Setting at story at the RAF Museum London


Sopwith Camel on display at RAFM LondonI’m writing a children’s book about a Sopwith Camel pilots – men who flew into battle one-hundred years ago. It is not an easy thing to write about something that was so long ago and something that is so difficult to imagine. 

How do you do something like that?
Luckily for me, there are First World War in the Air exhibitions at Cosford and London RAF Museums.

My book begins at the London RAF Museum. A boy called Jatinder is with his classmates on a school visit. He’s not that interested in the aircraft and display cases until he sees an interpretation board about the Sikh pilot, Hardit Singh Malik. Jatinder is also a Sikh and he is astonished to learn that Sikhs flew for the Royal Flying Corps during the First World War.

I visited the London museum to help get the book right. 

I needed the setting of the story: the museum itself. To see what it looks like, what it feels like to arrive there. I wanted to experience what my character would experience. 

I found the Hardit Singh Malik display and sourced extra information about him on the pilot database that you can search in the museum or from home. 

One of the highlights of the London exhibition is an example of the plane he flew, the Sopwith Camel, the centre piece of the First World War in the Air exhibition. 
Together these exhibits helped me imagine my character, his settings and his experiences.

When I am writing a book that is what I do. I try to be the character, experience what they would experience, imagine how they would react.

In my story, once Jatinder finds out about Hardit Singh Malik he makes a model of a Sopwith Camel (available at the museum shop) and suddenly finds himself in that plane during the First World War. The boy from today becomes the man from WW1. That’s not something I could research directly, but with the help of all the exhibits, texts, films and staff at Hendon, it was a lot easier to imagine what it could be like for a boy from today to find himself in a First World War plane above the trenches.
Easier… but not easy.  But – with the help of museums – that is what people who do my job try to achieve.

The Sopwith Camel story is the first of three books I am writing with the RAF Museums. The other two will be about the Spitfire and the Eurofighter Typhoon. They will all be published in 2016 by Barrington Stoke.

If you want to see the Sopwith Camel that Jatinder is inspired by then check out the First World War exhibition at RAF Museum London.

The  First World War in the Air exhibition was made possible through funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund and with support from BAE Systems.

BAE Systems & HLF Logo



Tom Palmer : Cosford Writer in Residence
About the Author

Tom Palmer : Cosford Writer in Residence

I write children's books about football, rugby and - more recently - the RAF. The Rugby Academy books feature RAF families, based on my research at an RAF school. In 2016 the Wings series will be published by Barrington Stoke.

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