An Announcement about Our Royal Patronage

Lunchtime Lecture (London): “Contact:” Alan Bott and the Forgotten Literary Vision of the First World War in the Air

18 June 2024

On Tuesday 18th June 2024 at 12pm, Michael Terry will look at the memory of Captain Alan Bott, MC and Bar. This lecture will be hosted in-person at the RAF Museum’s London site, and will be live-streamed via Crowdcast.
 
Talk Outline
During the First World War, the public voice of authority in Britain on aerial warfare was not one of the famous aces but a man known only as ‘Contact’. ‘Contact’ was in fact Captain Alan Bott, MC & Bar, a serving airman who had become experienced in aerial warfare whilst fighting above the Somme in 1916. Intending to show the reality of that conflict, Bott laid out a vision of a strikingly beautiful war fought against a backdrop of ‘blue infinity’, but he also depicted a modern, technological war, where all aerial roles co-operated in support of the army below ‘exactly as the parts of a flawless motor’.
 
Bott’s 1917 book An Airman’s Outings was the first successful insider’s story of the British air war. It found both critical and commercial success. But by the end of the war, and much to Bott’s irritation, his vision of an integrated war of co-ordination was being displaced in popular culture by a fighter-centric mythology that focused on the exploits of the aces. It was this vision of the war that would dominate in the years ahead, all the way to the modern day. ‘Contact’ and his message were largely forgotten.
 
Based on an extensive study of Bott’s writings and his correspondence held at the National Library of Scotland, this presentation aims to help return Bott to public memory by examining both his remarkable aviation career and the details of how he presented the war in the air. It considers why Bott’s relatively realistic depiction of that war was replaced in public consciousness by more fantastical stories of fighter combat and duelling aces. Overall, the presentation will demonstrate what Bott’s story tells us about the way we like to remember the First World War in the air.
Location
This hybrid lecture will be hosted in-person at the RAF Museum’s London site in the Lecture Theatre. Attendance in-person is free but registration is required via Digitickets.
Livestream
To attend virtually, register via Crowdcast.
 
About Michael Terry
Michael Terry is an English Literature graduate and early career researcher currently writing a PhD thesis for the Open University on the Representation of First World War Aerial Combat in Literature. His work aims to highlight the significance of this under-researched genre of writing. He examines how this body of work confounds our general expectations of what First World War literature should be like, and how it helped form a mythology about early aerial combat that persists to this day.
 
As his focus is literature, his work largely involves the close analysis of texts. As well as novels and memoirs, he studies combat reports, diaries, letters, wartime communiques, squadron histories, newspaper articles and publication records.
 
In recent years, he has presented a series of lectures for the British Commission for Military History and the Royal Air Force Museum, focusing on the popular mythology of First World War aerial combat and how it relates to memory, history and literature. He brought his work to the Society for Military History’s Annual Meeting in Arlington, Virginia, in April 2024. He has recently become an advisor to the Great War Aviation Society and presented their annual Leaman Lecture in 2024.

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