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Lionel Charlton

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Title: Lionel Charlton  
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Subject: German strategic bombing during World War I, Military history of Iraq, Conscientious objector, RAF Iraq Command
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Lionel Charlton

Lionel Evelyn Oswald Charlton
Brigadier-General L E O Charlton as Air Attaché in Washington
Born 7 July 1879
Piccadilly, London, England
Died 18 April 1958(1958-04-18) (aged 78)
Hexham, Northumberland, England
Allegiance  United Kingdom
Service/branch British Army (1897-1918)
 Royal Air Force (1918-1928)
Rank Air Commodore
Commands held No. 8 Squadron RFC
V Brigade RAF
No. 3 Group RAF
Battles/wars South African War
World War I
Awards Companion of the Order of the Bath
Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George
Distinguished Service Order
Mention in Despatches (3)

CMG, DSO, RAF (7 July 1879 – 18 April 1958) was a British infantry officer who served in the Second Boer War. During World War I, Charlton held several command and staff posts in the Royal Flying Corps, finishing the war as a brigadier-general. Transferring to the Royal Air Force on its creation, Charlton served in several air officer posts until his retirement from the air force in 1928. Most notably, Charlton resigned his position as the RAF's Chief Staff Officer in Iraq as he objected to the bombing of Iraqi villages.

Early life

Lionel Charlton was born on 7 July 1879 at Piccadilly in London. He was educated at Brighton College and entered the Lancashire Fusiliers in 1898.

He served in the Second Boer War 1899-1901, where he received the Distinguished Service Order (DSO). He was promoted Captain 5 October 1901.[1]

World War I

Shortly before World War I he transferred to the Royal Flying Corps, becoming one of its first brigadier-generals in 1917.

During the First World War, Charlton served in the Royal Flying Corps, initially as a flight commander on No. 3 Squadron and later as the first Officer Commanding of No. 8 Squadron.[2] On 15 April 1915 when No. 8 Squadron was grouped with No. 13 Squadron to form the new 5th Wing of the RFC, Charlton temporarily took command until he travelled to France.[3]


On 2 February 1923, Air Commodore Charlton took up the post of Chief Staff Officer at the headquarters of the RAF's Iraq Command. It was at this time that the RAF employed the bombing of Iraqi villages with the intent of pacifying tribal opposition. Charlton opposed this policy and he went on to openly criticize such bombing action. Within a year of his arrival, Charlton resigned from his post in Iraq. His opposition to the bombing policy is said to have started with a visit to the local hospital in Diwaniya, where he witnessed horribly mangled civilians, including women and children, who were among the victims of a British air raid.[4]

On his return to Great Britain, Charlton expected to be summoned to see the Chief of the Air Staff, Hugh Trenchard. When the summons did not come, Charlton requested an interview with Trenchard. Trenchard asked Charlton why he has requested the interview and the following exchange took place:

  • Charlton: "About my reasons for resigning."
  • Trenchard: "Look here, Charlton. You resigned, and I accept your resignation. There's nothing more to be said."
  • Charlton: "Won't there be an official enquiry, then?"
  • Trenchard: "An inquiry into what? Your conscience? Certainly not."

Although Charlton was barred from further postings in Iraq, he went on to serve as Air Officer Commanding No 3 Group. Charlton requested early retirement, which he was granted.

Later life

In retirement, he became a successful author of adventure fiction for children. At this time he also wrote Charlton, an autobiography, published by Penguin Books (no. 163, 1938); this work was rather candid, and was written in the third person singular.

In 1938, he published The Air Defence of Britain, a reasoned analysis and prediction of the then-impending Second World War, correctly emphasizing the crucial importance which bombing civilian populations would have.

Charlton was a homosexual, and lived with an old RAF friend, Tom Wichelo. He belonged to a circle including Joe Ackerley, Raymond Mortimer and John Gielgud.[5]


In recent years, the memory of Charlton was taken up by opponents of the present war in Iraq, and specifically by British opponents of their country's involvement in that war, who hold him up as an example to be emulated by present-day officers.[6]

Commentator Mike Marqusee in The Guardian expressed the opinion that Charlton should have had a monument erected in his honour at London, rather than his fellow RAF commander Arthur "Bomber" Harris who conducted the bombings of Iraq without compunction and went on to bomb the German cities in World War II.[7]

Honours and awards


  1. ^ The London Gazette: no. 27370. p. 7047. 1 November 1901.
  2. ^ Barass, Malcolm (6 June 2007). "Air Commodore L E O Charlton". Air of Authority - A History of RAF Organisation. Retrieved 3 November 2007. 
  3. ^ "Early Days - World War I - 1915-1920". No. 8 Squadron Web Site. 4 September 2006. Retrieved 3 November 2007. 
  4. ^ Sven Lindqvist, "A History of Bombing" (Nu dog du: bombernas århundrade), 1999, relevant quotation at [1]
  5. ^ Tamagne, Florence. History of Homosexuality in Europe, 1919 - 1939. Algora Publishing, 2004, p. 203
  6. ^ "Merciless Savagery From The Sky". Richard Neville. Retrieved 14 February 2014. 
  7. ^ Mike Marqusee, "Imperial whitewash - feelgood versions of British history are blinding us to the ways in which we are even now repeating it" The Guardian, 31 July 2006 [2]

External links

  • Air of Authority - A History of RAF Organisation - Air Cdre Charlton
  • Dictionary of National Biography - Charlton, Lionel Evelyn Oswald (requires login)
  • Airminded - Air Power and British Society 1908 - 1939 - L E O Charlton
Military offices
New title
Squadron established
Officer Commanding No. 8 Squadron RFC
Succeeded by
A C H MacLean
New title
Wing established
Officer Commanding Fifth Wing RFC
Temporary appointment

Succeeded by
Preceded by
W S Brancker
Director of Air Organization
February – October 1917
Succeeded by
G Livingston
Preceded by
T C R Higgins
Air Officer Commanding No. 7 Group
Succeeded by
E A D Masterman
Preceded by
T I Webb-Bowen
Air Officer Commanding No. 3 Group
March – December 1924
Succeeded by
R Gordon
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