I’ve been posting the last couple of weeks about Sir Peter Jackson’s amazing Knights of the Sky exhibition at the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre near Blenheim, New Zealand.
It’s one of the best collections of WW1 aircraft and memorabilia in the world. A status given depth by the fact that it features several life-size dioramas of action from the day, as we’ve seen in previous posts.
I thought I’d conclude the series with some pictures of the snow-clad diorama. A German aviator has landed his Siemens-Schukert D.IV after shooting down a British pilot whose Nieuport 27 is lodged in a tree. He meets his foe, offering him a cigarette while soldiers poke around the wreckage.
This sort of thing did happen on occasion – once, Canadian pilot Billy Bishop wined and dined a downed German aviator in the squadron mess before handing him across to the authorities. But this didn’t happen all that often.
The reality of the air war was that it was usually lethal, and usually anonymous. Some of the main aces on both sides had distinctive aircraft – but even then they did not get the chance to meet each other in person, other than over the barrels of their guns. Sometimes, when a known pilot was killed, the other side might drop a wreath over the opposing lines in recognition of a fallen comrade. But meeting in person was rare.
For all the mythology of these ‘aerial knights’ somehow fighting with honour, I suspect Blackadder Goes Forth actually got it right – remember the scene in ‘Private Plane’ when Ricthofen finally meets The Lord Flashheart?
Still, it’s nice to think that, all things being equal, perhaps this diorama captures something of the sense of the mythology – upheld by both sides well into the conflict – that the air war was a kind of superior sporting contest. One in which the ‘opponent’ could, after it was all over, be offered a cigarette and exchange some brief shop talk before he was carted off to a prison camp.
Beyond the dioramas are all sorts of other aircraft, wonderfully displayed with artful and dramatic lighting – such as this DH9.
I have one more post to do on the exhibition – dedicated to one Gerrman pilot and his peculiar habit of collecting trophy cups every time he shot down an aircraft. Along with how the Aussies stole his boots.
But that will have to wait for another time.
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2016