Typed copies of (Great) Uncle Parr’s letters have been in the family for decades, along with the other miscellaneous photos and bits of family history that accumulate and get handed down in the hope that someone will do something with them someday, before they become incomprehensible or indecipherable. I had a go at reading Parr Hooper’s letters around 2000, but, lacking context and background, didn’t make much headway. Family and other obligations occupied me until 2011 when I started on them again, this time with my web browser open in front of me. And this time I was entranced. Starting with the ship name Carmania, I was able—despite being miles from a library of any size—to look up just about anything Parr mentioned that wasn’t immediately comprehensible and—it is only partially an exaggeration—to recreate much of the world about which Parr was writing to his mother, father, and sister.

This was the world of World War I as seen by a young American pilot. Many like him wrote letters home or kept diaries, and many of these have been published, including those of men whom Parr knew. Among the best known is War Birds: Diary of an Unknown Aviator, based on the diary of John MacGavock Grider, substantially edited and supplemented by his friend, Elliott White Springs; Grider, Springs, and Parr traveled and trained together in 1917–1918. The letters of another wartime acquaintance of Parr, Alvin Andrew Callender, were edited and published by family members in 1978 under the title War in an Open Cockpit. More recently (1996), the letters of a further squadron mate, Bogart Rogers, appeared as A Yankee Ace in the RAF.

War Birds stands out because of its brilliant style: the wisecracking, smart-ass personality of the unknown aviator draws one into a world of talented, fast-living, brave men and eventually breaks one’s heart as many of them, literally, go down in flames. As a natural story teller, Grider (or Springs) creates a narrative and world that, on the surface at least, does not seem to require annotation; it is a page-turner, and one doesn’t want to stop for footnotes. And, indeed, while much has been written about War Birds, editions of the text make little effort to annotate and identify places, names, and situations. The editors of War in an Open Cockpit, in contrast, went to considerable lengths to provide historical background to Callender’s rather austere letters and made good use of primary sources such as combat reports and squadron records in the Imperial War Museum and the National Archives of the UK. Bogart Rogers’s more expansive and personal letters to his sweetheart (eventually wife) are lightly edited, with passages of explanatory historical background and some effort to identify persons he names.

Parr’s letters can make no claim to the literary distinction of War Birds. But, like the letters of Callender and Rogers, they provide an absorbing account of training to fly and then participating in the air combat of the last year of the war. They also show a personable young man making new friends and following up past friendships, interacting with men who would become well-known WWI aces or who were leaders of the shipbuilding industry in Britain, and with women who would travel around the world pursuing botanical interests or help out with the war effort between parties in a Scottish castle. Because Parr mentions such a variety of interesting people, I have regarded it as one of my main and most absorbing tasks as editor to provide biographical background information on them, thus, I hope, rescuing some from undeserved obscurity, while attempting to ensure accuracy and completeness of basic data on some who are better known.

As I edited and annotated the letters, I lamented that I could not consult the handwritten originals. There were occasional odd or inconsistent spellings that I was sure could be resolved by reference to the originals. When I was about three quarters of the way through editing the letters, I began, through internet serendipity, an e-mail correspondence with an uncle (Edward Montgomery) whom I had not seen for many years. I mentioned Parr’s letters, and this uncle wrote that he thought his elder son (also Edward) might have inherited some relevant materials. As it turned out, cousin Ed had the whole cache of original letters, including some that didn’t get into the typescript, along with photos, photo negatives, and memorabilia, and he generously forwarded them all to me. I was thus able to compare the typewritten version to the originals, confirming or correcting surmises, adding a few passages overlooked in the typewritten transcription, and solving some small mysteries. For example, the typescript’s “hurry” for what I assumed should be “lorry” came not from ignorance of British English but from ignorance—which I had shared—of archaic British English: Parr used the old-fashioned spelling “lurry.” The identity of the typist remains a mystery, but another cousin, Kathleen MacQueen, who has delved farther into family history than most of the rest of us, is fairly certain that Parr’s father had his secretary type the letters.

The original letters confirmed that Parr’s spelling, as he was aware, was not particularly accurate. His punctuation and grammar could be erratic and his writing generally informal, as might be expected in notes home, where frequency was more important than polish. To give a taste of the unedited text, I have, in the “Introduction,” used quotations from Parr’s pre-departure letters without emendation; similarly, entries from Parr’s Pilot’s Flying Log Book are transcribed without emendation. In presenting the letters themselves, however, I have silently normalized spelling and supplied missing letters and words. Occasionally I have modified punctuation and grammar to facilitate ease of reading, but have retained most of his informality of expression. In return addresses at the beginnings of letters, anything in italics is from stationery letterhead, while anything in brackets has been deduced and supplied. Parr’s family date-stamped nearly all of his letters upon receipt, and these dates are supplied in brackets at the beginning of each letter. In transcribing entries from Parr’s Pilot’s Flying Log Book, I have supplied information, in brackets, where he has simply put ditto marks indicating repetition of information from the preceding entry. Words in italics provided in some entries are from the book’s printed column headers. I have not included Parr’s notations of time flown for each flight, as this can easily be calculated from each flight’s beginning and ending time entry.

In the text of the letters, names of persons or things that might require explanation are marked with an asterisk. Explanations are provided in the commentary that follows each letter, or in some cases each section of a letter, and that follows many of the log book entries. Notes are used almost exclusively for source documentation.