Well, it has happened…I put the words ‘Social’ and ‘Cultural’ into to my thesis title. For someone who once considered themselves an operational military historian who is interested in the conduct of war rather than the people behind, this is a rather big shift. To be honest it is not all that surprising. As my thesis has changed so has the lens through which I have viewed the military organisations who conduct operations. I remember discussing leadership on the West Point Summer Seminar in 2011 with Dr Cliff Rogers and commenting that the issue with the effectiveness of leaders was not how we define the latter but how the society of the period measured it. In affect, it is the question in the question. The same is true with my thesis. As I began to explore the process the Royal Air Force used to nurture officer’s leadership development the more I needed to understand the culture and ethos that underpinned that procedure. It was culture and ethos, and the RAF’s need to generate such a philosophy that really drove the Service in this period. It was pervasive. However, it was pervasive for a reason. The RAF struggled for survival and needed to defend its interest in the face of strident attacks against its existence, especially from the Royal Navy. Independence was the cornerstone assumption that drove the RAF emerging culture. This found it outgrowth in pilots and flying as an ethos that defined the RAF’s actions. The RAF’s culture, especially as it related to training and education, was very progressive for the period. For example, it might be expected that for a service that was overwhelmingly technical that its education and training would replicate this as it did in the pre-First World War Royal Navy. The reverse was true. The RAF rejected what it perceived as the ‘specialised’ training. All in all understanding theses organisational characteristics opnes up a new lens to understand military history.
Almost as a side-note to this, I submitted the thesis yesterday! I am not sure how I feel about it yet. To be honest it was a stressful day not helped by what I consider some odd university decision such as relocating the Bindery two and half miles off campus, and it closes it at 3! I finally got it submitted at 6:30 thanks to someone going above and beyond the call of duty. The thesis changed quite radically over the course of my studies. It started out as an analysis of Air Chief Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory’s leadership effectiveness but now stopped at 1939. The final title was, ‘The Forgotten Career of Air Chief Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory, 1892-1939: A Social and Cultural History of Leadership Development in the Inter-War Royal Air Force.’ Here is the abstract, which hopefully explains it all:
This thesis examined the question of how an officer with so many perceived detractors reached senior leadership positions in the Royal Air Force of the Second World War. Utilising prosopography as a methodology, this thesis concluded that Leigh-Mallory was representative of the type of officer that the RAF developed during the inter-war years. This methodology highlighted the presence of key-shared experiences such as attendance at the RAF Staff College at Andover, which made officers’ such as Leigh-Mallory visible to senior leaders able to nurture careers. Grounded in an understanding of leadership theory, though recognising the limitations of applying modern language to historical analysis, this thesis surveyed the development processes used by the RAF, which formed the basis of nurtured officers’ shared experience and how the Service valued them. Bounded by the Service’s culture and ethos, this thesis argued that the RAF took an active interest in the leadership development of its officer class through modern conceptions of socialisation, job assignments, action learning and nurturing. The RAF had a stake in developing effective leaders, as these officers’ would defend its key assumption of independence. By understanding the culture and context of the development of the RAF’s senior leadership of the Second World War, this thesis now allows for a more considered understanding of the effectiveness of officers’ such as Leigh-Mallory during that conflict.
As I say I am not sure how I feel but I would like to add a personal thanks to all my friends and family who have supported my over the past few years. It has been much appreciated. In particular I would like to publically thank my supervisor, Air Commodore (ret’d) Dr Peter Gray. Peter has, in every sense of the word, been a true Doktorvater. I do not think the thesis would be half as interesting as I think it is had it not been for his support. Thank you Peter. If you want to study air power then Peter is the person to go to!
Time to start the next project…I must be mad!