Ok, I'm working on my Masters thesis which is on the construction and development of the ww1 aviator hero, generally looking at the ways in which the aviator, especially the fighter pilot/ace, became, in the abstract and individually, a hero figure in British culture/literature etc in and after the Great War itself.
By construction I mean that heroes are social constructs, individuals are given in or after their lives emotional and symbolic meaning and value by society for an act (or perhaps acts?) undertaken at sometime by the individual. They are necessitated by the surrounding culture, literature, art and social values and ideologies and are cultivated by mediators - priests in effect who develop and build up the myth and reputation of the individual as a hero. I can point to, for example, the case of Billy Bishop, who certainly had help to become a public figure thanks to the influence of Lady St Helier, who saw him as a surrogate son and used her influence and contacts - which included Winston Churchill, Lord Hugh Cecil and Max Aitken (future Lord Beaverbrook), and also Jack Scott, Bishop's sqn commander, who was also friends with Churchill, Cecil etc and wanted his squadron to be known as the best in the RFC. That's just an example.
However on the basic principles of the 'heroic' I was thinking. We associate heroism with a single act. If a child falls into a river and is under threat of drowning and a man jumps in and saves them, that is one single act that, if taken up by a journalist etc, can be seen as 'heroic'. The Victoria Cross is awarded for single acts of valour, courage, bravery etc (even though their awarding may be influenced by political things/wider events, like Rorkes Drift etc). When Leefe Robinson shot down the SL11 (airship) over Cuffley, he was seen by thousands - it was a single act. As was the act of Boy First Class Jack Cornwell, who stood at his post at the battle of Jutland despite being mortally wounded and with his gunnery crew dead. That was a single act of devotion to duty, as described by the powers that be.
However, these fighter pilots (except Bishop) are not awarded or recognized for specific acts of bravery, but for 'continuous acts'. Albert Ball is the first man to be awarded, as far as I am aware, to be awarded not for a single act. He, and others after him, are awarded for consistent bravery over a period of time, for example in Balls case 25th April to 6th May 1917. Now it is to be said that Ball and his fellow pilots risked their lives and were brave and devoted as soldiers to their country. Yet is this really heroic? Consistent bravery? If we take this example then most of the men in the trenches for prolonged periods, facing gas, artillery and attacks are worthy of VCs too, no? Also, if we follow this principle, does it not make the recon/observer pilots just as heroic or even more so than the fighters?
I guess what I am getting at is, can it be possible for one to be consistently heroic or is the 'heroic' limited to a single act? If one cannot be, does that, therefore, make the fighter ace, not a hero, just a brave man doing his duty?
I can appreciate a general view that anyone who fights in a war (obviously on a particular side) is a 'hero', but I am looking at it from the fundamental structures of heroism, heroes and the heroic 'act'. The general view of the hero is someone who performs some sort of unspecified feat, act or whatever is the one I am looking at, not an un-academic populist view of heroism (like the whole 'every soldier/mother/father/insert anyone (etc) is a hero' view).