The best books about the Battle of Arras, the Royal Flying Corps and the aftermath of WW1 for women

Who am I?

I had finished The Bluebird Trilogy, three novels that centred on the first half of the Second World War, and I heard echoes of the Great War ringing faintly in the egos of my older characters. I started to read more of the history and was drawn to the aerial maelstrom that befell the RFC over Arras in 1917. I was also interested in working with a larger cast of characters, many transients, and telling their stories over a short stretch of time. The result was Major Claypole and Jackdaw Squadron, Glory Boys every last one.


I wrote...

Farewell to the Glory Boys: A Battle of Arras Novel

By Melvyn Fickling,

Book cover of Farewell to the Glory Boys: A Battle of Arras Novel

What is my book about?

The spring of 1917 was a dark and dangerous time for the Royal Flying Corps as they were ordered to fly constant combat missions with no regard to the losses sustained. Major Claypole and the four flight leaders of Jackdaw Squadron shepherd a quickly diminishing flock of pilots into the skies to join battle with the enemy’s superior Albatros fighters. In the claustrophobic confines of the pilots’ mess, Second Lieutenant Morris clings to his faith while Lieutenant Benn grapples with his sanity.

On the ground, Charlie’s infantry platoon is diverted by an explosive twist of fate to join a battle in which they should have no part. Arrogance, despair, fear, and valiance all play their part in this story of the Battle of Arras.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of Bloody April: Slaughter in the Skies Over Arras

Melvyn Fickling Why did I love this book?

Bloody April was a month well-named. The Royal Flying Corp lost one in three of its pilots, with the average life expectancy of a newly arrived airman dropping to less than two weeks. Pushed by the commanders and planners at HQ, they continued to rise against these horrible odds in flimsy biplanes without parachutes. Their young lives were gambled away for the prize of the reconnaissance photographs that the survivors might bring back, grainy images upon which the planning for the ground battle so depended. Hart mixes the hard facts and figures with the personal recollections of those that fought this desperate battle and those that watched and waited on the ground. This book is a sharp and inciteful history that takes you on an emotional journey.

By Peter Hart,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Bloody April as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The story of the decimation of the Royal Flying Corps over Arras in 1917

As the Allies embarked upon the Battle of Arras, they desperately needed accurate aerial reconnaissance photographs. But by this point the Royal Flying Club were flying obsolete planes. The new German Albatros scouts massively outclassed them in every respect: speed, armament, ability to withstand punishment and manoeuverability. Many of the RFC's pilots were straight out of flying school - as they took to the air they were sitting targets for the experienced German aces.

Over the course of 'Bloody April' the RFC suffered casualties of over…


Book cover of Cheerful Sacrifice: The Battle of Arras, 1917

Melvyn Fickling Why did I love this book?

By the measure of its daily casualty rate, The Battle of Arras was the costliest British offensive of the First World War, far higher than either the Somme or Passchendaele. One survivor described it as 'the most savage infantry battle of the war.' The strength of this history derives from the fact that Nicholls interviewed so many (now deceased) veterans of both sides and uses their words to inject a visceral dynamism into his text. He takes us from early breakthroughs by the British forces to the, perhaps inevitable, final stalemate. Cuttingly, Nicholls lifts his title directly from a comment made by an officer who rationalised the enormous slaughter as a ‘cheerful sacrifice’ on the part of the soldiers who served and died at his behest.

By Jonathan Nicholls,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Cheerful Sacrifice as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this book, Nicholls provides an account o f the 39-day long battle of Arras, which remains the most le thal and costly British offensive of WW1. He reveals the hor rors of trench warfare and the bravery of the soldiers who f ought in the war. '


Book cover of Goshawk Squadron

Melvyn Fickling Why did I love this book?

Robinson’s tale of Goshawk Squadron battling the odds in the last year of the Great War cuts through the Biggles-style myths and legends that had dominated the public perception for many years. He shines a light on the bleak and terrifying business of aerial warfare and unflinchingly portrays the horror and helplessness of becoming the loser in a dogfight to the death. Yet from this foreboding vista he prises shining nuggets of laugh-out-loud humour, albeit of the gallows variety. Robinson’s spot-on characterisations and skilfully written battle narratives will place you in the rattling cockpit of a biplane in the hostile hunting grounds over France. This 50th-anniversary reissue is a well-deserved accolade.  

By Derek Robinson,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Goshawk Squadron as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Set during the height of World War I in January 1918, Goshawk Squadron follows the misfortunes of a British flight squadron on the Western Front. For Stanley Woolley, commanding officer of Goshawk Squadron, the romance of chivalry in the clouds is just a myth. The code he drums into his men is simple and savage: shoot the enemy in the back before he knows you're there. Even so, he believes the whole squadron will be dead within three months. A monumental work at the time of its original release, Booker-shortlisted Goshawk Squadron is now viewed as a classic in the…


Book cover of Fighter Heroes of WWI: The Extraordinary Story of the Pioneering Airmen of the Great War

Melvyn Fickling Why did I love this book?

Barely a decade after The Wright brothers’ first tentative take-off, flying machines were thrown into the scorching crucible of war in Europe. The men who flew them were pioneers, members of what many saw as a military flying club. But the flying club soon developed into a bear-pit of mortal combat, fought behind synchronised machine guns without the solace of a parachute. Levine paints his pictures with the personal accounts and anecdotes of the pilots that fought these battles, seeking to understand the feelings and motivations of the young men who volunteered to risk all in the frightening new theatre of aerial warfare. These truths, are in many instances, stranger than fiction, forged, as they were, on the cutting edge of the new aviation technology.

By Joshua Levine,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Fighter Heroes of WWI as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The first heroes of the air.

Rewriting the rules of military engagement and changing the course of modern history as a result, the pioneering airmen of the First World War took incredible risks to perform their vital contribution to the war effort.

Fighter Heroes of WWI is a narrative history that conveys the perils of early flight, the thrills of being airborne, and the horrors of war in the air at a time when pilots carried little defensive armament and no parachutes.

The men who joined the Royal Flying Corps in 1914 were the original heroes of flying, treading into…


Book cover of Singled Out: How Two Million British Women Survived Without Men After the First World War

Melvyn Fickling Why did I love this book?

The First World War stripped Britain of hundreds of thousands of its young men. In an age where women’s lives were funnelled towards the certainty of marriage, this left a big shortfall on the balance sheet of matrimony, creating what became known as the Surplus Women. Now they had to find their own sources of income and become responsible for their own future happiness.

Nicholson curates many memoirs and diaries of such women from all tiers of society. Adding material from interviews she conducted herself, she tells the stories of lost potential and loneliness, together with inspirational tales of liberation, fresh-forged independence, and the unprecedented freedom that self-reliance brought for those who rose to the challenge.

By Virginia Nicholson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Singled Out as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The First World War deprived Britain of three-quarters of a million soldiers, with as many more incapacitated. In 1919 a generation of women who unquestioningly believed marriage to be their birthright discovered that there were, quite simply, not enough men to go round. The press ran alarming stories about the `Problem of the Surplus Women - Two Million who can never become Wives . . .'. But behind the headlines were thousands of brave, emancipated individuals forced by a tragedy of historic proportions to rethink their entire futures.

Tracing their fates, Virginia Nicholson shows how the single woman of the…


You might also like...

The Romanov Heiress

By Jennifer Laam,

Book cover of The Romanov Heiress

Jennifer Laam Author Of The Romanov Heiress

New book alert!

Who am I?

A proud native of Stockton, CA, Jennifer Laam resides in California with a temperamental tabby cat named Jonesy. Her other works of historical fiction are The Secret Daughter of the Tsar, The Tsarina’s Legacy, and The Lost Season of Love and Snow. When not reading or writing, she enjoys planning cosplay for the next San Diego Comic-Con, experimenting with vegetarian recipes (to mixed results), cooing at Baby Yoda, or obsessing over House Targaryen. 

Jennifer's book list on the last Romanovs

What is my book about?

Four sisters in hiding. A grand duchess in disguise. Dark family secrets revealed. An alternate future for the Romanovs from Jennifer Laam, author of The Secret Daughter Of The Tsar.

With her parents and brother missing and presumed dead, former Grand Duchess Olga Romanova must keep her younger sisters safe. The Bolsheviks are determined to eliminate any remaining holdovers from the tsarist regime, hunting down the last Romanovs and putting them to death. Now living in England, the Romanov sisters remain hidden to protect their identities, even as isolation strains their relationships. But they can’t distance themselves from the world forever.

The Romanov Heiress

By Jennifer Laam,

What is this book about?

Four sisters in hiding. A grand duchess in disguise. Dark family secrets revealed...an alternate future for the Romanovs from Jennifer Laam, author of The Secret Daughter of the Tsar and The Lost Season of Love and Snow.

With her parents and brother missing and presumed dead, Grand Duchess Olga Romanova must keep her younger sisters safe. The Bolsheviks are determined to eliminate any remaining holdovers from the tsarist regime, hunting down the last Romanovs and putting them to death. Now living in England, the Romanov sisters remain hidden to protect their identities, even as isolation strains their relationships.

But they…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in France, World War 1, and the British Royal Air Force?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about France, World War 1, and the British Royal Air Force.

France Explore 856 books about France
World War 1 Explore 854 books about World War 1
The British Royal Air Force Explore 34 books about the British Royal Air Force