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Trenchard Lecture: British Universities and the Royal Air Force

31 October 2019

Flying for King and Country? British Universities and the Royal Air Force during the Interwar Period

The lecture will be held on Thursday 31 October 2019 at the Royal Aeronautical Society, London.

Clive Richards, author of ‘The University Air Squadrons: Early Years 1920–39’ will examine the history of the University Air Squadrons. He will also consider how policies relating to the University Air Squadrons were shaped and presented by the Air Staff in order to meet its objectives, whilst at the same time acknowledging (and where possible, accommodating) the interests of the Universities with which it was obliged to interact.

Six aircrew plotting flight on a map on the tail of a Cambridge University Air Squadron Bristol F2b Fighter

TALK OUTLINE

Following a lively debate, on 9 February 1933, the Oxford Union carried the motion ‘That this House will in no circumstances fight for its King and Country’. This event has been portrayed by many as emblematic of the anti-militaristic spirit, rooted in the experience of the First World War, that prevailed within British universities for much of the interwar period.

However, Britain’s wartime flying services had drawn heavily upon the scientific expertise of university researchers co-opted into uniform, and the postwar Royal Air Force would continue to look to the universities as centres of aviation research. The university sector was also perceived to be fertile ground for the recruitment of officers on short-service commissions and an avenue by which a spirit of ‘airmindedness’ could be imbued within future generations of political, administrative and industrial leaders.

In order to capitalise upon the opportunities for technological and organisational advancement offered by Britain’s universities, it was necessary for the Air Ministry to tread a path through a minefield of conflicting interests, including dubious university authorities, a sceptical student body, competing Service interests and a Treasury seeking to ensure that public funds were not squandered.

These efforts would lead, notably, to the establishment of Air Squadrons at Cambridge and Oxford Universities in 1925, and at the University of London a decade later. Less obviously, the RAF would also support aeronautical research in the university sector and allow some of its most promising engineers to benefit from a university education.
    
Drawing upon a range of primary and secondary sources, this paper will seek to examine the way in which policy was shaped and presented by the Air Staff in order to meet its objectives, whilst at the same time acknowledging (and where possible, accommodating) the interests of the institutions with which it was obliged to interact.

Location

The lecture will be held at the Royal Aeronautical Society at 6.30pm on Thursday 31 October 2019.

TICKETS

This lecture is free of charge however we do ask that you pre-book a free ticket as seats are limited. Booking is quick and easy:

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ABOUT CLIVE RICHARDS

An independent scholar based currently in Truro, Cornwall, Clive Richards has researched and written on various aspects of twentieth century military history for the last three decades. He graduated from Brunel University in 1989 and, following a short period in the financial services sector, joined the RAF Museum’s Department of Research and Information Services in 1993. In 1996, he left the latter for the Ministry of Defence Air Historical Branch, serving as a researcher on the latter’s staff until 2008.
    
After leaving the Ministry of Defence, Clive became a postgraduate researcher at the University of Exeter before entering the University of Birmingham, graduating with an MA in Air Power Studies in December 2017. Clive has participated in numerous conferences and seminars around the UK, and his work has appeared in a range of academic and popular publications. He was the author The University Air Squadrons. Early Years 1920-39, which was published by the Council of Military Educational Committees (COMEC) in their Occasional Paper series in 2016.

RAF MUSEUM RESEARCH PROGRAMME

The Trenchard Lectures in Air Power Studies form a part of the RAF Museum’s Research Programme for 2019. This programme consists of the First World War in the Air Lunchtime Lectures at our London site, the Cold War Lunchtime lectures at our Cosford site and other events such as conferences. For further details about the Research Programme please contact: askcollections@rafmuseum.org

The Trenchard Lectures in Air Power Studies are held in conjunction with the Royal Aeronautical Society and the War Studies Department at the University of Wolverhampton.
Please note that lectures are subject to change.


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