“Through Adversity to the Stars”

Louis Belloc was the son of British Catholic author Hilaire Belloc. He served in the Royal Air Force during World War I and tragically lost his life.


Death certificate, August 26, 1918, Box 5 Folder 1, Belloc Family Correspondence, MS.2007.007, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

The above certificate was sent to his family after his death. “Before Cambrai” refers to the 2nd Battle of Cambrai which occurred between October 8th and 10th, 1918. The army did not send the certificate until August 26th 1918, at least two months after the death of Louis. The army did not, in fact, declare his death definite until it sent a letter October 4th, 1919. The “R.E” stands for Royal Engineers. The line in Latin along the bottom, “Per Ardua Ad Astra,” was, and still is, the motto of the British Royal Air Force and translates to “Through Adversity to the Stars.”

The below inventory of Louis’ possessions serves as a reminder of daily life, when members of the Royal Air Force were walking the ground. Items such as “5 1/2 pairs socks” show how real life was. Just like someone at the home front might lose a sock on a clothes line, Louis could lose his. Louis was probably consistently switching locations, as can be supported by his note below when he mentions he does not know how long he’ll be at Cambria. “1 book (history of the army)” and “1 Walker’s pocket guide to London” remind us that Louis was more than simply a name but a human being just as desperate for something to focus on as others. This list was sent to his family once the army had declared him missing (see the top lines).


Inventory, August 28, 1918, Box 5, Folder 1, Belloc Family Correspondence, MS.2007.007, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

This letter from Louis reveals, as does his other letter, the positive view he takes on the war. He tells his father “I want to stay out here rather just at present because the war is rather interesting just at present.” This could be evidence his experience was

peaceful, except for his last sentence: “My bottom and thighs are badly burned (a mass of blisters).” The contradiction between his injuries and his mindset raises the question of what we should read between the lines of his letter. Was he excited at his new role as pilot? Or was he as horrified as those at home but trying to live optimistically? Small aspects such as his repetition of “rather” and “just at present” show he was not quite focused. Those blisters could be from the Battle of Amiens where the RAF played a big role. This was the opening battle of the Allies’ “Hundred Days Offensive,” which eventually led to their victory.

The below letter that Louis sent home reveals a great deal about his thoughts on the War. He emphasizes repeatedly that it was all “good fun,” as he details the events of an “amusing show,” that is, an air strike against German soldiers. He took great pleasure in “shooting up” German soldiers in the air raid, and emphasized that he and his comrades returned from the air raid safe and unharmed. It is possible that Louis may have written in this manner to alleviate any worries his father had about him being in the war, or it may simply serve as an example of a soldier’s failure to recognize the harsh reality of war.

  • Marianna Sorensen, MCAS ’16 & Luke Heineman, MCAS ’17 Spring 2016 Making History Public students


The images and content in this blog post are from the exhibit Propaganda & the Great War, which is now on display in the History Department, Stokes 3rd Floor South.    This exhibit was curated and organized by Professor Robert Savage’s Spring 2016 Making History Public class, in collaboration with the Boston College University Libraries.

This entry was posted in Archives & Manuscripts, British Catholic Authors, Exhibits & Events, HS600 Posts and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to “Through Adversity to the Stars”

  1. Brendan. says:

    Hi, RE stands for Royal Engineers. So this means he was a member of the Royal Engineers attached to the RAF. RAF was formed on April 1918 just a few months before his death in August 1918.

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