Our normal view of Air Chief Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory has very much been skewed by his portrayal in the popular media. The most famous portrayal comes in the 1969 The Battle of Britain. arguably the best film on the subject, having been based on Wood and Dempster’s The Narrow Margin, however, it does not portray him in the best of lights and follows what I describe as the Park version of the battle.
It would be foolish to ignore Air Chief Marshal Sir Keith Park‘s vital role but there is an important point here that due to his untimely death in November 1944 Leigh-Mallory was never able to defend his actions through the publication of a memoir, autobiography or authorised biography, though of course Park himself never published one either, however, he was able to record interviews and correspond with other people such as Lord Dowding. Thus, we tend to get a skewed interpretation of his ability, one that is more hagiographical than accurate to the record. This has created a major methodological problem for me as I attempt to construct a view of his career and contribution to the RAF.
Nonetheless, negative views of Leigh-Mallory were not always the case as illustrated by this cartoon and I have to admit to quite liking this portrayal of him. It is very much the physical representation of of Fighter Commands role in 41/42 when the command was order to ‘reach into france.’ I found it in Air Chief Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory’s papers at the RAF Museum this past Thursday. It shows Leigh-Mallory running a rapier through Reichsmarshall Hermann Goering. I think it is great euphemism for the battle between the RAF and the Luftwaffe. Also it shows Leigh-Mallory as the valiant fighter against the evil enemy, perhaps a link to the perhaps a link to the aces ideal of the ‘Knights of the Air’ in combat. It is noted dated but I suspect it is from late 1942 when Leigh-Mallory had taken over from Douglas as head of Fighter Command. Also if anyone knows who the artist is let me know. There is an artist’s mark in the corner.
By Ross Mahoney, PhD Candidate, Centre for War Studies, University of Birmingham