In my darker moments "Who Do You Think You Are?" occurs to me as a statement of outrage at my own qualifications in biographical studies. I don't possess the gift of confidence in excessive quantities. But my curiosity is irritatingly forceful. I took many deep breaths and reached out to the experts.
After much reading and some fairly unfocused internet surfing in the autumn of 2014, I found a startling image of Morris's plane crawling with Germans from a book snippet online. Mercifully he wasn't pictured in it. Nor was he nearby on a stretcher, or burnt to a frazzle on the ground as many airmen so horrifically were. I emailed the publishers who put me in touch with the author James Miller. Jim's response was immediate and generous, sending me a PDF of a letter held by the R.A.F. Museum in London. It was written to Morris's parents by his friend and flight leader, Captain David Gray, who had been shot down on the same day and languished in a P.O.W. camp. Gray's letter was a gift - a vivid first-hand account of the circumstances of Lionel's death. It was full of weird inconsistencies.
When I questioned the R.A.F. Museum further about material on Morris, they told me they had his unpublished notebook diary from the summer of 1916. My initial visit to the museum’s research room, when I saw Lil’s name written on the front of the diary, gave me the first physical link to Morris as a family member. Being able to hear his voice in those small, rustling pages gave a dramatic imperative to the telling of his tale that I found irresistible.
I had high hopes after reading Under the Guns of the Red Baron of pinning down details of Morris's early life. Sadly, of the two authors, Hal Giblin, who researched the personal details, had passed away, and the other, Norman Franks, (whose works on First World War aviation are sacred texts to me and many others), had no access to any of Hal’s original research papers. The work of Mike O’Connor, with his Airfields and Airmen series, was also key to my early searches – but he too had passed away.
One of the Herculean feats of scholarship inspired by the war in the air is “The Sky Their Battlefield”, the most complete and astonishingly comprehensive record of Allied combats and casualties. It’s written in a language of necessary abbreviation - K.I.A. or P.O.W. need little explanation, others such as EoL (East of Lines) bring an ominous warning of bad news, or oblivion: NKG - No Known Grave. Its author Trevor Henshaw (happily very much alive) has been a patient and indispensable guru.
The greatest blessing in my research was finding the Great War Forum. Being able to access this extraordinary community of both professional and amateur historians was intimidating and thrilling; these people have been studying World War One with infinite care and attention for decades and their passion for solving even the most obscure mysteries continues to be an inspiration.
My recommended research anthems are now (in no particular order):
Don't Give Up
Ain't No Mountain High Enough
With A Little (make that a lot) of Help From My Friends
I'm open to further suggestions.
Not so much a journey of discovery, more of a commute of compulsion
Archives By Date (For Archives by Topic , click here.)