Helena Schrader's Historical Fiction

Dr. Helena P. Schrader is the winner of more than 20 literary accolades. For a complete list of her awards see: http://helenapschrader.com

Helena is represented by Laurie Blum Guest at the Re-Naissance Agency.

For readers tired of clich├ęs and cartoons, award-winning novelist Helena P. Schrader offers nuanced insight to historical events and figures based on sound research and an understanding of human nature. Her complex and engaging characters bring history back to life as a means to better understand ourselves.

Friday, November 26, 2021

Women of the Past: Part IV of a Ten-Part Reflection on Creative Writing

 Creating credible female characters in a historical setting where they do not enjoy the same freedoms and status as women of the present can be a challenge. Based on the historical fiction I have read, many authors "solve" the problem simply by making their heroines "unusual" or "ahead of their time." That is, making them modern women and explaining them away as "exceptional" because of some circumstance in their childhood. (Usually a mother who died in childbed, no brothers and an indulgent father.) While that approach is easy, it generally detracts from the authenticity of a novel. I've found that making a greater effort to make women conform to their own age is far more rewarding.

The key — as with most things in historical fiction — is understanding the period you are writing about. In depth research, particularly reading first-hand accounts by women of the period or biographies of women from the period, will usually enable a writer to start seeing the world through the eyes of women of the period. This is critical because to write credible characters, male or female, one must not depict them with thoughts, feelings and ambitions dictated by our modern understanding of what is right and wrong, but rather with their own values and expectations.

Research will aid the author in two ways:

First, much of what we think we know about a period of history may be hearsay, oversimplifications, propaganda or based on discredited sources. An excellent example of this is the common misperception that women in the Middle Ages were “mere chattels.” This is utter nonsense easily disproved by any serious (or even fairly superficial) research into the legal status, economic role and biographies of women of the period. Women could be sovereigns, lords, guild masters, and independent businesswomen. They took oaths of fealty, commanded men, inherited and controlled wealth including land, had professional training, were literate and numerate and engaged in professions such as medicine. In short, a novelist writing about women in the Middle Ages might not find them so different from modern women as she thinks before doing her research.

 Second, however, in depth and particularly biographical research should enable a novelist to start to identify with and empathize with her female characters even in those areas and on those topics where their attitudes, values and expectations do differ more radically from our own.  There is no question, for example, that women in WWII with very few exceptions were paid far less than their male counterparts and were restricted in their role. There was nothing like equality of opportunity and socially many customs were patronizing. Yet, when reading the memoirs of women in the Second World War the thing that jumped out at me was the enthusiasm and excitement they felt to be doing so much. While we look at their roles like the pessimist, seeing only what they did not have, they almost universally looked on their new empowerment like the optimist, seeing what they did have.  

My medieval women do not have modern values and attitudes. They would not for a moment consider themselves “equal” to men nor would they want to disrupt the divine order by taking over male roles, yet they are strong, independent, self-confident and take an active role in their own fate. Find out more about my novels set in the Middle Ages at: https://www.helenapschrader.com/crusades.html

Likewise, the heroines of my WWII novels are far from “liberated” or powerful, but they don’t spend their time bemoaning their fate either, preferring to take the opportunities they have and contribute to the great national cause of which they saw themselves a part. Find out more about my WWII novels at: https://www.helenapschrader.com/wwii.html


Friday, November 19, 2021

Of Protagonists and Heroes - Part III of a Ten-Part Reflection on Creative Writing

 As a historical novelist, I am drawn to historical events in which humans — ordinary humans — have done something extraordinary. I suppose one might argue that that is the very definition of “heroes.” Yet, thinking of them in that way can detract from an empathetic and compelling portrayal. 



Let me give you an example. In the Battle of Britain a few hundred RAF pilots changed the course of history by halting Hitler’s aggression. As Winston Churchill famously said: “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.” But those young men were extraordinarily ordinary and not terribly heroic — except in their dogged determination to “do their job” despite the odds against them. I’ve read too many novels that, seeing these young men as “heroes,” transform them into superheroes.  In other words, rather than showing them as immature young men with fears, insecurities, and underdeveloped flying and fighting skills, depict them all as hot-shot “aces.” On their very first combat sortie, they go out and shoot down four or five enemy aircraft. That’s not the way it was. It took time to learn how to dogfight, and most RAF pilots were shot down more than once before they were able to register their first victory — assuming they lived that long. Even top-scoring aces didn’t shoot down more than one or two enemy aircraft in a sortie. Most RAF pilots in the Battle of Britain were insecure when their arrived, all of them experienced fear and terror at times, and the bulk of them were also immature and often terribly irresponsible. They did silly things and they made lots of mistakes. I think that showing them as the immature, fallible, and yet frightened yet enthusiastic and irrepressible young men they were is both more historically accurate and makes better fiction. By making them less heroic as individuals, the reader finds it easier to fully identify and empathize with them. 

 On the other hand, some heroes are not simply “doing their job” but rather behave in a way that is extraordinary. They do something positive that is above and beyond the call of duty or reasonable expectations. Such heroes, I believe, are most effective in fiction if they are not depicted as something other-worldly, supernatural, or inherently different from the rest of us, but humanized instead.  

An example of this is my Balian d’Ibelin. Ibelin was without a doubt an extraordinary man. Although a landless younger son, he married a dowager queen, founded a powerful dynasty, and ultimately earned the respect of both Richard the Lionheart and Saladin. He defended Jerusalem against Saladin’s victorious army with no knights or trained troops, depending on women, boys and priests to man the walls. Yet his moment of greatest heroism, in my opinion, was when he offered himself as a hostage to save 15,000 paupers from slavery. For the reader to fully grasp just what that gesture meant and cost, however, they first have to care about Balian as a husband and a father. He has to be human first — and heroic second.

In both examples, the key is to view and to treat characters as fallible humans who do heroic things rather than as heroes, much less superheroes.

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Friday, November 12, 2021

Characters - Part II of a Ten-Part Reflection on Creative Writing

  For me, characters more than plot define a book and determine its success. As a reader, if I really like a character, the plot can be simple, but if I don't, the best plot in the world cannot capture my interest. As a novelist, I write two kinds of historical fiction, biographical novels and non-biographical novels requiring different types of characters. The biographical novels are based on the lives of historical figures and the major characters are indeed real, historical figures. The non-biographical novels are novels set in a known/documented historical context but using fictional characters to describe and explore the historical era/event. In short, my characters fall into two categories: historical figures and invented people. Yet they are not really as different as one may think. 

First, is important to recognize that any character in a novel, even if based rigidly upon the historical record, is to a degree fictional. Unless we are lucky enough to have memoirs, diaries or letters left behind by a historical character, most of what we know about people in the past is what others have written about them. We are far more likely to know what they did than why they did it.

A novelist writing about a famous figure from the past usually interprets and expands upon the historical record. A novelist will fill in gaps in the historical record by interpolating between two known data points. A novelist usually attempts to explain behavior by imagining possible motives and to make a character more comprehensible by suggesting emotional states-of-mind. A novelist will certainly invent dialogue and may also invent secondary characters to interact with the historical figure in order to make that character more understandable.

While I presume that most of the above is widely known, it may come as a surprise to many readers that I view some of fictional characters as no less — indeed arguably more — “real” than the historical ones. The reason for this is that some of my fictional characters — individuals not found in any historical record — are so vivid and so complete when they form in my imagination that I question that I could have created them.

Yes, there are characters that I create and manipulate at will, but there are others that direct me on what they did and said and thought and felt. I cannot do with them as I please. I cannot make them behave in ways they do not want, nor can I put words into their mouths. On the contrary, they tend to want to take over a novel and push it in the direction they want. They certainly provide much of the key dialogue and the plot.

Working with them is always a delight. For one thing they are full of surprises. They greatly enrich my stories because they have more wit and humor than I.  An example of this kind of character is Robin Priestman in Where Eagles Never Flew

 Another advantage of these characters is that the writing comes easily and is almost always print-ready — but only those scenes seen from their point of view, of course. Since my novels are complex and I prefer portraying historical events from a variety of perspectives because I believe this enriches our understanding of the subject, these scenes written by characters still have to be embedded in the wider context of the novel and that can be hard work when dealing with strong personalities.

Another problem is that I cannot ignore them.  This past year I had wrapped up, completed and edited two novellas that I planned to release under the title Grounded Eagles. I had already turned to my next project, a novel about the Berlin Airlift. I was very happy with this project, going back to research I had done for my non-fiction book The Blockade Breakers. Indeed, I’d written more than 100 pages of this new work with Kit Moran disrupted everything. 

Moran demanded that I include his story about being posted for Lack of Moral Fibre in November 1943 in my (I thought finished) Grounded Eagles. I could not continue my work on Bridge to Berlin. Nor could I release Grounded Eagles on schedule. I needed to set everything aside, write Moran’s story, find appropriate materials for a cover, go back to my editor etc. etc. 

And as if that weren’t enough, having completed Lack of Moral Fibre both as a stand-alone ebook and a component part of Grounded Eagles, Moran insisted that I write about what happened to him after the incident in November 1943. Fortunately, he’s a delightful young man and I don’t mind spending time with him and his Georgina, but he has been disruptive of all my planning!

For more information about both books see: https://crossseaspress.com/where-eagles-never-flew



Friday, November 5, 2021

Inspiration - Part I of a Ten-Part Reflection on Creative Writing

 As the year winds down and I take stock of my accomplishments, I find myself reflecting more and more on my principal activity: creative writing. I've decided to share some of my insights about my own, personal process and goals in a ten-part series. Today Is start with the genesis of a book: the inspiration.

Above: my husband and I at the Mena House Hotel, Giza, Egypt. Somehow the pyramids seemed like an appropriate image for reflecting on the source of inspiration.

Since I write historical fiction, the fundamental idea or trigger for a book is almost always an event in history that excites my interest. I usually stumble upon these catalysts quite by accident — e.g. when on holiday somewhere new, or reading about something else. I cannot approach a new novel rationally as I would non-fiction project, by evaluating what topics would be most relevant or popular or valuable. Nor can a second person suggest a topic to me. Unless I am personally inspired to write about an event/era/incident, it is an utter waste of time to try.

Once I start a novel, however, I draw as much upon my own experience with and understanding of mankind as I do upon the historical record and scholarly sources. I novel requires credible and attractive characters, and no matter how they are dressed, where or when they “lived,” they need to behave in ways consistent with human nature as I perceive it today.

One of the best examples of this is probably my depiction of Leonidas of Sparta as a youth going through the infamous agoge. Most readers will be familiar with the horror depicted in the film “300” or more lurid — but popular — allegations of mindless brutality resulting in many deaths and a complete disregard for literacy much less music, art or other subjects. Yet the popular view of the agoge is not supported by contemporary sources. Most legends about the agoge date from the Roman period, more than six hundred years after Leonidas lived and after two major changes in regime.

Having examined the evidence for the agoge in the era in which Leonidas attended, I found that it was viewed by such Ancient Greek intellectuals as Chilon, Socrates and Plato as admirable and progressive. (Would Socrates have approved of children not learning to read? Would Plato have wanted his second most important citizens to be mindless brutes?) I also learned that Sparta in the age of Leonidas was famous for its singing and dancing. (Is that consistent with a society that flogged its youth to death?) I learned that philosophers visited and taught in Sparta. (Taught illiterate youth who were out fighting with the wolves to survive?) I could go on, but you probably see my point.

I threw out the sensationalist (possibly propaganda) reports written by non-Spartans about an institution that existed more than 600 years after Leonidas’ death along with all the modern fantasies constructed on those ancient sources and started creating a Spartan agoge based on contemporary or near contemporary sources. (My newest source was Xenophon, 430-350 BC.)

Furthermore, I knew while Spartan youth were expected to be soldiers-only for ten years, after that, while still subject to military service, they were also expected to be bureaucrats managing a wealthy and diverse state. (See: https://spartareconsidered.blogspot.com/2017/10/public-administration-spartas-hidden.html) Full Spartan citizens needed many skills starting with basic literacy and numeracy and Sparta’s soldiers need to know more than how to march and kill. 

Combining this knowledge, I hypothesized an educational system consistent with what was known about Sparta but based more on educational systems around the world today. E.g. an age-based curriculum designed to give children and youth the skills they would need as adults in the world in which they lived. This in turn enabled me to create a Leonidas with whom most readers can readily identify -- as would not be the case if he was simply a victim of sadistic cruelty for 14 years. The result is a novel,  A Boy of the Agoge which has won wide praise for its authenticity. 

 Find out more at: https://www.helenapschrader.com/boy-of-the-agoge.html

Friday, October 29, 2021

An Inconvenient War - The RAF Strategic Bombing Offensive

 The Battle of Britain was a glamorous defensive battle fought by a "few" against seemingly overwhelming odds and it has -- rightly -- captured the hearts and imaginations of generations. Yet, it was a short, three-month interlude in a six-year-long war of bitter attrition. Churchill was correct when he said the fate of civilization hung in the balance during the Battle of Britain. Yet while the Battle of Britain prevented Nazi victory, it did not assure Allied victory. British success in the Battle of Britain was only the first necessary precondition for a continued Allied struggle against Nazi tyranny in Europe. From the withdrawal of the British Expeditionary Force at Dunkirk in June 1940 until the Normandy invasions in June 1944, Britain's only means for striking at Germany's military and industrial capacity was through a bomber offensive.

Strategic bombing, as bombing offensives are more commonly called, is not popular with anyone anymore -- if it ever was. Strategic bombing isn't pretty. It isn't glamorous. It isn't heroic. Bombing offensives are cruel. They kill the innocent as well as the guilty. They destroy priceless and irreplaceable historical and cultural monuments. In a post-war world where the urgency of victory had dissipated, the ugly face of strategic bombing was not something anyone wanted to remember anymore, and so it was largely relegated to the realm of "necessary evils" best swept under the carpet.

That natural tendency not to dwell on the unpleasant was compounded by the results of the Strategic Bombing Survey. This survey, commissioned by the U.S. Secretary of War to  assess the damage done by the Allied strategic bombing, was carried out by a panel of civilian experts that produced a report 208 volumes long with over 200 supporting documents. Released in October 1945, it pointed to startling failures that shattered wartime faith in the efficacy of bombing. For example, the Strategic Bombing Survey found that German aircraft production more than doubled from 15,596 aircraft of all types in 1942 (before the start of strategic bombing) to 39,807 aircraft in 1944. Likewise, tank production peaked in 1944, despite the bombing offensive, and -- particularly disappointing to the USAAF -- there was no evidence that the repeated and costly attacks on the German ball bearing industry had any impact on the war at all. The Strategic Bombing Survey, furthermore, assessed the results of the entire Allied air offensive, the U.S. as well as the British bombing, and was particularly dismissive of night bombing, the RAF's contribution, because of it's limited accuracy. 

Such results were quickly seized upon by opponents of strategic bombing and are the most familiar facts known about the survey to this day. The influential economist John Kenneth Galbraith concluded that strategic bombing had been virtually worthless and called it a strategic blunder. He suggested that it had stimulated the German economy and stiffened German resolve to fight rather than the reverse.  Such an assessment poured oil on the flames of moral outrage over the civilian and cultural casualties of bombing. Strategic bombing was increasingly viewed as mindless terror. 

If one accepts this conclusion, then the losses sustained by the Allied Air Forces were unconscionable. The RAF alone lost roughly 55,000 men, or almost exactly 100 times the losses in the Battle of Britain. (Although to keep things in perspective, one should remember that the British lost 125,000 men at the Battle of the Somme alone.) While hardly anyone blames the pawns of this war, the aircrew, they were nevertheless increasingly portrayed as victims rather than heroes, as the dunces of the diabolical and heartless political and military leadership. 

Yet the conclusions of the Strategic Bombing Survey were much broader and more complex than the simple facts noted above suggest. The Survey, undertaken so shortly after the war, had grave issues with verifying data and there is strong reason to believe, for example, that many Nazi "production figures" were fantastical book-keeping exercises fabricated to cover-up reality from the Nazi leadership. Furthermore, beside the noted failures, the survey recorded significant success. For example, the Allied bombing offensive was extremely effective in closing down Germany's synthetic oil and petroleum production, contributing materially to the collapse of the Wehrmacht's mobility. More dramatically -- if late in the war -- submarine production was completely disrupted. Altogether, the Survey concludes that strategic bombing contributed materially to Allied victory and shortened the land offensive. 

Impossible to calculate, yet critical to any conclusions about the efficacy of Allied strategic bombing in WWII, is an answer to the following question: What would German industrial and military capacity have been without the Allied strategic bombing campaign? Would a successful invasion of the Continent and Germany have been possible without strategic bombing in the previous four years? 

We know that the bulk of German fighters were deployed to the defensive of the Reich because of the bombing offensive. What if, instead, they had been on the fronts providing the air cover so urgently needed by the Wehrmacht? Or, put another way, what if the Allies had not had air superiority over the beaches of Normandy? What if the 2 million men manning anti-aircraft batteries in the Reich had been available to fight on the Eastern Front? What if the 8,8 flak guns had been deployed as tank killers instead of clustered around Germany's industrial cities to bring down bombers?

Moreover, in addition to it impact on economic and military capacity, strategic bombing was intended to both damage enemy and bolster domestic morale.  The impact on German morale has been particularly controversial. Clearly, the Germans did not rise up in rebellion, but such an expectation is naive. However, there is evidence to suggest that the population of industrial centers was significantly less loyal to the regime than the rest of the German population. This was in part due to a tradition of Socialism in the urban centers, but also do to the effects of bombing. Leaving aside the political component, German (including contemporary Nazi) sources stress that the continuous disruptions to water, electricity, transportation, and sleep undermined worker morale and efficiency -- but in a way that is difficult to quantify. 

On the other hand, after the loss of roughly 52,000 British lives in the German bombing offensive against Britain, the British public expected retribution. That may not sound very noble or altruistic, but it was a political reality that could not be ignored. As a result, the RAF's bombing offensive was popular throughout the war and aircrew stood in high regard with the British public. 

Last but not least, for four long years the bombing offensive against Germany was Britain's sole means of taking the war to the enemy. By doing so, Britain demonstrated her determination to defeat Hitler. The bombing offensive was also critical in fending off strident Soviet demands for a premature "second front." 

Ultimately, regardless of the utility of their actions in retrospect, the young men who volunteered to fly in this extremely hazardous and costly campaign deserve recognition and regard. Roughly 8,000 aircrew from Bomber Command lost their lives in training, before embarking on a single operational sortie.  Although survival rates steadily increased in the course of the war, with losses per operation falling from 4.1% in 1942 to less than 1% in 1945, nevertheless, on average the chances of surviving a tour of 30 operations averaged just 29%. The men who took those risks again and again in an attempt -- however vain -- to weaken Nazi Germany should be remembered with respect.


Lack of Moral Fibre and my work-in-progress, Lancaster Skipper, are dedicated to depicting and honoring the contributions of RAF Bomber Command aircrew to the war. You can find out more about Lack of Moral Fibre at: https://crossseaspress.com/lack-of-moral-fibre.


Friday, October 22, 2021

Lack of Moral Fibre -- A Reassessment

 The term “Lack of Moral Fibre” was introduced into RAF vocabulary in April 1940 and was ‘designed to stigmatize aircrew who refused to fly without a medical reason.’ [1] While it is now most commonly associated with ‘shell-shocked’ bomber crews, in fact aircrew from all commands could be and were categorized as LMF in the course of the war. Humiliating as the concept was, the myths about the treatment of LMF were more terrifying than the facts.


The RAF entered the war confident that its volunteer aircrew, all viewed as the finest human material available, would not suffer from any crisis in morale. Yet already by January 1940, attrition rates of over 50% in Bomber Command, triggered a crisis in confidence among commanders and crews. At the same time, Coastal Command morale was undermined by unreliable engines and unarmed aircraft that proved extremely vulnerable to Luftwaffe attack.

On March 21, 1940 the Air Member for Personnel met with senior RAF commanders to develop a procedure for dealing with flying personnel who refused to ‘face operational risks.’ The concern of these senior officers was that the refusal to fly would become more widespread, debilitating the RAF. The RAF’s dilemma was that flying was ‘voluntary,’ hence the refusal to fly was not technically a breach of the military code.

The RAF needed an alternative means of punishing and deterring refusals to fly on the part of trained aircrew. Furthermore, because of the on-going crisis, the procedures for dealing with the problem were required immediately. There was no time for a lengthy investigation of the causes or research into best practices for treatment. So LMF procedures were introduced.

Over time the polices on LMF were modified significantly and increasingly discredited. Yet it is telling that at the height of the Battle of Britain, AVM Sir Keith Park strongly advocated the policy, emphasizing that aircrew deemed LMF should ‘be removed immediately from the precincts of the squadron or station.’[i]

Furthermore, while nowadays LMF is most commonly associated with bomber crews, the statistics show a that only one third of LMF cases came from Bomber Command. Surprisingly, fully a third came from Training Command, while both Coastal and Fighter Commands also had their share of LMF cases. Fighter Ace Air Commodore Al Deere describes in detail a case of a pilot from No 54 Squadron who avoided combat and was later ejected from the squadron for being “yellow.”[ii] Fighter Ace Wing Commander Bob Doe records another incident towards the end of the Battle of Battle of Britain in which a Squadron Leader conspicuously avoided combat, but because the Squadron Leader was from a different squadron, no action was taken.[iii]

For the men who continued flying operations, the fate of those ‘expeditiously’ posted away from a squadron for LMF was largely shrouded in mystery. Legends about LMF abound. During the war itself, it was widely believed that aircrew found LMF were humiliated, demoted, court-martialed, and dishonorably discharged. There were rumors of former aircrew being transferred to the infantry, sent to work in the mines, and forced to do demeaning tasks. Aircrew expected to have their records and discharge papers stamped “LMF” or “W” (for Waverer) with implications for their post-war employment opportunities.

Long before the war was over, however, the very concept of LMF was harshly criticized and increasingly discredited. In the post-war era, popular perceptions conflated LMF with “shell shock” in the First World War and with the more modern concept/diagnosis of Post Traumatic Shock Syndrome PTSS. In literature — from Len Deighton’s Bomber to Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 — aircrew were increasingly depicted as victims of a cruel war machine making excessive and senseless demands upon the helpless airmen. Doubts about the overall efficacy of strategic bombing, horror stories depicting the effects of terror bombing on civilians, and general pacifism in the post-war era have all contributed to these cliches.

In reality, LMF was a more complex and nuanced issue. First, although there are documented instances of aircrew being humiliated in a parade during which flying and rank badges were stripped off, such public ceremonies were extremely rare. The vast majority of references to such public spectacles are second hand; that is, the witness heard about such procedures at a different station or squadron. 

Historical analysis of the records, on the other hand, show almost no evidence of widespread humiliation. Furthermore, over the course of the war, less than one percent of aircrew were posted LMF, and of these the vast majority were partially or completely rehabilitated.  Only a tiny fraction were actually designated LMF or the equivalent. (The term used for describing aircrew deemed cowardly varied over time, including the terms “waverer” and “lack of confidence.”) Furthermore, the process for determining whether aircrew were LMF or not was far more humane than the myths of immediate and public humiliation suggest.

While the decision to remove a member of aircrew from a unit was an executive decision, applied when member of aircrew had “lost the confidence of his commanding officer,” the subsequent treatment was largely medical/psychiatric. Thus, while a Squadron Leader or Station Commander was authorized — and expected! — to remove any officer or airman who endangered the lives or undermined the morale of others by his attitude or behavior, a man found LMF at squadron level was not automatically treated as such by the RAF medical establishment.

On the contrary, RAF medical personnel were at pains to point out that LMF was not a medical diagnosis at all! It was a term invented by senior RAF commanders in order to deal with a phenomenon they observed — and feared.  In consequence, once a man had been posted away from his active unit, he found himself inside the medical establishment that employed Not Yet Diagnosed Nervous (NYDN) centers to examine and to a lesser extent treat individuals who had “lost the confidence of their commanding officers.”

The medical and psychiatric officers at the NYDN centers (of which there were no less than 12) were at pains to understand the causes of any breakdown. They did not assume the men sent to them were inherently malingerers or cowards. On the contrary, as a result of their work they made a major contribution to understanding — and helping the RAF leadership to understand — the causes for a beak-down in morale. These included not only inadequate periods of rest, but irresponsible leadership, lack of confidence in aircraft, and issues of group cohesion and integration. As a result of their interviews with air crew that had been posted LMF, for example, the medical professionals were able to convince Bombing Command to reduce the number of missions per tour and to exempt aircrew on second tours from the LMF procedures altogether.

Meanwhile, more than 30% of the aircrew referred to NYDNs returned to full operational flying (35% in 1942 and 32% in 1943-1945), another 5-7% returned to limited flying duties, and between 55% and 60% were assigned to ground duties. Less than 2% were completely discharged.

In addition, there is considerable circumstantial evidence that at the unit level, pains were taken to avoid the stigma of “LMF.” No one understood the stresses of combat better than those who were subjected to them. It was the comrades and commanders, who were themselves flying operationally, who recognized both the symptoms and understood the consequences of flying stress. These men largely sympathized with those who were seen to have done their part. Certainly, men on a second tour of operations were treated substantially differently — at both operational units and at NYDNs — than men still in training or at the start of their first tour.

Fighter Ace Air Commodore Al Deere, DSO, OBE, DFC and Bar noted: “The question ‘when does a man lack the moral courage for battle?’ poses a tricky problem and one that has never been satisfactorily solved. There are so many intangibles; if he funks once, will he next time? How many men in similar circumstances would react in exactly the same way? And so on. There can be no definite yardstick, each case must be judged on its merits as each set of circumstances will differ.”[iv] (Photo below courtesy of Chris Goss)

While conditions varied over time, from station to station, and from commander to commander, on the whole RAF flying personnel did not seek to punish or humiliate a comrade who in the past had pulled his weight. Instead, informal means of dealing with cases of men who “got the twitch” — other than posting them LFM — were practiced. Precisely because such practices were “informal” they are almost impossible to quantify, yet the specific cases documented are almost certainly only the tip of the iceberg.

This is not to say that LMF policies did not have a powerful impact on RAF culture. The fact that so many aircrew knew about LMF and had heard rumors of humiliating practices for dealing with LMF demonstrates that the possibility of being designated LMF was an ominous reality to aircrews. Because of the draconian punishment expected based on the myths surrounding LMF, the threat of being designated LMF acted as a deterrent to willful or casual malingering. Tragically, the threat of humiliation may also have pushed some men to keep flying when they had already passed their breaking point, leading to errors, accidents, and loss of life.

Deere noted: “In my first tour [during the height of the Battle of Britain], despite the many narrow escapes I was always confident that I could come through alright. In contrast, throughout [a later tour], although it was far less hectic, there was always uppermost in my mind the thought that I would be killed….I don’t think I was any more frightened than previously, and it can only be that I had returned to operations too soon after so many nerve-racking experiences…. The result was a lack of confidence, not so much in my ability to meet the enemy on equal terms, but in myself (or my luck).”[v] He admitted that by the time he was relieved of his command and sent on a publicity tour to the United States he was, in fact, overdue for another rest.

During the Second World War, psychiatric professionals increasingly came to recognize that “courage was akin to a bank account. Each action reduced a man’s reserves and because rest periods never fully replenished all that was spent, eventually all would run into deficit. To punish or shame an individual who had exhausted his courage over an extended period of combat was increasingly regarded as unethical and detrimental to the general military culture.”[vi]

Yet we should not forget that behind the notion of LMF was the deeply embedded belief that courage was the ultimate manly virtue and that a man who lacked courage was inferior to the man who had it. RAF aircrew were all volunteers. They were viewed and treated as an elite. Membership in any elite is always dependent on the fulfillment of certain criteria. Since the age of the Iliad courage has been — and remains — the most fundamental characteristic expected of military elites around the world. And it probably always will be.


Lack of Moral Fibre examines this problem in a fictional case study.  In late November 1943, Flight Engineer Christopher “Kit” Moran, DFM, refuses to fly to Berlin on what should have been the seventh “op” of his second tour of duty. His superiors declare him “lacking in moral fibre” and he is sent to a mysterious NYDN center. Here, psychiatrist Wing Commander Dr. Grace must determine if he has had a mental breakdown requiring psychiatric treatment — or if he deserves humiliation and disciplinary action for cowardice. 

 Lack of Moral Fibre is one of three tales bundled together in Grounded Eagles. Find out more at: https://crossseaspress.com/grounded-eagles



[1] Edgar Jones, “LMF: The Use of Psychiatric Stigma in the Royal Air Force during the Second World War,” The Journal of Military history 70 (April 2006). 439

[i] Jones, 446.

[ii] Deere, Alan C. Nine Lives. Crecy Publishing. 1959. 111-119.

[iii] Doe, Bob. Fighter Pilot. CCB Aviation Books, 2004. 44.

[iv] Deere, 112-113.

[v] Deere, 232.

[vi] Jones, 456.