Early Hurdles in Royal Flying Corps Research

Although I do not leave for England until July 6, I have spent the past few weeks preparing for potential research appointments while I am there. I am very happy that I started the process early, as there are many steps I have taken in order to set up research appointments and ensure that different source collections are available to view. Unfortunately, I discovered that the Rhys Davids family papers housed at Cambridge’s Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies will be unavailable for viewing during my time at Cambridge due to construction and renovations. Upon my arrival at Cambridge, I will inquire again to see if any updates allowing access to the papers have taken place.

The second major hurdle in my early research process involved the Imperial War Museum. As the Imperial War Museum reading room is closed on the one day (Friday) that I would be able to visit, I contacted the research department with hopes of obtaining copies of two oral histories of H.N. Charles, 56 Squadron’s chief engineering officer. The IWM holds three different oral histories of Charles, each with different themes involving the pilots and squadron I am researching. However, only one of them is digitized and able to view in full on their site. Upon my inquiry, however, I was told that the IWM could not provide me with reproductions or copies of the other two oral histories as they were recorded and produced by the BBC. With the IWM’s advice, I sent a similar request to the BBC and have yet to hear back.

However,  I am in the process of securing reproductions of the Caroline Rhys Davids’ papers from the University of London’s Senate House Library. Caroline Rhys Davids was the mother of Lieutenant Arthur Rhys Davids, one of the pilots key to my research. These papers are particularly interesting, as they include her reactions to her son’s death and how she channeled this grief into automatic writing (writing said to be produced by spiritual forces) and séances. In her “writing” with her son, she reveals insight into what his experiences with other pilots during the war and his intentions for life after the war in the event he had survived. Securing these digital reproductions before I leave for England allows me time to read through them and formulate questions and observations to compare with those that may come about with research I will conduct in England.  Although these sources do not fit the exact mold I initially set, I am excited to read through them to see how his family’s social status and presence as major academic figures influenced the Rhys Davids’ approach to remembering Arthur’s life after the war.


UPDATE [as of June 5]: I received an email from the BBC today stating that they cannot provide copies of the needed oral histories. This early in the process, it is a bit disappointing to find out that I cannot access two major collections of sources, but I am going to continue trying to find more sources.


  1. Jane Kim says:

    It sounds like you’ve run into quite a few hurdles already, Abby! Wishing you safe travels as you head over to England tomorrow and hoping you find plenty of other sources!