The book has a rather unusual authorship. It was based on the diary of John MacGavock Grider, an American volunteer with the RFC and RAF who was killed in action in 1918. He and his friend Elliot White Springs had agreed that if either of them died, the survivor would publish the other’s diary. Springs stuck to his word, although he also added some events that took place after Grider’s death, which would later cause some controversy. Springs also features as a major character in the book, inevitably given that he was one of Grider’s close friends and colleagues.
The diary falls into two very different sections. The first covers Grider’s time in Britain, a period of training, followed by some time spent in London waiting to be posted to the front. The general tone here is light hearted, with a series of accounts of drunken exploits and socialising, but even at this early stage the dangers of flying are clear, as most days include at least one injury or death in training (it is also clear that it was surprisingly easy to walk away from a crash in one of the slow, flimsy training machines). There is also a sense of great frustration with the American Army, which clearly couldn’t decide how to treat the volunteers for the RFC, and an increasing level of sympathy for the British, who clearly treated the American volunteers very well.
The tone doesn’t completely change when Grider went to France. At first there are still plenty of light hearted moments, mixed in with his introduction to combat. However as time went by, and more of his friends were shot down, the tone gets darker. The final diary entry demonstrates that he was coming to the end of his tether, and would have benefited from a break from flying, but sadly he was lost in combat before that could happen.
This is both an entertaining and a tragic account of the adventures of a young volunteer, increasingly faced with the reality of a brutal and costly aerial battle. We also get an unusual perspective on the war, from the viewpoint of an increasingly sympathetic outsider.
The UK and Training - 20 September 1917 to 20 May 1918
The Western Front - 25 May 1918 and Beyond
Author: Elliot White Springs
Year: 2016 edition of 1927 original