When the RAF was in its infancy just after the First World War, the government had to decide on the names of ranks in the new service. Among the suggestions were the prosaic ‘Air Warden’, the exotically Celtic ‘Ardian’ and the faintly sleazy ‘Grouper’. Thankfully, none of these proposals was adopted. The RAF chose much more resonant titles, such as ‘squadron leader’ and ‘wing commander’, which have lasted to this day.
This tale is just one of many nuggets in Richard Overy’s concise but fascinating new book, which is published to mark the centenary of the RAF’s foundation this April. Over the course of his career, Overy has built up a deserved reputation as a masterful historian of air power. This study, full of original material and shrewd insights, is up to his usual high standards.
The RAF was the world’s first independent air force, borne of a merger of the army’s Royal Flying Corps (RFC) and the Royal Naval Air Service, the existence of which owed much to the dynamism of Winston Churchill as First Lord of the Admiralty before the First World