23 August 2011

Farewell Aerodrome

The lexicographers who compile the Chambers dictionaries have decided that some words have fallen out of use to such an extent that they should no longer appear in their smaller volumes. Among the words to be relegated is ‘aerodrome’, as used the title of a novel by Rex Warner (1905-86) which is still in print. It was first published in 1941, and as a wartime economy Penguin in 1944:

Although the author called it a ‘love story’, it can be regarded as an allegory contrasting the ruthless efficiency of the Air Vice-Marshal and the new aerodrome and the nearby bucolic English village with its Rectory, all seen through the eyes of a young man who had grown up in the village but had joined the air force. Being very much of the pre-war period, the story can be interpreted at one level as a contrast between the emergent Nazi Germany and a pacific Britain, at another between order and chaos. However, by 1941 and after the Battle of Britain, the RAF had come to be regarded as the nation’s saviour in the form of Fighter Command, and the only means of taking the war to the enemy homeland through Bomber Command.

The aerodrome resembles one of the numerous RAF stations constructed across the country under the 1934 Expansion Scheme put in place as a response to the rapidly increasing capability of  the Luftwaffe. These photographs are of the older parts of RAF Mildenhall which are now maintained in their 1930s appearance by the USAF 100th Civil Engineer Squadron.  In some ways The Aerodrome is touched with surrealism, which had had some artistic attention in the UK in the  1930s, the International Surrealism Exhibition (below) in London in 1936, for example:

Warner had spent his childhood in Gloucestershire, SW England and went on to Oxford in its 1920s ‘Brideshead’ period. He later became a successful translator from the Greek and Latin classics, and an academic. He was one of those unusual individuals who marry, divorce and re-marry the same woman.
(Revised 27 August)

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