Heroes Without a Parachute

(c) Jason Godfrey

Full length drama.  3M. Running Time: 2 hours

The play follows the fortunes of three young men (based on real characters) who eagerly joined the fledgling Royal Flying Corps, formed a couple of years before the outbreak of war in 1914. This was at a time when the world was changing rapidly, and fascination with new technology was evident everywhere. And nothing symbolised it more than the wonder of the age – the aeroplane. For many the heady combination of speed, technology and excitement must have seemed irresistible.

But as the war dragged on, youthful exuberance was replaced by harsh reality. By the spring of 1917 British air squadrons were losing 200 pilots a month, and life expectancy for a pilot was a pitiful eleven days. Flying in flimsy, primitive machines without a parachute, the unimaginable bravery of these extraordinary pioneering airmen was pivotal in determining the outcome of the war. And, while the way that wars are fought has changed dramatically, the human story at the heart of the play is no different today.



JAMES MCCUDDEN was one of the most successful fighter aces of World War One; seventh on the list of all fighter pilots in terms of the number of ‘kills’ he made with 57 to his name. He joined the Royal Engineers when 15. In 1913, he trained as a mechanic and transferred to the newly formed Royal Flying Corps.
In August 1914 he went to France where he was allowed to fly as an observer. In January 1916, McCudden returned to England to learn how to fly and he was awarded his wings in April 1916. His success against the Germans and his overall leadership qualities were recognised when he was awarded the Victoria Cross in April 1918.
As with so many of the fighter aces of World War One, McCudden died young, but in a flying accident, not in combat. On July 9th 1918, his aeroplane suffered engine failure after taking off and he was killed in the accident. He was just 23 years old.

ROBERT LORAINE was a very famous West End actor and aviator who first
flew the Irish Sea in 1910 but was forced to ditch into the sea a few hundred yards from shore and therefore was denied the record. A great friend of George Bernard Shaw, he took Man and Superman to Broadway in 1905, earning so much money that he bought a new fangled aeroplane, learning first to fly at the Bleriot school at Pau, France. He is believed to have been the first person to coin the phrase ‘Joystick’ to describe aircraft stick controls. He flew with No 3 Squadron of the RFC as an observer. Later he became a pilot and rose to the rank of Major. He returned to the stage after the war and made several films. He died in 1935.

ARTHUR DRUMMOND (‘BOSKY’) BORTON fought in the Boer War before retiring from the Army in 1910. He re-joined in 1914 and became an observer with the Royal Flying Corps in France where he broke his neck in three places and was declared unfit. Despite this he joined 2nd/22nd London Regiment (The Queen’s) and served in France and Palestine. At Tel-el-Sheria on 7th November 1917, he led his attacking companies against a strongly held enemy position. He was decorated with his Victoria Cross and DSO by HM King George V at Buckingham Palace on 23rd February 1918. Bosky declared his years during WW1 as being the best years of his life. He always wanted to prove himself to his father – the formidable Colonel Borton, but the Colonel favoured the younger brother – 'Biffy' Borton who went on to be Air Vice-Marshal in the RAF. In the end ‘Bosky’ was disinherited by his father and died alcoholic and destitute in 1933 at the age of 49.

The action takes place in Robert Loraine’s London flat in 1926 and in Béthune, France in 1914



McCudden: Royal Flying Corps uniform – tunic, cap etc. Small pocket notebook (in which much of the script can be)

Loraine: 1920’s shirt/trousers
Khaki shirt, trousers, braces in 1914 scene – RFC tunic if available

Bosky: 1920’s suit/shirt/tie
Khaki shirt, trousers, braces in 1914 scene


Robert Loraine’s flat:

Small table
1920’s typewriter
Easy chair
Small Bookcase or side table
Bottle of whisky
Whisky glasses
Photograph album
Scrap book with press cuttings
Sheaths of paper
Various books
Other set dressing as appropriate

Béthune cottage

Rough wooden trestle table
Folding wooden chairs table
Tilley lamp
Whisky bottle or two
Old newspapers (
Spark plug
Small hamper
Sherry bottle
Earthenware bowl with cloth cover (Xmas pud)
Long Johns

For more information on this and other Derek Webb plays, email: info@derekwebb.co.uk


This article was updated on 11 April 2024