21st century Charlton?

Well, not really. Still, it's an interesting parallel.

A RAF officer, Flight-Lieutenant Malcolm Kendall-Smith, is being court-martialled for refusing to serve in Iraq. A doctor, he has already served two tours there; now he thinks that the war itself was illegal, in that it was not authorised by the United Nations. This is reminiscent of Air Commodore L.E.O. Charlton, who refused to serve in Iraq in the 1920s (he was the RAF's chief of staff there in 1923-4, much more senior than Kendall-Smith). Two differences spring to mind. Firstly, in Charlton's case, there was no official inquiry (and so no public controversy); however, his career was effectively over and he retired in 1928. Why an example is being made of Kendall-Smith is unclear, since the top brass are said not to want to make him a martyr. Secondly, Charlton's objection was moral, not legal -- he opposed the casual use of bombing against Iraqi civilians. Kendall-Smith's defence explicitly rejects any such argument; he denies being a conscientious objector. Naively, you might have expected the doctor to have moral qualms, and the career officer to be concerned about the legality of his orders!

Sources: The Times, Guardian, Oxford DNB.

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8 thoughts on “21st century Charlton?

  1. Chris Williams

    A few years ago, I found, then then lost again, a set of references about an RAF officer who was court-martialled during/after the Suez war in 1956. As pilot of a Canberra about to bomb targets in Egypt, he pulled up the undercarriage before taking off from (I think) Luqa in Malta. He'd obviously read _No Highway_, like a good airminded chap.

    At the court-martial, his defence was keen to stress that this action was the result of mental collapse, and was not a political protest, although he'd been heard in the Mess beforehand opposing the operation. I think that he ended up with a year, but I'm not sure.

  2. Brett Holman

    Post author

    Oh dear, I haven't read No Highway ... I've seen the film though! Does that count?

    Pulling up the undercarriage doesn't seem like an effective way of covertly disobeying an order ... what happens when they repair the plane or give you another to fly? Knowing absolutely nothing about the case (or psychology, for that matter :), it does seem plausible that some sort of momentary "mental collapse" might have been involved for him to do that, even if he did have political/moral objections.

  3. Chris Williams

    Well, it's a pretty foolproof way of making sure that at least one Canberra spent the duration of the war seriously unservicable. Also a quite hardcore one: IIRC he had a load of fused bombs on board. I imagine that his observer had something to say about it, too.

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  5. Brett Holman

    Post author

    Fair enough - it was probably the most he could do short of bombing his own airfield!

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  7. Joe Froggatt

    Just heard the short programme on Radio 4 about this Canberra. Didn't say from where it was flying or the Squadron. Anyone know was it Luqa, sounds operationally reasonable, and which Squadron?

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