An Introduction to Flying into the Dark
What to expect from this series of writings as it begins
My great-grandfather, John Buckland Richardson, was a pilot with 215 squadron in the RAF, which flew only at night. Using heavy bomber aircraft, they struck German targets just over the front line. His story has never been told in detail before now. He rarely spoke of it while he was alive, and family members mostly had only a general idea of what happened to him. Growing up, I heard the fragments and disconnected bits of detail at family gatherings – that he was shot down, survived, and ended up in a prisoner’s camp. All this sounded intriguing, and almost unbelievable. What was the full story? Eventually the mystery became intolerable for me. Through archival research and interviews with those who knew him, I built a more complete story of Richardson’s experience, which can now be told.
Richardson was one of thousands of men who fought in the air. Some of their stories are well known. Many are not. They are marked by heroism, gallantry, survival and tragedy, and are are some of the most dramatic tales that I have ever encountered.
This newsletter will unfold in two parallel ways. One series of stories will show what happened to John Buckland Richardson. Other stories will feature different airmen. Together, they paint a picture of what it was like to fight in the air at that time.
Who were these men? What motivated them? Why were they eager to choose this life?
Millions of men served in the First World War. But it required a certain type of man to want to fly airplanes in those early days, and fight in the first war in the air.
There was no established way of doing things. Anyone wanting to fly a plane would have needed an adventurous spirit, and a desire to be among the first. They would have to be comfortable with improvising and doing things no one had ever done before. There were few heroes to follow.
To fly a plane also required schooling, which only lasted a few months in the early years, but by 1917 pilots had to go through eleven months of training, much of it in a classroom. Teachers were often of similar age as the students.
Who were these men? What motivated them? Why were they eager to choose this life? How did it affect them? What became of them? This series of stories is an attempt to explore those questions, and to understand what kind of a person was keen to step into this world.