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A Short Life in the Sky: the story of a First World War pilot

Photograph of John Douglas Hume. National Records of Scotland reference: GD486/193The letters, documents and photographs in this resource have been selected from the Hume family papers that are preserved in the National Records of Scotland. They tell the story of John Douglas Hume, known as Douglas by his family and friends. Douglas was a prolific letter writer. Thanks to his family who kept all his letters, we can discover what life was like for this young Scottish pilot from May 1915 until his untimely death in December 1916.

When war broke out in 1914, aeroplanes were still a relatively new invention. The Royal Flying Corps (RFC) was formed in May 1912 as an army corps to provide air power to support the land war. The Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) did the same to support the Navy fleet. Douglas joined the RNAS, trained in England, and saw action in Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq) and Turkey. His correspondence, although informal, displays a breadth of style, content and feeling that cannot fail to stir the interest and emotions of the reader.

Visit the timeline for an outline of the life of John Douglas Hume.

Pilot training Action abroad Return to Britain
The image shows an Avro 504 in the Shuttleworth Collection, 2001. This lightweight aircraft was developed in 1912-13 and used mainly in WWI to train pilots, but also for light-bombing and reconnaissance. (Attribution: by Andy Fogg from near Cambridge, UK (Avro 504)[CC-BY-2.0(], via Wikimedia Commons) The image shows Royal Naval Air Servicemen in Mesopotamia, 1916 (National Records of Scotland reference: GD486/209a) The image shows Douglas sitting in a car (National Records of Scotland reference: GD486/204).



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