The evacuation from Dunkirk on the French coast was hailed in Britain as an extraordinary achievement and the ‘little ships of Dunkirk’ swiftly entered the mythology of wartime brave deeds.
British soldiers wade out to a waiting destroyer off Dunkirk during the evacuation.
Troops evacuated from Dunkirk on a destroyer about to berth at Dover, 31 May 1940.
Troops evacuated from Dunkirk enjoying tea and other refreshments at Addison Road station in London, 31 May 1940.
Some of the 'little ships' used during the evacuation of Dunkirk being towed back along the River Thames past Tower Bridge, 9 June 1940.
German forces moved into Dunkirk hours after the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force. Here German officers inspect a memorial on the sea front at Dunkirk.
A wooden figure of a French air ace with a German Taube aircraft under his arm. Rene Fonk and Georges Guynemer were France’s best-scoring aces with 75 and 53 victories respectively. Fonk survived the war but Guynemer went missing in 1917. He was last seen surrounded by several Fokker triplanes. French schoolchildren were subsequently taught that Guynemer had flown so high that he could not come back down again.
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Aviation was one of the most romanticised elements of the First World War. 'Air aces' in particular achieved celebrity status both during and after the war. French newspapers first coined the term 'l'as' to describe the high-scoring fighter pilot Adolphe Pegoud and the expression stuck. It is generally taken to mean any fighter pilot credited with shooting down five or more enemy aircraft.
Lone aerial combat provided an outlet for acts of personal bravery. The aces were seen as chivalrous heroes engaged in honest and impressive one-to-one fighting. Germany had in Manfred von Richtofen and Oswald Boelcke two of the most famous aces of all. Their photographs regularly appeared in newspapers making them the celebrities of their day.
The lives of air aces were often cut short through combat or because of mechanical failure. This only fuelled their status as heroic martyrs. Of eight of the most notable aces – Albert Ball, Baracca, Oswald Boelcke, William ‘Billy’ Bishop, Rene Fonk, Georges Guynemer, Edward 'Mick' Mannock, and Manfred von Richthofen – six were killed in action between 1916 and 1918.
Germany’s Manfred von Richthofen photographed after landing from a combat flight. Richtofen was the highest scoring air ace of the First World War with 80 victories. In Britain, he was known as the 'Red Baron' owing to his prodigious kill-rate while flying his signature bright red aircraft. Although closely associated with the Fokker DR-1 Dridecker triplane, most of his scores came while flying Albatrosses. He was shot down and killed in April 1918.
Portrait of Edward 'Mick' Mannock of the Royal Flying Corps. Mannock was Britain’s highest scoring air ace. He allegedly shot down 61 aircraft, before being killed himself. He was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross for bravery in the face of the enemy in the skies over France in 1917 and 1918.
Royal Flying Corps combat report entries made by two of Britain’s most famous air aces Captain Albert Ball and Captain Edward 'Mick' Mannock. Ball’s report was written on 25 September 1916 while serving with No 60 Squadron and Mannock’s on 4 September 1917 on service with No. 40 Squadron. Both were posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for courage in the face of the enemy during air combat in the First World War.
German poster inspired by air ace Max Immelmann, 1916. Immelmann was known as the 'Eagle of Lille', being responsible for the air defence of that city which was under German occupation. Germany’s first air ace of the First World War, he was credited with inventing an aerial manoeuvre that bears his name to this day. The 'Immelmann Turn' involved a simultaneous loop and roll and enabled him to dive onto a pursuing aircraft.
Windscreen from the SE5a biplane in which air ace Major James McCudden fatally crashed on 9 July 1918. On his way to take command of No 60 Squadron in France, McCudden landed briefly at Auxi-le-Chateau aerodrome. When he took off again his engine stalled and the aircraft crashed. McCudden died of his injuries later that day. By this point he had scored 57 victories, making him the seventh highest scoring air ace of the First World War.
souvenirs and ephemera