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Title: Sir Walter Raleigh and the Air History - A Personal Recollection
Author: Jones, Henry Albert
Language: English
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                          SIR WALTER RALEIGH
                          AND THE AIR HISTORY


[Illustration: SIR WALTER RALEIGH]


                           SIR WALTER RALEIGH
                          AND THE AIR HISTORY

                        A PERSONAL RECOLLECTION

                           H. A. JONES, M.C.

                             WITH PORTRAIT

                          EDWARD ARNOLD & CO.

                        [_All rights reserved_]


                     _Printed in Great Britain by_
                  Butler & Tanner, _Frome and London_




At a meeting of a sub-committee of the Committee of Imperial Defence
which met in the middle of July, 1918, to consider the question of the
official history of the Air Force, Admiral Slade welcomed Sir Walter
Raleigh as the prospective author of a history which would be both
interesting and unique--unique in the sense that no history of the kind
had ever been written before. “Almost too good a chance,” was the
interjection of Sir Walter.

Sir Walter took up the history with enthusiasm. At Oxford throughout
the war he had been chafing under the inactivity which was imposed on
him by his age. Oxford was empty of men. There was not even a lot of
lecturing to do. The Air History gave him just such an opportunity as
he loved. It was an adventure, and he looked upon life itself as an
adventure. He was possessed of a fine imagination, and the story of the
air had for him a great appeal. He had the heart of a boy. In a fine
passage on the temper of the Air Force he says in his book:

    “The recruits of the air were young, some of them no more than
    boys. Their training lasted only a few months. They put their
    home life behind them, or kept it only as a fortifying memory,
    and threw themselves with fervour and abandon into the work to
    be done. Pride in their squadron became a part of their
    religion. The demands made upon them, which, it might
    reasonably have been believed, were greater than human nature
    can endure, were taken by them as a matter of course; they
    fulfilled them, and went beyond. They were not a melancholy
    company; they had something of the lightness of the element in
    which they moved. Indeed, it would be difficult to find, in the
    world’s history, any body of fighters who, for sheer gaiety and
    zest, could hold a candle to them. They have opened up a new
    vista for their country and for mankind. Their story, if it
    could ever be fully and truly written, is the Epic of Youth.”

Sir Walter had something of the lightness of the element of which he
wrote, otherwise he could never have written such a passage. He had
seen the Air Force at work on active service. His month in France was a
source of inspiration which produced some of the finest passages in his
book. He went to France at a time when the victorious Allied armies
were driving the Germans back towards the Rhine. His journey lasted
from August the 14th to September the 8th, 1918. He spent a great part
of his time at the Royal Air Force Headquarters, but also visited many
squadrons and was taken over the numerous parks which ministered to the
wants of the service. He flew about the Ypres salient, and other parts
of the line. The story is told of him that whilst staying with one
squadron he was already dressed in flying kit and on the point of
starting as a passenger on a night bombing raid. He was stopped in
time. I do not know whether the story is wholly true, but certainly he
wrote home:

“I had the opportunity of going in a Handley Page on a night bombing
raid, but had not the General’s permission, and as the pleasure would
have been mine and the responsibility for any mishap would probably
have fallen on the pilot, I felt bound to refuse. But I want to say
that I think it important that I should see one of these raids from the
air, and if I revisit France, I trust I may have leave to go.”

During his tour he was living in a world of new wonders. He was put to
school to the air. All the mysteries that go to the making of the
efficient fighting or reconnaissance machine were explained to him.

“I had the whole mystery of sound ranging explained and demonstrated to
me, though if the art were lost, I doubt if I could superintend its
recapture,” he says in a letter.

His visit was invaluable: it gave him perspective. Returned to England
he went straightway to Oxford and started on the Introduction to his
history. That Introduction in its final form is a beautiful piece of
writing. But the writing of it did not come too easily. Sir Walter
wrote with pain. The subject was new. The author was modest and
conscientious. Nothing but his very best would satisfy him. Indeed he
was seldom satisfied with what he wrote. “It goes heavy, so far, and I
am destroying much of what I write,” he says in a letter written when
he was finishing the Introduction. “False starts,” he goes on, “but it
will get smoother soon.” And a few days later, “I am cobbling the
Introduction; you shall have it by Monday morning.”

Statistics did not excite him. Long unwieldy committee names and
strings of facts tired him. In the Introduction he was able to let
himself go a bit. “It may seem rather a high-pressure start--opening
out the engine at once,” he wrote. “But it will be only now and then in
the course of the book, that I shall get a chance to say what I think.”

He brought his manuscript to the office and the staff sat around him
whilst he read it. He was very sensitive. He felt himself an amateur in
the midst of a body of experts. It must have been a new experience for
him to come and submit his work to a tribunal of ordinary people like
ourselves. As he read on he warmed to his work. He forgot us. We forgot
him. His fine voice held us. We were taken, as it were, over the world
on the wings of the wind. The whole meaning of air warfare was made
plain to us. We were looking down now on this battle-field, now on
that, and the whole vast organization was seen clear cut as through a
diminishing glass. Now and again the glass was reversed and focused on
to any individual member of the force. His feelings were laid bare to
our gaze. We seemed to understand everything. We did not notice when
the reading finished. The spell would hardly break. Perhaps it was not
so much what was read to us, although it was inspiring; it may have
been the spell cast by the author himself. Perhaps it was that the
sight of him, offering himself to our judgment, flattered us to wonder.
I do not know. I know that the officer who was then in charge of the
Air Branch, expressed very diffidently something of what we felt at the
reading. Sir Walter was immensely pleased. “I should be pretty sick if
the public liked my work, and the men who have been in the air didn’t,”
he wrote back.

At the time the Introduction was written the Air Force was in the
throes of the disintegration which followed the armistice. There were
criticisms in the press against the conduct of some of the members of
the service. Sir Walter was impatient of these criticisms. “Critics who
speak of what they have not felt and do not know, have sometimes blamed
the air service because, being young, it has not the decorum of age.
The Latin poet said that it is decorous to die for one’s country; in
that decorum the service is perfectly instructed.” That is the spirit
of his book.

At first he intended to devote a longish chapter only to the early
history of flying, but as he dipped into the subject he found himself
committed to something fuller. The first flight in a power-driven
heavier-than-air machine was made on December the 17th, 1903. Eleven
years later the question of war in the air was beginning to agitate the
minds of half the world. The development of air power in those few
short years was amazing. The movement had started with extreme
sluggishness. The feat of the Wright brothers attracted little
attention at first. The world which is often slow to recognize the
significance of contemporary events, did not know that a new era in its
history had already opened. Certainly the few years immediately
following the flight over the Kill Devil sand hills were years of
scepticism and witticism. Only a handful of men laboured in
whole-hearted enthusiasm for the cause of the air because they had
vision and knew what it meant to the future of the world. But
recognition forced itself on the nations of the world. Once interest
was aroused it spread with amazing swiftness. People felt uneasy. The
aeroplane was taken up as a weapon of national defence. The movement
was under way and gathering increasing momentum. The progress of the
art must have a share in the record of the war in the air, otherwise
the story would not be understood. Sir Walter soon saw this. “If the
battle of Trafalgar had been fought only some ten short years after the
first adventurer trusted himself to the sea on a crazy raft,” he
writes, “the ships, rather than the men, would be the heroes of that
battle, and Nelson himself would be overshadowed by the _Victory_.”

The shape of the book was a worry. “I’m having a dreadful time,” he
wrote early in 1919, “all by myself, struggling to get a shape for the
book. However, I had ten days or so useless with a vile cold. And I
dare say I shall cheer up soon.” The shape began to come, and as soon
as a part of the first chapter on the Conquest of the Air was written
he was anxious to come up to the office to read it to us. But he didn’t
want to inflict himself on us. “You will see to it, won’t you, that
attendance is voluntary and not a parade? It must not be like family
prayers.” He read it to us, to our great delight, and then took it away
to finish. But he was soon finding difficulties as to the length of the
early history. “From the cormorant in the Garden of Eden to 1903 will
be longish--too long, I think, to be part of a chapter,” and so it
became a chapter to itself. This was written during the Easter
vacation, and then Oxford claimed him again until the summer. But when
June came he was back at work on his history, and the second chapter on
the Aeroplane and the Airship was being written. He progressed well. On
June the 8th, 1919, he wrote, “I shall have most of a chapter ready
when I come, such a chapter full of riddles and shoals.” By the middle
of August, Chapters II and III were ready. “I have got another bit
done,” he wrote announcing this fact, “completing (but for a tail to be
added) Chapter II. It is too long, so Chapter II will have to be
Chapters II and III, thus: Chapter II. The Aeroplane and the Airship.
Chapter III. The Beginnings of Flight in England.... I have been
terribly slow. Some quite small things have cost me hours of turning
over pages, not to speak of letters or waiting for answers.”

But when the chapters were written they were by no means finished. The
Air Ministry had come into being only towards the end of the war. The
Royal Air Force itself was formed on April the 1st, 1918, by the
amalgamation of the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service.
The records telling of the early history of those two services were
scattered. The collection and collation of those records took time. But
it was soon seen even in the early days that there would be sad gaps.
Some important records were definitely lost. Others were missing. But
apart from this even where they were complete, Sir Walter found much
difficulty in weaving his story from official records. He wanted so
much to get the personal element into his book. Official records he
discovered were invented to conceal interesting facts. They were packed
in wool and cut no ice. He once complained that he asked for butter and
received a cow. So we were always trying to supplement the records with
first-hand evidence. Much of this material came late. Many important
facts turned up after the chapters had been written. They were
constantly being touched up (alas!).

An early example of this sort of thing was when Mr. G. B. Cockburn, who
had taught the navy to fly, kindly sent us his reminiscences. “The
reminiscences of G. B. Cockburn matter so much that I am rewriting the
whole of Eastchurch and Larkhill. It is a nuisance, but I suppose is
bound to happen again.” He was so considerate for his readers. “I can’t
say to readers, ‘You all know what an air-raid is like, so I shall only
tell you how many they were and what weight of bombs was dropped,’ they
must be helped a little to see the thing!”

So passed the summer vacation and then Oxford filled up again and
engulfed him. The prospect of 4,000 students in Oxford, although it was
not what he expected when he undertook to write the history, was a
prospect which pleased him. His research into the history stimulated
him. When he came to lecture to his new students he was better than
ever. His lectures were inspiring. “Oxford is full of the best lot of
men we have ever had, mostly back from the war, and when they want my
services I can’t refuse them, so I have no time. But I shall shut the
door in mid-March.” In mid-March he shut the door and prepared for a
visit to town. “I am always cheered by a visit to the factory of air
history,” he wrote, and further, “the weak point of this show is the
Old Historian.”

By the summer of 1920 the pre-war period of the history was finished
and he was working on the war period, and the war period offered
different problems. Sir Walter looked upon himself as holding a special
brief for those members of the air services who did their duty and were
content to do their duty without any sort of publicity or reward. He
was no believer in star-turns. He believed, with the officers who
commanded the air services, as he says in his Introduction, in a high
tableland of duty and efficiency and not a low range of achievement
rising now and again into sharp fantastic peaks. “The humblest flier,”
he wrote in a letter discussing this subject, “who went and strafed a
Boche and got done in is not going to be sacrificed or even
subordinated to the star performers. Every V.C. shall be clearly told
that men who deserved as well or better than he did are forgotten, in
large numbers, because they faced certain death without witnesses. The
hero of the book is chosen and is the Air, not the stars.” And this is
how he tells them in his book. “No history can be expected to furnish a
full record of all the acts of prowess that were performed in the air
during the long course of the war. Many of the best of them can never
be known; the Victoria Cross has surely been earned, over and over
again, by pilots and observers who went east, and lie in unvisited
graves. The public dearly loves a hero; but the men who have been both
heroic and lucky must share their honours, as they are the first to
insist, with others whose courage was not less, though luck failed

Like his friend Sir James Barrie, Sir Walter believed courage to be the
lovely virtue. He was fond of dissecting the British character. His
book on the air is full of delightful passages on this subject.
Courage, he says in his book, is found everywhere amongst
English-speaking peoples. Originally he wrote that courage was an
epidemic virtue among English-speaking peoples. Some people who were
privileged to read his original manuscript, were a bit doubtful about
this use of the word ‘epidemic.’ One distinguished air officer spoke
rather roughly about “outbreaks of pimples.” Sir Walter altered the
phrase and in a characteristic note, which shows the trouble he took to
find a single correct word, he wrote to me on a postcard, “I find
_epidemic_ is used by Milton and Swift as I use it. Later the word was
restricted to medical uses (and metaphors drawn therefrom). I suppose
my writing is too much under old and classic influences, for I did not
at first understand the objection. I don’t know what to do. Where
modern semi-educated usage impoverishes a word, I hate to give way. But
I want to be understood.”

Official documents do not always show such nice choice of words. Sir
Walter accordingly sometimes got high fun out of the records. A
pamphlet (a very able one) was sent to him mostly dealing with the
supply of munitions. “I wonder,” he wrote, “in what language does the
Munitions Man write to his wife? I shall set him to my classes to
translate, e.g., ‘The output of light bombs was greatly in excess of
that of the heavier natures’ = ‘The bombs made were mostly light bombs.”

“When he says ‘in the case of bombs,’ he doesn’t mean the case. When he
says evolve, factors, evaluate, and the like, he doesn’t mean anything
much. Public office English is ‘a bloody jargon.’” And again, “Lord
Haldane, in a letter to me, says the Wrights were ‘empirics.’ I suppose
he means they merely did it.”

But Sir Walter could never be anything but good-natured in his
fun-making. He enjoyed life to the full and sought fun wherever he
could find it. And perhaps he found it most in the dignity of outlook
of what he sometimes called the big-bugs. On seeing the photograph of
one distinguished public man who takes himself very seriously, he
commented, “It was of a face like ----’s that Charles Whibley once
said, ‘God has put that mark upon them so that we may know them.’”

Towards the end of 1920 the book was nearing completion. The last
chapter was started but had given a lot of trouble. It was a ticklish
chapter on the expansion of the air services, and the difficulty was to
find the thread of the story. On this he was helped by Sir Sefton
Brancker and Sir Hugh Trenchard, whom he always referred to as the
General. “I have been in correspondence with Brancker,” he wrote. “He
and the General won’t fail us.... I wish I were writing, instead of
acting coroner at an inquest where it’s not certain who’s the corpse,
and the witnesses won’t talk. But we must do it. We lose a lot by being
so near--all the later diaries, lives, etc. Our one advantage is living
testimony, and we _must_ get it.”

Whilst he was waiting for further light on the problems of the last
chapter he went to stay with Mr. Pearsall Smith at Warsash. “I had a
good holiday of ten days--it seemed quite long,” he wrote. “I was
taught the art of beach-combing. My friend who taught me got thirty-two
oysters in three-quarters of an hour on a repulsive tidal beach. I got
five in two hours. But I devoted myself mainly to the cockle who (it is
not generally known) is as cunning as sin, very mobile, and
quick-sighted. There are also occasional hauls from wrecks. August and
September have been a stale-mate, and I’m itching to write. I hope to
come up on Oct. 19th when the term is started.”

When he returned from his holiday he found Oxford busier than ever. The
last worrying chapter was put aside for the moment. “Oxford’s worse
than ever. Not a bed or a perch anywhere.... I lead the life of a
defaulting debtor, chivied by people who behave as if they had lent me
money.” And again a little later, “This week is a nightmare, but things
will get better soon after they get worse. I allude not to the Coal
Strike but to committees, boards, lectures and examinations.” But
examinations ended and he got back to the troublous Chapter VIII, and
by the middle of December wrote, “I pine to show you what I have
written. There’s not very much yet--about twenty-five of my MS. pages.”
But he got stuck again at the beginning of January. “Your letter was a
comfort. Since you left I have stuck. Partly I got wet and tired on a
long walk, but chiefly, I can’t see my way clear. The summaries I have
are so full of things too trivial (though I must have them and they are
invaluable) ... I think a pæan on the squadron must go into the next
(i.e., the fighting) volume. It belongs there. It’s really a short
treatise on morale. I think I can end Chapter VIII without it, but we
shall see.... Official reports are all packed in wool and won’t cut

Then in February he went down with a slight fever. “I have gastric
influenza and fever,” he wrote on the 5th, followed on the 17th by “I’m
up and better, only rather groggy (or, to be strictly correct, shaky)
on my pins.” Once again Oxford took him off the last chapter. But in
mid-March he shut the doors once more, “My term has taken long in
dying, but now at last I think it is dead, and my mind (a rag-bag
stuffed with its debris) is free for other uses (as soon as I can empty

He got to work again and tackled some of the notes which the office had
prepared for him to use in the revision of the early chapters. “Your[1]
method of preparing things for revision,” he wrote, “is excellent and
will make revision easier.... I have gloomy forebodings about ----.
Will he be another of those whose criticisms amount, in effect, to a
single complaint that they are wallflowers at the aerial dance?... My
troubles are of a different kind. You remember I treated naval
co-operation in Chapter VII slightly. Now I have to treat it all over
again. I wonder (though with pain) if the passages in Chapter VII ought
not to be taken out and the whole thing put into Chapter VIII. Tell me
your opinion. As it stands the only excuse is that Chapter VII is
things done, and Chapter VIII is organization, constitution, etc. But
the doubt paralyses me, for am I writing (or about to write) what must
all be recast again?”

Through March he was deep in the last chapter. On the 22nd he wrote: “I
am always unhappy if I find myself using an unexplained term. I fear I
have sometimes mentioned types of machine with no explanatory comment.
You might keep an eye open for this. It is a large comfort to me to
have you goal-keeping.” And on the 27th: “You will think me hopeless,
but I am really stuck in the naval part of Chapter VIII. You see _I
don’t know_. If none of the questions that interest me are answered in
the summaries I have, are not my readers likely to be in the same

In the middle of April he came up to town and had dinner with General
Brancker. The following day he wrote: “Brancker depresses me, because,
whatever I mention he says something true and important that has not
reached us. He knows all the people and is a shrewd and cheerful judge
of them. I must tell you when we meet.... The latter[2] is wonderful on
any period or any incident, shake the tree and a plum falls off....
Brancker is as gay as a lark.”

Chapter VIII was finished at last and Sir Walter’s life-work was
nearing completion. The next effort was revision. This effort was
almost as worrying as the original writing. The records are often
contradictory and sometimes a whole day was spent trying to check some
small fact which eventually was cut out of the book.

Perhaps the greatest trouble when revising was given by the question of
wireless. Sir Walter was a man of letters. He was intensely interested
in anything and everything, however, and was not content to accept any
technical facts. He wanted to understand them. He was a constant
interrogative. Indeed it seemed sometimes as he curled his long body
into curious shapes in his chair that he formed a note of
interrogation. This question of the why? was no new developed one. He
once told me that when as a small boy he was sent to a governess, he
was given a Latin grammar and severely told to learn the first
declension. The word meant nothing to him. “Please what’s a
declension?” he asked. “_That’s_ a declension, and you just learn it,”
was the reply. But the answer was inadequate and Sir Walter took no
further interest in the lesson. He could not learn where he was not
interested. It was no use talking to him about “coherers” and
“microhenries.” His only comment would be that “microhenries” were far
better called “harries” for short.

So when after Chapter V had been written Captain Morris found new and
interesting information on the use of wireless telegraphy in aircraft
in the days before the war, the whole of this difficult chapter had to
be reopened for new patching. “In regard to wireless,” he wrote, “I am
like a blind man who has never talked to painters employed to write a
critique of a picture exhibition. It’s paralysing. The only escape is
to keep on broad lines. Every one knows that wireless sends messages. I
shall be happier when _events_ begin again.”

“I think I had better come up for a day and have a long talk with you
instead of writing what will have to be rewritten.” But he got to work
on wireless, and on May the 9th, “I have written about twenty or more
of my pages on wireless. I believe I have made it much clearer and
simpler _than it is_. I have arranged to come to London on Monday, June
20, bringing Chapter V (which is the devil) and as much more as I can.
VI will be plainer sailing.” But before he came to London he struggled
on with the wireless history. On May the 24th he wrote, “I fear I shall
make you impatient. I can go on, if I have to, and copy the statements
I have. But if I were a reader of the book, it would annoy me by
avoiding the questions that naturally suggest themselves to an
intelligent reader who has had no technical education,” and two days
later, “I know from long experience that any one who attempts
accurately to repeat what he does not understand never repeats it
accurately.... If I could get my brain tuned to the wave-lengths of all
these papers, something would begin to come through. All the
oscillations of my mind are strongly damped, but I hope soon to get an
oscillating current of high frequency.... After all it’s very little I
need write about the process and instruments.... What is Rouzet’s full

But June came and he was still working away with pain. “I feel I owe
you an apology, yet I am doing what I can. It’s the most difficult
thing yet--wireless, I mean. It is coming into shape, but there is
something absurd about sandwiching it in as an afterthought. It’s of
first-rate importance, and I fear it may delay us a little.” Then on
June the 12th:

“I shall come on Monday next week, latish morning, _with Chapter V_.
Not content or pleased. That wireless insertion has put the chapter out
of gear, and lots of small things, later on, seem clumsy. One can’t
write a book backwards. But I think we can patch it to look all right.
I depend on you and the office to go through my revised Chapter V in
the interests of consistency rather than of truth. I think the facts
are right now, and the chapter is like a plain-faced clumsy person
celebrated for saying true things in the wrong time and in the wrong

“Exam papers are pouring in in large bundles. I grudge every minute to
them.... I hope and believe that there won’t be another Chapter V.”

Chapter V was sent to the printers for proofs. In the meantime Sir
Walter had sent the chapter to one or two people to read over the
wireless portion. Sir Richard Glazebrook sent him some valuable notes.

“I have just got the proofs of Chapter V. I am an unnatural parent--I
yawn over them. But I could do something to them while I am in the
country and thus break the tedium of a holiday, if I might have the
Glazebrook notes.” He could not take--what he badly needed--a real
carefree holiday. “I am taking down Chapter VI for a week into the
country, where American and other visitors to Oxford can’t call on me
at 11 a.m. I hope to finish it.”

At last came the Preface.

“I am drafting a Preface. What is our office called?... The Preface, I
think, will be very brief, and will try to avoid the sin of prefaces,
which mostly speak with the voice of a hen when she has laid an egg....
Some civilians must be mentioned. C. G. Grey certainly, and I should
like your opinion on the others....”

The question of names in the Preface was debated. Wherever possible
they were instead acknowledged in the text.

“I enclose a draft Preface. Will you see what you think of it? It gets
into a flowing style before it ends, but the important thing is--does
it say all it ought to say?

“I am jolly glad to be relieved of the necessity of giving long lists
of helpers’ names. They only cumber a book, and are tombstones that are
read by none but the corpse.”

There were still a few outstanding questions. The index was one which
caused a certain amount of discussion. He was anxious not to have an
index for each volume. He contended that there must eventually be a
final index and that this could only be made by combining the indexes
from each volume which he thought was clumsy. So it was decided not to
have an index, but instead to have rather full summaries of each

Another question that was debated was that of maps and illustrations.
He was all against a lot of illustrations. He thought they were
unnecessary for a good book and useless in a bad one. There was talk of
a large map of France to go into a pocket at the end of the book. Some
sort of a map was necessary to illustrate the chapter dealing with the
early days in France from Mons to Ypres. “I am still in favour of the
one page map wherever possible--and I hate the pocket business.
Map-makers care nothing about books. A book with a pocket is not a
book.... The chart-makers who are admirable want a book to help the
maps. I want maps to help the book. If stuff is good to read you don’t
break it off repeatedly to look up places on a map.” And the question
of type for the book, “Will you settle the type?” he wrote, “I am tired
of my own open-mindedness.” And then sending a specimen page from the
Clarendon Press, “This is the page, I think. I like the old-fashioned
uniform type--it does not depreciate quotations as the modern system of
mixed types or closer spacing does. If you agree, can we fix it up?”
Then came the death of General Sir David Henderson at Geneva and of
Air-Commodore Maitland in the R38. Emendations were made in the proofs.
“I have added a kind of summary on Henderson, rather bold I think, but
true and appreciative. I call him a white man which he was. If I can
find the time I will write an additional bit on Maitland to be added in
Chapter V.”

The following day another letter enclosed the bit on Maitland. “Here is
an obituary (so to say) of Maitland. It does not half express my
admiration. He was as quiet as a Quaker, and as considerate as a
hospital nurse. I wonder if he ever knew fear. It sounds extravagant
but I don’t think so--not even in the R38.... Will you have it added to
the proofs? So things go on, by degrees.”

In December he hoped that we should be able “to send proofs to all the
big-wigs before Christmas.” In January, “I want to hear that the book
is finally in the hands of the Press and that you are going to be

Sir Walter criticized his own work pretty freely. In his final letters
before he went on his luckless journey to Baghdad he gives an
occasional amusing summary of the book. “The whole book is like
Blindman’s Buff,” he wrote just before he sailed. “You catch some one
and feel his face and guess at him. No doubt you are sometimes too
complimentary to an ugly fellow, and then the others who are not
blinded laugh in their sleeves. Sometimes you say what every one else
had thought without saying it.” Or this:

“The book, especially in the parts that have given us trouble, is like
a schoolboy’s cake--too rich in facts and not suited for quantitative
reading. Still it’s better than soothing syrup or thin gruel.” And
finally in his letter to me forwarding Chapter VI heavily corrected,
“Some authors seem to expect fame. I shall be satisfied with


I shall remember him best pushing open the door. He always came in in
the same way. A gentle tap, a slight fumbling with the handle, and the
door would open and he would be there, slightly bent, because of his
great height, a smile of welcome on his fine face, the collar of his
inside coat sticking out above his outer coat. He would pause for just
a moment as if to take in the occupants of the room, and then he would
come quickly forward to shake hands, and at once his rapid, witty,
bubbling conversation would flow. His conversation was brilliant. You
listened amazed. Barely had you caught one choice bit of wisdom before
he was off on another. It was bewildering. When he was gone you
sometimes tried to recall them. Impossible! He seemed to await with you
his next effort. As it shaped itself in his mind and fell almost at
once from his lips he would sometimes look at you, hold you with his
eyes for a second as if to say, “Are you getting that?--I’m getting
it,” and then when he saw you had, you would both break into laughter.
He stood, it almost seemed, on one side and enjoyed with you his other

It would be vain to attempt to reconstruct his conversation. His
gestures, the moods which passed across his face as he spoke, the play
with his enormous pipe--all these are essential to a true appreciation
of his talk. He would be talking. The pipe is out. Out comes a box of
matches. He strikes one and applies it to his pipe. As the flame
touches the bowl, a thought strikes him. The thought will not keep. Off
he goes into conversation, holding the match until he is reminded of
its presence when it burns down to his fingers. He strikes another and
the same thing happens again. After he had sat smoking and talking in
the office for a morning, the grate would be full of charred
match-ends, silent, derelict victims of his bubbling thoughts. He might
want to illustrate his anecdotes. Before one realized the fact he was
off up and down the room in martial stride showing his idea of the
goose step, or else he would dive for his hat to show a type of
headgear that his wife considered to be inadequate to the dignity of a
professor about to visit Egypt. Through his eyes one could understand
most things. His vision, his judgment, his sympathy and his experience
were all at your service. He touched all the emotions and left you
bewildered but infinitely grateful for his company. He loved his visits
to London because he got talk with all kinds of people. This he could
not get at Oxford, where, he jokingly remarked, he saw the War in the
Air from a bottle.

Some time in January on one of his visits to London we fell to
discussing the lay-out for the second volume. Our conversation ranged
over all the various theatres of war. We lingered on the East, because
it attracted him. We mutually regretted that the signing of the
armistice had stopped a visit which he was to have made to the flying
fronts of the Middle East. He felt he ought to see it. The first volume
was out of the way. The Easter vacation was coming. Why not go then? I
told him I thought there would be every service help for him once he
got there. The thing was tentatively fixed. I telephoned the steamship
company and retained a passage in the S.S. _Egypt_--ill-fated vessel.
We discussed the itinerary and then passed to other subjects. I had
misgivings. Not that I thought he was too old to undertake the journey,
but because I knew how tireless and conscientious he was. I felt that
he might be too vigorous, that it might take too much out of him and so
leave him weak for disease. But I knew also that his visit would be
enormously useful because it would make all the difference to the
spirit of the history of the Middle East. The journey to France had
supplied the cream of his first volume. The journey East would do the
same for the rest of the work. Not that it was any good pointing out
the difficulties and drawbacks of the journey. I did try something of
that sort. “Adventures must be done, my boy,” was his reply. He had
gone to India soon after leaving Cambridge. In India he had been
attracted to Baghdad. He tried to get there by caravan. He had to wait
until he could get there by aeroplane.

Every facility was given him by the Air Ministry (although he paid for
the journey himself). He wrote to tell me that the thing was fixed. “I
had a letter from the General, enclosing a copy of a letter he has sent
to W. G. Salmond, asking for every facility for me--beyond anything I
should have asked or hoped.

“So I wired you for the bunk--a complete room at the extra charge (of
£18 I think)....

“When I come up I hope you may be able to fit me out with maps to use
from the air, and with some things to read preparatory.

“It’s a good (mild) adventure. Thank you immensely for the dates, etc.

“The General has sent them all over to Salmond, for his successor.

“So there I am, and it’s me for Baghdad, ‘Orace, my boy. (I am thinking
of what Robertson said to Smith-Dorrien.)

“It seems they will try to take me to anything it is important I should
see, so I depend on your advice.

“You shall have a cheque as soon as _I get the bill_.

“I owe all this suggestion to you. Bacon says there are things a man
can’t decently do or claim for himself, and then a friend comes in.”

In reply I sent him a passport form. “Many thanks for the passport
form,” he wrote. (“A lot of notice the Arabs will take of it if I come
among them!”)

Sir Walter left London on March the 16th to take the _Egypt_ at
Marseilles. He stayed in London for a couple of days before he left and
worked hard at the office putting in page headings on the latest proofs
which had just come in from the Clarendon Press. We had to take a
hurried lunch. Sir Walter liked a good meal to the accompaniment of
beer. I suggested a tavern near Oxford Circus identified with the male
domestic fowl. There is an excellent dining-room over the main bar. The
food is as good as is procurable anywhere in London. The Scotch ale has
a bite in it. Sir Walter looked round the assembled business men when
we were seated and remarked that he had no doubts as to the quality of
the cooking. The best advertisement for the cut off the joint was in
the faces of the diners. He asked me what they all did (I could only
guess). He was soon in conversation with the gentleman next him, whom
he congratulated on the excellent portion of Shepherds Pie which was
placed before him. Did Sir Walter know Mr. ---- (the proprietor) when
he had the _Swinging Anchor_ round the corner (or words to that
effect). Sir Walter regretted he did not. His neighbour then became
reminiscent on the history of lunches enjoyed under Mr. ----’s
direction over a period of twenty years; his reminiscences were
punctuated by witty remarks from Sir Walter, which sent him off again
into new channels.

Sir Walter enjoyed the lunch so much that on the following day he
looked forward to going again. On this occasion, when he was paying the
waitress--a shrewd Cockney girl--he was asked whether he found it cold
up there--this being by way of a joke on his height as he towered above
her waiting for his bill. He was just like that. Every one felt at home
with him. His great charm of manner, his dignity, his delightful
old-world courtesy, especially with ladies, made him at home but also
conspicuous in any assembly. His human qualities earned him the
friendliness, even the banter, of people who came into contact with
him, but he never in any way lost either dignity or distinction as a

He went off to Egypt like a schoolboy going for his holidays. He
carried with him an unbound copy of his first volume. From Marseilles I
received a typical letter.

    “P. & O. S.S. _Egypt_.

        “Marseilles, March the 27th.

    “Cabin passage. Punctual. Good night. French on the make. Train
    table d’hôte twenty-five francs, everything extra. Few
    passengers on boat. This is the Alfred Jingle style, but it
    contains all I have to say. It won’t be easy to work or read,
    for every one is on the prowl looking for some one else to talk
    to or to play Bridge with. I must be _strong_ and refuse Bridge
    at first. Or at least so as not to be grumpy, I shall say,
    ‘Bridge--delighted.’ I love to play Bridge. Let me see--I
    always forget--are there four suits or five? Of course I know
    there are twelve cards in each suit.

    “Talk is not so easily dealt with. But there are some decent
    people on board. I have talked with two sad, efficient,
    disgruntled Indian Colonels, going back to earn their pension.
    And of course there are social ladies. When I was a lean gawky
    youth, they were not kind enough to me. I don’t blame them, but
    when they are kind now, I wish they had come earlier.

    “Book is all right. Small corrections occur to me. Can’t make
    ’em now. Doesn’t matter. God be with the office and all that
    therein are!”

A few days later he arrived at Port Said and sent me the last letter I
ever received from him.

    “Here I am at Port Said after a calm and easy voyage.... I am
    to go by train to Jerusalem to-night (it takes some seventeen
    or eighteen hours). There I am to meet Ellington and to be his
    fellow-guest at the house of the High Commissioner. He is to
    drive me to the Nablus road. Then to Cairo by aeroplane and
    from Cairo direct to Baghdad....

    “It’s going to be tiresome to-night, but once I get to the
    R.A.F. I think things will be very easy....

    “Baghdad seems to be a gay centre. I came on the boat with
    Major Lord Gough, a one-armed Irish officer, who has left home
    to escape the tax-collector, and is going to command Arab
    levies at Baghdad. He will do well, I am sure; he is cool,
    pleasant, practical, ready-witted and original. Indeed he
    shocked the Anglo-Indian officers on board, but the Arabs, I
    think, will take to him.

    “It has all been absurdly easy up to now, thanks to you. I will
    write again.”

He never did.

The next time I saw him was at Victoria Station on his return on April
the 25th. He had been due to arrive the previous day. Lady Raleigh had
spent the day meeting continental trains. She had to return to Oxford
on the Tuesday afternoon, so I went down that evening to watch the
trains in to see if he would arrive. The likeliest one was the train
timed to arrive at 7.30. Actually it came in, in two portions, an hour
later. Sir Walter was on the second train. He stepped out of the saloon
loaded like a Christmas tree. He had all his own luggage packed for
convenience of travelling in suit-cases. He carried a topee and wore a
waterproof cap, with many flaps and folds, slightly tilted. Under one
arm packed in straw and canvas was a thigh boot which some one had
given to him in the desert with a request that he bring it to London
and have it delivered to the address marked on it, where, presumably,
it was to be half-soled and heeled or otherwise reconstructed. Under
the other arm was a large round bundle, similarly addressed for
delivery to a lady in London. This parcel, he supposed, contained
Turkish Delight. This fugitive gift to a lady was carried a few
thousand miles from the desert by Sir Walter Raleigh, already in the
grip of a fatal fever. The many stories of his great forbear hardly
approach this for sheer charm and gallantry!

It was raining in torrents and a bit chilly. I got a taxi and Sir
Walter directed the driver to the Waldorf. He was unwilling to disturb
his club as he had not wired for a room. The Waldorf was full and we
went on to the Cecil. Not a room in the place, so on to the Metropole.
He himself jumped out here a little impatiently, but was received, as
he said, somewhat coldly by the office staff who, after keeping him
waiting, spoke to him almost with astonishment that he should have the
temerity to ask for accommodation. At the Victoria, the same story. We
then tried a small hotel in one of the side streets off Charing
Cross--Craven Street, I think. They had nothing. Yes, if he did not
mind there was a small room through the office and connected with it.
He took it gladly. It was small. But as he washed he carried on a
conversation with the proprietress, a woman of friendly manners. We
could get nothing to eat there, and he had had no dinner. He looked
very tired and a bit faraway.

We went, through the driving rain, to a near-by restaurant. He chose
something, but when it came, although it looked very good, he
complained after eating a little that it was not nice. It was so unlike
him. However, he ordered some soft roes on toast and we sat on till
near midnight whilst he talked of his tour. He was full of it. Full of
stories and impressions. I asked him if he had made notes of the more
interesting things that had struck him. He had not. He had them all in
his head. He told how at the aerodrome at Amman an Arab Sheikh had
appeared with his followers, all heavily armed with service rifles and
bristling with ammunition. Sir Walter and the Sheikh were introduced
and sat together awhile at a corner of the aerodrome. The Sheikh
occasionally stroking Sir Walter’s cheek apparently as a mark of
friendliness. The followers formed a large circle round them and
squatted. This went on for a bit and then the conversation being rather
one-sided Sir Walter got bored and walked away to sit at another part
of the aerodrome. He was deep in thought. He looked up and there
silently squatting around again were the Arabs with the sun gleaming on
their rifles. He talked a bit with the Sheikh and then tiring got up
and sought the officer in charge of the aerodrome.

“What do you do when you want to get rid of these fellows?” he asked.

“Do?” was the reply. “What do we do? Why, we take a big stick and tell
them to hop it.”

The big stick was produced, the order was given, the rifles were
quietly slung and the Arabs went. They were like children, said Sir
Walter, and knew what you meant when you told them that you didn’t want
to play with them any more.

He spoke of his stay with the High Commissioner at Jerusalem. How he
had gone over the road on which the Turkish 7th Army had been bombed
from the air until it had become a rabble. The havoc of that
day--September the 21st, 1918--was made clear to him. The Turkish
armies were in retreat. Soon after dawn on the 21st a reconnaissance
machine landed with the information that dense masses of men and
transport were on the road running north-east from Nablus. This was the
Turkish 7th Army making for the Jordan, hoping to cross at
Jisr-ed-Damieh. The enemy retreat via Beisan had already been blocked
by the cavalry, but it was out of the question that ground troops could
guard the Jordan crossings for some hours. If the road could not be
blocked from the air, the army would escape. All available aeroplanes
were got together and there began the most awful disaster which has
ever been suffered from the air by an army. To strike from the air you
must strike quick and strike ceaselessly. The attack was arranged so
that two machines should arrive over the retreating enemy every three
minutes. In addition a formation of six machines was sent over every
half-hour. The attack started at 8 o’clock in the morning. At noon it
was all over. The road is bordered by steep ravines. No cover for a
rabbit. There was no escaping the pitiless rain of machine-gun bullets
poured on to the enemy from a low height, or the bombs which soon
reduced the head of the column to chaos. The road was blocked, but
there was panic pressure from the rear. Dead were piled on dead.
Drivers jumped from their motor-lorries. Motor-lorries ran amok. Horses
stampeded, tramping soldiers to death beneath their hoofs. Guns were
overturned. Every three minutes and every half-hour with demoniacal
precision the aeroplanes appeared, did their job, and went. Every three
minutes and every half-hour on the ground confusion worse confounded.
The Turkish 7th Army a few hours before in orderly retreat, soon ceased
to exist. Sir Walter inspected the road on a Scots Grey charger. He
confessed that he was brought somewhat into sympathy with the panic of
the retreat because he was not at home on a charger. On one occasion,
and at a precipitous and dangerous piece of road, with a slope to doom
on one side and an oppressive gaunt height on the other, Sir Walter
coughed. The charger taking this as a sign of encouragement, went off
at a gallop. Happily Sir Walter recovered his nerve and the reins
without much loss of time. He talked of this trip, telling how the
point where the bombing started is marked by the stone on which Christ
sat and talked to the woman of Samaria.

The soft roes on toast arrived and he ordered another beer. And then on
to the desert. The aeroplane on which he was making the journey to
Baghdad had a mishap and landed in the desert. For four or five days no
relief arrived. The little party soon exhausted their stock of
sandwiches and had to fall back on bully-beef and biscuits. They made
tea in petrol tins. A wise friend had insisted on giving Sir Walter a
present of a bottle of whisky just before he left for the East. At the
time he thought the present superfluous. But during the stay in the
desert, it was invaluable. It made him most popular. He found it
difficult to get on with the hard food. He was sixty-one. But it was
another adventure and he loved it. He must have been the life of the
little party. He invented a game. They chased paper boats to a given
point on the sand, made a bet and then each ran after his fancy. They
organized sweepstakes as to the time and hour and direction from which
relief would come. Sir Walter never won. Relief came with Sir Edward
Ellington on his way to Baghdad.

The journey was resumed. At Baghdad Sir Walter sickened. But he flew to
Mosul. At Mosul he fell sick of a fever. But his adventure was not
over, so he shook off his fever and flew back to Baghdad. He saw and
talked with everybody he could. He was delighted with Baghdad. The
dream of years had come true and the truth was finer than the dream.
That is how he found life. He recalled the taste of Baghdad. How an
apparent mist was hanging over the city when they came to it from the
air. How it was found to be not a mist, but the mud of centuries. He
still had the curious taste of it, he said, as he gulped a little beer,
as if to wash it away.

The following morning he came to the office before leaving for Oxford.
He made a few additional corrections to his book. The next news we had
told us of his illness. But he was still light-hearted and we never
knew how ill he was. In a letter to Colonel Daniel, written on May the
4th in reply to an invitation to dinner, he says: “It can’t be done.
They work away at my temperature but without much success. They are of
course tyrannical and refuse me beer, which I pine for. When I can get
up to London we will have some beer. They also fill me with things the
taste of which to any reverent natural theologian is sufficient proof
that God never intended these things for human consumption. I hope it
won’t be very long, but I am sure it can’t be next week.” The next week
his fever had been diagnosed as typhoid, and on May the 13th he was
dead. His last adventure was over. At the height of his powers he was
touched and taken by the long arm of war.

He loved the wide, wide world. He loved dearly his fellow-men. The
world is a better place for his having passed through it. He left
behind him books that will live, but he was not chiefly a writer. More
than anything else he leaves behind his example. He touched and made
brighter with his genius all who came into contact with him. To be with
him was to lose pettiness. His personal influence has gone out quietly
to a thousand different corners of the Empire. We may lament his death
and the possibilities which died with him. There is no unmixed good on
earth. We can rejoice at his life and be humbly grateful for his
example. He was a great Englishman.


Footnote 1:

  When he says “you” and “your” in these letters Sir Walter means the
  Air Historical Branch.


Footnote 2:

  General Brancker.


                          Transcriber's Notes

Footnotes have been moved to the end of the text.

_Italics_ are identified by surrounding the word or phrase with

Inconsistencies have been retained in spelling, hyphenation, and
grammar, except where indicated in the list below. In some cases, minor
punctuation errors have been corrected.

    He loved the wide wide world. --> He loved the wide, wide world.
    quantitive reading.           --> quantitative reading.

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