I’ve been inundated with acronyms lately. Have you noticed the same? I blame technology of course and our contagious laziness as a developing species which holds convenience in the highest regard as the end all be all of daily life. We, it seems, are too busy these days to verbalize an entire phrase and often, in an attempt to make them memorable, we cut and shorten the language to suit our haste. I’m as guilty as anyone and admit contributing to it with my “perfs” and “totes” all the while cringing at my assimilation. But, this week I’m reminded that there are pros to this situation and that cause and effect can be advantageous. NAFM is one such example and if shortening the National Air Force Museum of Canada’s title to this significant four letter moniker helps us to remember this important place of awesome learning and rememberance, this is something I can support wholeheartedly.
Deadly Skies is a special exhibit created by the Canadian War Museum with the support of J. P. Bickell Foundation and the Audrey S. Hellyer Foundation that is now on permanent display at NAFM. It depicts the lives of six people, from both sides of the WWI conflict, who experienced war which was, for the first time, fought in part from the air.
Using a graphic novel form, written by John Maker and illustrated by Outland Entertainment, this interactive and artifactual exhibit reveals the experiences of both men and women, military and civilian from a first person perspective during the first World War.
The following are three examples taken from the NAFM’s press release of the six people who’s stories make up the graphic novel exhibit.
James Moses, Canada (Observation Zone)
James Moses, a warrior of the Six Nations Confederacy, started out as a Canadian infantry officer. His unit, the 107th Pioneer Battalion, had more than 500 Indigenous soldiers. Of the six junior officers in his company, two were members of Canada’s First Peoples. Like Moses, many airmen began their careers in the trenches, volunteering for air service as the need for pilots grew. Moses joined the Royal Flying Corps as an observer in October 1916.
Moses often wrote home about the pride he took in his new role. Like other observers, he was also responsible for defending the airplane with a mounted machine gun if the plane came under attack.
In his last letter home, James Moses wrote: “Well Dad, have to go on a bombing raid so will stop writing for the present.” Sadly, he was killed the next day.
Marjorie Stinson, United States (Training Zone)
In the early days of the war, comprehensive pilot training was virtually non-existent. Canadian pilots were sometimes trained at one of the 11 flight schools in the United States, including the family-operated Stinson School of Flying in San Antonio, Texas. Marjorie — nicknamed the “Flying Schoolmarm” — was the school’s lead instructor, training 83 of the more than 100 pilots who graduated from the Stinson School during the First World War, many of them Canadian.
After 1917, when the U.S. government halted civilian training of military pilots, Stinson spent a decade as a stunt flyer. In 1930, she began working for the United States War Department, retiring in 1945 and devoting her time to aviation research and history. She died on April 15, 1975, and her ashes were scattered over Stinson Airfield.
Maurice Arondel, France (Observation Zone)
Expert French balloonist Maurice Arondel undertook a number of successful reconnaissance missions throughout the war. Balloon observation was a valuable part of the war effort — a balloon observer’s key role was to help artillerymen hit their targets. Balloon observers watched from the air as artillery fired, and signaled by field telephone to tell artillery batteries how to adjust their aim.
Balloon observers like Arondel often spent long hours aloft — typically 8 hours a day, but sometimes over 16 hours. It was also very dangerous. The balloons operated at an altitude of only 600 to 1,000 metres, were open to the elements and were frequently attacked by enemy artillery and airplanes.
On September 19, 1916, Arondel reported on 35 German trains and numerous troop columns converging on a key French town. This earned him The Legion of Honour, France’s highest decoration. After the war, he remained active in French aviation as a member of the Aero-Club de France, still one of the oldest aviation organizations in the world. He died in France in 1969.
The exhibit is a reminder of a much less convenient time and the difficulties associated with conflict of such magnitude that I, myself, can not comprehend due to a thankful lack of first-hand experience. But, the ability of Deadly Skies to depict the lives of these affected people in such an engaging way is an incredibly valuable form of historical education.