,000 photos (Preface, p. 7). There are 14 chapters plus Selected Glossary, Selected Bibliography, and Index in this volume. The distinguished authors certainly support their book with their research and knowledge of Canadian aviation in World War I (Glossary and Selected Bibliography). 

This is a book similar to an encyclopedia of Canadian Aviation interspersed with vignettes of pilot exploits. From just before World War I to the start of World War II, the authors are keen to present the historical development, use, and implementation of aircraft. The impact of aviation cannot be diminished in its application during wartime. In this volume, the authors present a succession of aircraft progressing in development and men promoting tactics to obtain the best outcomes in each engagement in the air or ground support during World War I. Additionally, Milberry and Halliday add significantly to the book with snippets of pilot aerial engagements, ground support, and balloon busting. And the authors finish with the increasingly important Canadian efforts to modernize aviation between the wars. 

If we start aviation with the American Wright Brothers in 1903, it was a mere 11 years until the beginning of the war. Canada’s first acquired aircraft was flown in 1909 and looked like the Wright Flyer.i It’s amazing that there were so many advances in aviation as the war continued. But just as the advances came online, the war ended, and Canadian aviation took a back seat. The Canadians, like many others, stifled the development of their air forces, both air force and naval aviation. The period between the wars was highly regarded as retrenchment rather than progress in the advancement of airpower for the Nation. Only the civilian counterpart implementation of aircraft into the aviation commerce assisted the Canadian Air Force modernization. 

This particular book is rather large and might be seen as a coffee table-sized amalgamation of information and photographs. Nonetheless, the numerous photographs are augmented by accompanied anecdotes and factual information on the many aspects of Canadian aviation during the stated time period. It’s interesting to note that not only are Canadians featured, but the book also includes pilots from the entire British Empire as well as Americans. The Canadian Air Forces were divided into the Royal Flying Corp and the Royal Naval Air Service. During the First World War, more than 20,000 volunteers served with the Royal Flying Corp and the Royal Naval Air Service (Milberry, 1984). 

Every belligerent during the war used aviation in all modes to carry the war to the enemy and, at the same time, defend their nation and people. The authors’ information and anecdotes convey the glory and pain of flying. So many of the pilots, from every nation, achieved meritorious service associated with appropriate medal awards but again so many died in the conflict. 

The book is a window of the past, albeit, including a period of war. The stories of the men and machines that fought the war came alive as I read. I personally flew as a passenger in a Stearman Biplane during my active duty tour. In my mind, I can still hear the roar of the wind as it rushed alongside the fuselage, hear the noise of the engine, and actually had a controlled spin. It only takes my imagination to see the incendiary bullets impact the enemy aircraft or balloon, watch the enemy aircraft spinning out of control losing a wing, and even see the pilot or observer slump over injured or killed. However, I also feel the pain if I see my wingman go down, lose the ability to fight when my gun jams, and then land and see that I am the only plane on the ground. 

If the rest of the volumes in this series are similar, the book is an excellent addition to the series. If there is a limitation in the book, it is the number of photographs. Almost every page has at least one photo. When aligned with an anecdote, the photos added to the information but is often more of a distraction when presented with unrelated data. 

I don’t hesitate to recommend this volume as well as others to study the formation of air forces around the world. Understanding the past assists in applying the best to the future. 

 Dr. James A. Boyless

The views expressed in the book review are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense.
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