Print Page | Close Window

Memoir Accuracy

Printed From: Cross & Cockade
Category: General Discussion
Forum Name: General
Forum Discription: General Discussion
Printed Date: 13 Aug 2020 at 14:17
Software Version: Web Wiz Forums 10.03 -

Topic: Memoir Accuracy
Posted By: ROBPUGH
Subject: Memoir Accuracy
Date Posted: 08 Nov 2009 at 21:25
Hi all,
PE Butcher wrote the book 'Skill and Devotion', which was the story of his service in the R.F.C. and R.A.F.
Some of you may know that in it he claims to have been awarded the D.S.M, M.S.M., and a M.I.D. although no official records back this up.
I have pieced together his service from official records and have found many inconsistencies.
I'm just wondering if anyone else has found a similar problem with other peoples memoirs when doing research.

Posted By: Dogzbody
Date Posted: 11 Nov 2009 at 20:37
Hello Rob,
                 Can you be more specific about your doubts, although published in 1971, I have yet to read Skill & Devotion It is unusual to find a biography of an Ack Emma, the only memoirs of WWI ground crew I recall reading have been as articles.
I have been dismayed at the increasing number of errors in WWI aviation publications recently.  
                                                                                                    TTFN  Dogzbody    

Posted By: NickForder
Date Posted: 12 Nov 2009 at 14:26
As Rob says, Butcher was not entitled to any of the awards he claims  which does cast doubt on his other recollections.
As to Rob's point about the accuracy of memoirs, experience suggests that eveything should be taken with a pinch of salt unless you have other documents which confirm the claims. Even then you can't be sure !
I have printed accounts of the combat death of a 7 Squadron RE8 pilot who was actually killed in a flying accident collision with a 9 Squadron RE8 in poor visibility.
The problem is compounded by the fact that historians tend to be lazy (myself included) and repeat what they have read in secondary sources without checking further. Popular history is the worst - just look at the number of books that claim that the Gloster E28/39 was the first jet powered aeroplane to fly - and during the centenary of aviation celebrations in 2003 Aeroplane Monthly was repeating the inaccurate account of the consequences of the Friedrichshafen Raid (clearly, no one in the editorial office had asked Phil).
Paul Fussell's "The Great War and Modern Memory" is worth reading, though you have to get over the fact that Fussell's knowledge of the make-up of the British Army is flawed (a point most reviews tend to concentrate on).
Beyond this is the unreliability of memory, despite the good intentions of the author.
I suspect that Butcher was seeking to 'sex up' his narriative (to use a too-modern term), and suceeded in getting his claims past the prominent aviation historian involved with the publication.
Did AV Roe fly at Brooklands in 1908 ?

Posted By: Paul R Hare
Date Posted: 12 Nov 2009 at 21:30
I wholly agree that memoir, and memory, need to be checked  against documentary sources.
And the answer to the the Roe question is NO. Check that with Phil too!

Posted By: ROBPUGH
Date Posted: 12 Nov 2009 at 23:33
In his book ‘Skill and Devotion’, Percy Edwin Butcher states that he was posted to 2 Squadron in May 1914, and went to France with the Squadron.

Various Squadron and Headquarters Daily Routine Orders held at the National Archives tell a different story:-


Posted 6 Squadron, 29 May 1914.

Attached 7 Squadron, 3 June 1914.

Posted 7 Squadron, 6 July 1914.

Posted Aircraft Park, 5 August 1914.

France, 16 August 1914.

Posted 1st Wing, 19 January 1915.

Posted 2 Squadron, 22 January 1915.


As can be seen, he wasn’t posted to 2 Squadron until he was in France in January 1915, eight months after the date stated in his memoir. This means that most of what he says about his service with 2 Squadron for this period must be untrue.

This is just one of many inaccuracies I have found while researching his service in the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Air Force.


It would appear that people who write about their life are going to have a tendency to exaggerate the truth or even lie, to make themselves look good.
So the moral of the story is "Don't believe everything you read".
Thanks chaps for your thoughts,

Posted By: Dogzbody
Date Posted: 14 Nov 2009 at 19:52
Evening All,
                   How old was the author in 1971, he must have been well in to his 70's.
Having had the privilage of interviewing ex-RFC/RNAS personnel in their later years, I am aware the memory cannot always be relied upon, what concerns me more are the errors published recently by experienced re-searchers.
        When I first read of A.V.Roe's hops at Brooklands in 1908, I took it to be because he was hopping mad about being elbowed out.......
Seriously look at Flight p.132 February 1929, it contains signed eyewitness accounts of his 1908 flight/hop.        
                                                                                   TTFN   Dogzbody   

Posted By: Paul R Hare
Date Posted: 15 Nov 2009 at 09:03
Those eye witness accounts surely serve to prove the point about the unreliability of human memory since they were 1929 recollections of events that had taken place in 1908.
Any way there has been a lot of research since 1929!
Phil Jarrett is the expert here; see his paper "Cody and Roe, two remarkable men" presented at various venues to mark the centenary of Cody's flight on 16th October 1908.

Posted By: Dogzbody
Date Posted: 15 Nov 2009 at 20:39
Evening all,
                   Yes Paul I agree eye witness accounts are not 100% reliable. I was pointing Nick in a helpful direction to make amends for the pun about hop and hopping and more than pleased to leave the matter to the record books and Phil.
A random thought if Roe had been involved in a fatal pre-war accident instead of Cody, we may not have had the 504 in numbers or the Lancaster in WW2.       TTFN   Dogzbody

Posted By: Adrian Roberts
Date Posted: 20 Nov 2009 at 01:15
The DSM is a Naval award! Butcher was RFC. I haven't read the book, but unless he is saying he was seconded to the RNAS at some point, this is surely an elementary error which should raise warning signs

Posted By: ROBPUGH
Date Posted: 21 Nov 2009 at 14:15
Well done Adrian for spotting an error of my making.
P.E. Butcher claims to have been awarded the D.C.M. not the D.S.M.
Now, what was I saying about the accuracy of memoirs. ha ha.
Interestingly the awards of the D.C.M., M.M., and a M.I.D. appear on his R.A.F. service record. A note is attached to the service record stating that no reference can be found to substantiate the awards. This is dated 6 October 1969.
Skill and Devotion was published in 1971. Is it possible that Butcher made enquiries about the entries on his service record knowing he hadn't been awarded the medals?

Print Page | Close Window

Forum Software by Web Wiz Forums® version 10.03 -
Copyright ©2001-2011 Web Wiz Ltd. -