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It’s 1917, and Captain Stanley Woolley joins an R.F.C. squadron whose pilots are starting to fear the worst: their war over the Western Front may go on for years. A pilot’s life is usually short, so while it lasts it is celebrated strenuously.

Distractions from the brutality of the air war include British nurses; eccentric Russian pilots; bureaucratic battles over the plum-jam ration; rat-hunting with Very pistols; and the C.O.’s patent, potent cocktail, known as ‘Hornet’s Sting’.

But as the summer offensives boil up, none of these can offer any lasting comfort.