Book Review
Aero-Neurosis Pilots WW1
Aero-Neurosis Pilots of the First World War and the Psychological Legacies of Combat
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by: Fay Baker [ AWESOME_ODP ]


We have all heard of the terms ‘shell shock’ or PTSD, but have we ever stopped to think about those who were/are effected by this. We should all be Veteran aware, as not all wounds are visible. This book gives us an insight into the early days of this legacy.

The following is taken from the Pen and Sword Website:

The young men who flew and fought during the First World War had no idea what was awaiting them. The rise of science and nationalism during the late 19th and early 20th centuries came to a head in 1914. The ‘technology shock’ that coalesced at the Western Front was not envisaged by anyone in a position of leadership. These men did the best they could and gave their full measure but each suffered from their experiences, some better than others. Each knew it was a defining moment in their lives never to be repeated. And many felt that the dynamic context of aerial combat was something that, after the war, they still longed for, despite the attendant horrors.

The medical and psychiatric profession evolved symbiotically with the war. Like the patients they were charged with treating, doctors were unprepared for what awaited them. Doctors argued over best practice for treatment. Of course, the military wanted these men to return to duty as quickly as possible; with mounting casualties, each country needed every man. Aviation psychiatry arose as a new subset of the field, attempting to treat psychological symptoms previously unseen in combatants. The unique conditions of combat flying produced a whole new type of neurosis.

Terms such as Aero-neurosis were coined to provide the necessary label yet, like shell shock, they were inadequate when it came to describing the full and complete shock to the psyche.We are fortunate that many of these fliers chose to write. They kept diaries and letters about their experiences after the war and they are, of course, an invaluable record. But perhaps more importantly, they were also a means for many of them to heal.

Mark C. Wilkins finds the psychology undergirding historical events fascinating and of chief interest to him as an historian. He has included expert medical testimony and excerpts where relevant in a fascinating book that explores the legacies of aerial combat, illustrating the ways in which pilots had to amalgamate their suffering and experiences into their post-war lives. Their attempts to do so can perhaps be seen as an extension of their heroism.


This hard back book is published by Pen and Sword Aviation, and is written by Mark C Wilkins, and priced at £19.99. Containing 162 pages of good quality paper and with a glossy section in the middle with black and white pictures of military equipment, soldiers and pilots.

The list of contents is as follows:

Chapter 1 Building a Mechanized Age and the Rise of Nationalism
Chapter 2 The Rise of Flight and Cathedrals in the sky
Chapter 3 The Birth if Military Aviation
Chapter 4 A New Kind of Warfare
Chapter 5 The Immortal Ace
Chapter 6 Coping with the Strain: Aviation Psychiatry
Chapter 7 Elliott White Springs - the True War Bird
Chapter 8 The Slow Fuse - William Lambert
Chapter 9 Besting the Baron - Roy Brown
Chapter 10 The Conscience of a Hawk - Ernst Udet
Chapter 11 Edward ‘Mick’ Mannock - Collectivist Dogfighter
Chapter 12 The Unlikely Ace of Aces - Georges Guynemer

In the early 20th century man had to adapt very quickly to mechanised warfare. Man created bigger and better ways of killing man. How does this affect those who are taking part in this carnage? We are lucky that in this publication that those who took part, wrote down how they felt and how it affected them. In a passage from the book there is a description of what it was like to fight and live in the crater infested landscape - “…everything is fluid and dissolved…one dripping, oily mess in which lie yellow pools with streams of blood into which the dead, wounded and survivors slowly sink down”.


I found this book extremely moving, the diaries of those men who wrote down their thoughts are very vivid. I particularly found the passage in which a son was writing to his mother and apologising for unloading to her, as if it was something to be ashamed of, to be poignant. It is also interesting to read about Hiram Maxim who is well known for the invention of the machine Gun, but is less well known for the patented pocket menthol inhaler.
Highs: The contents can be directly credited to those suffering the effect of events.
Lows: Nothing of note.
Verdict: A book looking at PTSD before it even had a name and how individuals dealt with it.
  Scale: N/A
  Mfg. ID: ISBN 9781526723123
  Suggested Retail: £15.99
  PUBLISHED: Sep 27, 2019

Our Thanks to Pen & Sword Books!
This item was provided by them for the purpose of having it reviewed on this KitMaker Network site. If you would like your kit, book, or product reviewed, please contact us.

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About Fay Baker (Awesome_ODP)

Copyright ©2021 text by Fay Baker [ AWESOME_ODP ]. Images also by copyright holder unless otherwise noted. Opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of AeroScale. All rights reserved.