In this lecture, Dr Emma Hanna will explore the will explore the musical sound worlds of the airmen on active service 1914-18.



Music was a keystone in the maintenance of servicemen’s morale in all three forces, but so far very little work has been done on the musical activities of the Royal Flying Corps (RFC)/Royal Air Force (RAF). This lecture will give an outline of the musical activities and entertainments which were a key feature of wartime life in the RFC/RAF during the Great War. With reference to a wide range of sources from a number of collections, this lecture will show where, how and why formal and informal musical activities were organised for airmen on the Western Front. The work of the composer Henry Walford Davies, who in 1918 was appointed the first Director of Music to the newly created RAF is greatly significant. Despite major financial pressures Davies successfully formed two RAF bands and established the RAF School of Music during the war. He also composed the Royal Air Force March in 1918. Davies was particularly enthusiastic about the power of singing to reinforce the team spirit of fighting men:

A brass band is all very well in its way, but it does not come near the male voice choir in the production of the best music […] Get the men to do something together and you have started an espirit de corps among them which will have a tremendous influence for good, and will do more than any of us imagine to make life in camp, in barrack, or billet, or in the outpost more tolerable.

From the hymns sung at church parades, the satirical songs sung by the RFC’s concert parties such as ‘The Balloonatics’, ‘The Joysticks’ and ‘The Propellers’, and the music servicemen played and enjoyed in YMCA huts and squadron facilities, this lecture will explore the musical sound worlds of the airmen on active service 1914-18.


This lecture will be held in the RAF Museum lecture theatre at 12:30PM on Friday 19 May 2017.


This lecture is free of charge however we do ask that you pre-book a free ticket as seats are limited. Booking is quick and easy, we just need some basic contact information.



Dr Emma Hanna is a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Kent. She is also a Co-Investigator of Gateways to the First World War, an AHRC-funded centre for public engagement with the centenary of the First World War. Emma published her first monograph The Great War on the Small Screen (EUP) in 2009, and she has published a number of articles and chapters about 1914-18 on the themes of contemporary memory and memorialisation, the media, music and cinema. Emma’s current research interests focus on wartime modes of entertainment and recreation on the home and fighting fronts, principally music and cinema, and the work of voluntary organisations such as the YMCA. Emma has acted as a historical consultant for the BBC, the British Council, the National Children’s Football Alliance, and the Last Post Project. She also advised the organising committee on music for the national ‘Somme 100’ commemorations and the Hallé Children’s Choir in Manchester in July 2016. Emma is currently working on her second monograph, Music and Morale in the British Armed Forces: 1914-1918.


The First World War in the Air Lunchtime Lectures, funded by the HLF, forms part of our Research Programme for 2017. This programme also consists of the Trenchard Lectures in Air Power Studies, the Cold War Lunchtime Lectures and other events such as conferences. A copy of our Research Programme can be downloaded here.

For more details about the RAF Museum’s research programme, please email me at

Please note that lectures are subject to change.

The RAF Museum First World War in the Air exhibition and associated programme of events are supported by BAE Systems and the Heritage Lottery Fund.


One thought on “RAF Museum First World War in the Air Lunchtime Lecture – Musical Entertainments in the RFC/RAF on the Western Front, 1914-18

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s