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BRITAIN DOES IT HER WAY  4                                           | Britain does it her way 2


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In 1921, the No More War movement, replaced the No Conscription Fellowship in order to promote socialist pacifist principles; it gained increasing membership throughout the decade and merged with the Peace Pledge Union in 1937.

The No Conscription Fellowship was formed in opposition to compulsory conscription in 1914. During the war years it gave support to conscientious objectors, campaigned on their behalf and maintained links with their friends and families.

After the war when conscription ceased the NCF decided to close down. Some members went their own way to rebuild their lives, others turned their energies into working and campaigning for a better and warless world.

The No More War Movement campaigned on various anti-war issues until it merged with the new and much larger Peace Pledge Union.



Much of the public excitement of the early days of flying in Britain took place at and around Hendon Aerodrome in north London. Here and close by at the Welsh Harp reservoir in 1862 early balloon flights took place attracting large crowds on bank holidays and later early attempts at heavier than air flight drew large admiring crowds. Here they pioneered the first airmail flight and parachute jumps from airplanes. By 1912 the first aerial derby took place and an estimated crowd of 3 million turned up to see aircraft flying round in circles. These were amazing events as few people had seen anything other that birds flying in the air.

Today the airfield has disappeared; the only reminder is the forbidding Aerodrome Road. It was first taken over by the military in 1916, and eventually closed in 1968. Today on a corner of the site is the grim RAF museum full of monstrous machines that rained death on the people below. The vast hangers echo to the voices of children taken there by parents or teachers on educational visits. What they are unlikely to learn, however,  is how that early excitement  in new technology was turned into propaganda for future war  by a few men in the grip of a destructive ideology and how the museum continues that tradition.

Shortly after the declaration of war the aerodrome was requisitioned by the Royal Flying Corps never to be returned to civil ownership. Nevertheless Grahame-White, the original owner, managed to convince the government to allow it to be used for aerial display and so the Aerial Derby was re-established and took place every summer from 1920 to 1937 though now the RAF quickly took charge of the staging.

The set pieces of the display give us a clear picture of what the RAF wished the public to know about airpower. In the years that followed, the wonders of the military aeroplane and the bomber in particular were displayed to the admiring crowd. The RAF was keen to establish itself as a vital new branch on the military machine. Some within the RAF as well as outside and around the world developed a conviction that the bomber was the new wonder weapon. Not everyone was convinced and in post war, debt-ridden Britain the best proponents of the bomber could do was to prepare the public mind for when conditions were more favourable to their view.

The 1920 programme was full of aerobatics and mock combats. The event of the day was 'the strafing of Herr Von Rupert' an old kite balloon, by 'Flight-Lieut. Hazell, D.S.O., M.C., D.F.C. This was followed by “A formation of five Bristol Fighters, flying in line, dived to about 300 ft. towards some ‘trenches’, firing rounds from their machine guns at the same time. When over the trenches (about!) the Bristols "let go" their bombs ‚ ‘which dropped so fast we could not see them fall‚’ and up went the trench and away flew the Bristols. It was a very impressive display.”

With the growing popularity of these displays  the RAF came to understand the propaganda potential and in future years the themes – stories within the displays began to be told.

The following year the crowd had doubled and the function and value of the bomber was being made explicit. The finale was the destruction of the village built from scrap metal. It was supposed to be the enemy headquarters, under Gen. Blitzenscooter, people in grey-green uniforms could be seen milling about with gaily-dressed frauleins.

In 1922 the crowds were delighted with ‘an Eastern drama, depicting the attack and destruction of a desert stronghold intended to illustrate the work that was done by the R.A.F. in the East.’

‘The "plot" of the drama was quite thrilling, and was well carried out by the "actors". A machine (Bristol Fighter) returning from a reconnaissance, had to make a forced landing near the stronghold, which opened a fierce attack on the disabled machine. [...] Fortunately an armoured car section, returning from a raid, happened to be near at hand, and rushed up to the rescue, keeping off, with heavy machine-gun fire, numbers of gaily-clothed Wottnotts, who had emerged from the stronghold.’

‘Finally the bombing squadron attacked the stronghold, under heavy fire from an enemy anti-aircraft battery, mounted on motor lorries, situated some distance away. The bombs soon began to take effect, and after a few salvos the stronghold was in flames, and the garrison was observed fleeing in all directions.’

Of course, the need for spectacle at least partly dictated the need to be destroying something for a grand finale, but what was chosen for destruction is surely significant.

The previous finales look back to the 1914-18 war. In showing the destruction of a village of aggressive ‘Wottnotts’ in 1922 the set piece was much more up to date. Earlier that year the RAF assumed overall military control of the Iraq mandate, where it was attempting to use bombers to bring the area under air control.

The fourth RAF Pageant took place on Saturday, 30 June 1923. The 'turn of the afternoon', as in the previous year, was 'another little Eastern drama, based on actual happenings during the War'. Once more the Wottnotts were the enemy, and once more the co-operation of air and ground forces was the theme. The main difference with 1922 was that this time the RAF was coming to the aid of a besieged garrison.

By 1925, the show was renamed the RAF Display.

The underlying theme of these displays is that of substitution of airpower for military power and seapower. Anything the Army and Navy can do, the RAF can do better. It can patrol the Empire more efficiently and more effectively, bringing greater force to bear more quickly than tanks or battleships. A regular standby in the displays was the bombing and destruction of a tank with the obvious implication.

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