Robert Best and his younger brother Frank were born into privileged middle-class Birmingham in the 1890s, where their father
owned one of the UK's most successful lighting factories, supplying fashionable fittings to offices, hotels, restaurants and
opera houses all over the word. Sent to the most enlightened new school of its day - Bedales - the boys not early enjoyed
the freedom to explore their own interests but also absorbed the inspirational moral thinking of the school's founder and
headmaster, J.H. Badley. "From Bedales to the Boche" charts their history at the school during its early years, and shows
what Badley's idea of a progressive education consisted of. It also shows how the boys honed their ambitions to become music-hall
entertainers, writing and performing their own material at home and at school, and eventually showing it to London impresarios.
Their plans for the stage were interrupted, however, by their father's insistence that they study design at another progressive
institution, the art school in Duesseldorf headed until 1907 by Peter Behrens. Best's account of his year there, and of Frank's
the following year, provides an amusing interlude ahead of the First World War. When war broke out, the brothers enlisted
at once into the Army Service Corps (ASC), which took them to the battlefields of northern France and to Dublin in 1916 to
help quell the Easter Rising. Their passion, however, going back to their experiments with flight while at Bedales, was for
the newly formed Royal Flying Corps, which they entered in late 1916, joining the Corps' new school and embarking on a training
programme that Best describes in fascinating detail. After six months of training, the brothers were sent to France where
the life expectancy of a pilot was about 4 months. Frank lasted five weeks; his plane was shot down, his body never found.
In respect of his death, "From Bedales to the Boche" is rich in pathos. Best ends by showing how he and his parents responded
to Frank's loss, and how he tried to rediscover and make sense of Germany after the war was over.