Virtual Lecture - “It’s a rum life”: Physical Space and Morale Amongst Royal Flying Corps Scout Pilots

14 April 2023

At 6.00pm on Friday 14 April 2023, Abby Whitlock will be discussing the use of shared spaces to maintain RFC morale. The lecture will be live-streamed online via Crowdcast.

Christmas dinner 1918, NCOs and men still in RFC uniforms.

Talk Outline

Transitioning from the peacetime Edwardian Era to the fast-paced, violent environment of the First World War, the disruptive, unknown nature of aerial warfare created such a strong sense of traumatic discomfort that officials and pilots alike turned to familiar gendered expectations regarding masculinity and emotional coping as a means of self-preservation. These masculine ideals regarding bravery, emotional stability, and bonding were a direct carry-over from the predominantly upper class pre-war spaces many pilots transitioned from after 1914. For the Royal Flying Corps, preventative measures regarding mental and emotional health became extremely important, as their day-to-day life was a dichotomy of intense patrols and fighting followed by stretches of free-time. These free periods, though beneficial for relaxation, simultaneously provided opportunities for pilots to reflect on the precarious nature of their jobs and the heavy casualties they faced, which threatened squadron morale. In order to properly facilitate group dynamics to achieve a sense of community, aerodrome structure and recreation were carefully curated by commanding officers, and maintained by pilots through participation in such spaces. Through careful planning, set-up, and maintenance regardless of circumstances, the greater aerodrome created a carefully curated, homosocial atmosphere to help present an environment for pilots to function properly with approved outlets for emotions and interactions.

The sense of community fostered through these spaces and subsequent exchanges created a shared sense of camaraderie, strengthened squadron identity and morale by encouraging the development of friendships, as well as emphasized shared values by providing outlets for energy, physical strength, and, most importantly, emotions, including happiness, anger, and grief. As such, the aerodrome functioned simultaneously as an area of acceptance and recognition common values and ideals, as well as an area of exclusion and judgment based upon the rejection of values and ideals.


This virtual lecture will be held on the Museum’s Crowdcast channel on Friday 14 April at 6.00pm.


This lecture is free to attend via the RAF Museum’s Crowdcast channel, but registration is required. Booking is quick and easy.

About Abby Whitlock

A native of Virginia, Abby S. Whitlock is a historian specializing in the First and Second World War and combat medicine. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts with Honors in History and European Studies from the College of William and Mary in 2019, focusing on social, cultural, and military history and war as a cultural production. Her thesis, “A Return to Camelot?: British Identity, The Masculine Ideal, and the Romanticization of the Royal Flying Corps Image”, took an interdisciplinary approach to identifying and analyzing the promotion of the Royal Flying Corps and the typical British airman’s experience during the First World War. In November 2022, she graduated from the University of Edinburgh with her MSc in History with Distinction. Her dissertation, “It’s a rum life”: Physical Space, Group Dynamics, and Morale Amongst Royal Flying Corps Scout Pilots, 1914-1918”, focused on the role physical space on aerodromes played in maintaining morale and a sense of unity by encouraging hegemonic ideals relating to friendship, courage, and mental health. She currently works at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC for the Digital Experience Division, where she assists with program management, administrative support, and content planning for the institution’s digital initiatives.

About the RAF Museum Research Programme

The RAF Museum’s 2023 programme includes Lunchtime Lectures at the RAF Museum, Cosford; Air Power Lectures, co-organised with the Centre for War and Diplomacy at Lancaster University; and Air Power Seminars, co-organised with the University of Wolverhampton. You can attend these lectures in person or join us online as we live-stream from the venue.