Date Thesis Awarded

4-2019

Document Type

Honors Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelors of Arts (BA)

Department

History

Advisor

Frederick Corney

Committee Members

Amy Limoncelli

Chandos Brown and Bruce Campbell

Abstract

My research focuses on the intersection between gender, social identity, and memory in the British military during the First World War. Focusing on the Royal Flying Corps, I explore how the image of the Royal Flying Corps stemmed from three primary avenues: Britain’s pre-war infatuation with aviation, the anonymous nature of industrial warfare in the trenches impacting public morale, and targeted recruitment tactics and medical examination criteria. These three avenues directly correlated with the British upper class perception of the ideal “masculine man”, whose characteristics of chivalry, obedience, courage, and emotional strength were directly projected onto RFC servicemen. Through an examination of pilots’ personal correspondence/memoirs and post-war films, I argue that although the general public and military officials emphasized RFC pilots as the collected, reckless, “ideal” British male, this romanticization hid the reality of this new form of warfare, in which pilots suffered from a lack of aviation medicine practice and the oppression of this “masculine ideal”. Post-war film presents an interesting perspective on this RFC image, showing RFC life as one of an “artificial” camaraderie, formulated in the creation of an “us” vs “them” mentality, as a direct result of attempting to uphold this masculine ideal. Though their character dynamics in scenes varies by individual film, the overall film genre focused on the Royal Flying Corps creates a series of “us” vs “them” relationships. These different mentalities reflect a collectivism formed under the factors of war and united on a certain set of ideals formed and defined against another set of ideals, “an other” based upon one’s respective emotional reactions to war. As there is not just one “us” vs “them” relationship present in each plot, these film representations are not only informative on how the public perceived the Royal Flying Corps, but also provide a social commentary on the time period by showing how these perceptions were interpreted to fit their own ideas of the “ideal”.

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