RAF centenary highlights bravery of Britain's early pilots

  • Video report by ITV News Senior International Correspondent John Irvine

As Britain celebrates 100 years of the RAF, this week's flypast of warplanes has served to highlight the bravery and sacrifice of pilots a century ago.

Planes used during the First World War, not long after the advent of flight, were both rudimentary and vulnerable to enemy fighters.

Consequently, life expectancy for RAF pilots between 1914 and 1918 could be just a matter of weeks, while statistics suggest that almost one in four pilots were killed.

Now those flying these old aircraft as part of centenary celebrations are getting a first-hand glimpse into the extraordinary bravery of their predecessors.

One of those taking part, Gordon Brander, said: "Having flown this machine. where you can't see very much, how they went into combat and did it I just don't know."

Early planes used during the war were both rudimentary and vulnerable.

Charles Lockwood Turnbull was just 19 when he began flying reconnaissance missions during the Great War.

He would survive that conflict and go on to see service in the Second World War too.

His granddaughter, Ann, still wears his tunic, and he remains an immense source of pride.

Charles Lockwood Turnbull was just 19 when he began flying.

"He was so young and they didn't know what they were getting into. He didn't talk about it - I don't think any of them talked about it really," she said.

"I think it was too upsetting, perhaps."

One-hundred years since the RAF became the world's first independent air force, this stand-alone pioneering service helped win one world war, go on to save the UK in a second, and do so much more between then and now.

Mr Lockwood's granddaughter still wears his tunic to this day.