Flying in the Face of Adversity

Emily Mayhew tells the story of the heroic RAF pilots who overcame horrific burns and formed ‘the most exclusive Club in the world’, and of Archibald McIndoe, the plastic surgeon who helped them.

Britain’s Home Front in the Second World War was unique. Never before had so many ordinary citizens had such direct and prolonged contact with one of the theatres of war. To see and hear the numerous aircraft buzzing overhead was for millions of Britons a daily reminder, like the ration book and the bomb shelter at the bottom of the garden, of the nation’s dangers and exertions.

In the sixty years since it was fought, this aspect of the People’s War has been downplayed, but the events of September 11th, 2001, were a forceful reminder of the potency of the sight and sound of aircraft in the skies above us. Six weeks after the attacks in New York, commercial aircraft were allowed to resume their flight paths over central London. On hearing the jet engines, people fell silent, reflecting on their meaning. That moment echoed  scenes of over half a century before, when the sounds of the V1 and V2 rockets had stopped Londoners fearfully in their tracks.

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