Saturday, July 23, 2016

The Battle Of Britain: An Epic Conflict Revisited - Christer Bergström


As anniversaries go, the seventy-fifth of the Battle of Britain was obviously a big one. There were ceremonies and epic flypasts and decent, occasionally well-informed, coverage in the media. Add in a few new books and any enthusiast had it made, particularly if they lived in the UK. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of many new titles on the subject although there were clearly a few. The hardcover edition of Helen Doe’s Fighter Pilot and the Pen & Sword edition of Australia’s Few and the Battle of Britain by Kristen Alexander come to mind but that’s it at the moment. I think that’s probably because I didn’t pay much attention because I spent a fair bit of time with my nose in what just might be the final word on this most famous of aerial battles. Christer Bergström spent more than four decades gathering material for The Battle of Britain, An Epic Conflict Revisited, and it shows. This must surely be one of the last books to be released that will use original, unpublished veteran interviews as source material.

Right from the start the author makes his intentions clear. The BoB, being entrenched in popular culture as it is, is one of those periods of history where myths and half-truths evolve into apparent fact and are spouted left, right and centre by anyone with a passing interest. Alongside legendary exploits such as the Dams raid and the Doolittle raid, the Battle of Britain grabs the attention. There are tales of derring-do on both sides, Britain with its back against the wall, a rampaging Germany stopped in its tracks. It’s stirring stuff and, best of all, it really did happen. Who needs fiction when history is so much better? As time goes on, however, and these things are analysed ad nauseum and different opinions and conclusions put forward, even movies made, the line between fact and fiction starts to blur and some of the ‘faction’ starts to become accepted or even common knowledge and is certainly not helped by being regurgitated by the media. You know about the BoB, you wouldn’t be reading this otherwise. Have a think about these half-truths. What comes to mind? Göring was a bumbling fool. Fighter Command stood alone. The Bf 110 was a sitting duck against the Spitfires and Hurricanes. You know the drill. Bergström sets about proving these to be wrong. Göring, while clearly a man who enjoyed the finer things in life, was an old fighter pilot, and a successful one at that. He related well with his fighter units and understood their desire, their need, to hunt. He was not a fan of tying the fighters to the bombers but had to keep his bomber group commanders happy. He did allow his fighters to go on free hunting sweeps ahead of the day’s bombing raids and these were successful until Fighter Command cottoned on that there were no bombers in the incoming radar plots. It was Göring who had fresh fighter formations, those that had not flown on the returning raids, cover the withdrawal across the Channel. He proved insightful, adaptable and trusting of his men. He had his finger on the pulse but, ultimately, with a rather large commitment to the east requiring attention, the Italians in the Mediterranean needing reinforcing, not to mention a fair bit of angst among his commanders who did not implement his directives in full, he was up against it to achieve the required result especially when the RAF proved so hard to dislodge.

It was such a close run thing, though. Some of the loss statistics are harrowing and you have to remember that there is at least one man involved in each of those aircraft lost. Even in October, when many regard the Battle as more or less having run its course, the Germans shot down more aircraft than the RAF did. At the time much of the daylight activity was centred around fighters escorting fighter bombers in an attempt to draw the RAF up. Within six months, the RAF was trying to do the same thing to the Luftwaffe over occupied Europe. Contrary to popular belief, the RAF suffered at the hands of the Bf 110 crews. It had the range and firepower to be an absolute menace particularly when working in concert with several other ‘110s. As someone who doesn’t read a lot about the BoB, I was consistently surprised, and somewhat disturbed, at the number of Spitfires and Hurricanes that fell to the guns of the big fighter. Some of the Zerstörer units, some of the Luftwaffe’s most effective offensive units, had better kill/loss ratios than some of the Bf 109 units. While units on both sides, and flying all types, were withdrawn to regroup, it was surprising how truly ineffective some of the Luftwaffe’s single engine fighter groups were. It’s not a viewpoint I’ve come across before, partly because of the dearth of recent reading on the subject, but the analysis is due to the author getting to grips with German records.

It is pleasing to see Bomber Command receive regular attention as the author progresses through the timeline. More than just hitting the invasion barges in the Channel ports, the Whitleys, Hampdens, Blenheims and Wellingtons were taking the fight to Germany itself. While they were mere pinpricks compared to what the Germans achieved with their bomber formations, they were a nuisance that led to at least one Bf 110 unit being withdrawn for a rest and conversion to night fighting.

This is as good a discussion of the progression of the BoB as I’ve ever read. It includes the usual formation numbers on such and such a date and losses for the day as expected but, like some books before it, it includes a surprising amount of recollections from the pilots themselves. Again, nothing really new there but these are the product of the author’s own interviews and many were recorded decades ago. Of course, many of the men interviewed are no longer with us.

Chapters are split roughly in to months and the narrative is incredibly detailed when it comes to looking at the machinations of the German hierarchy behind the scenes. The whole thing was really theirs to lose.

This is a book that everyone who is interested in the period should have on their shelf. It is critical, but fair, and pulls no punches. The author is not backwards in coming forwards when it comes to discrediting accepted truths and it is a testament and tribute to his decades of work that everything about the analysis, discussion and conclusions is supported by the most comprehensive bibliography, using sources from both sides (some of which would rarely see the light of day, I imagine), that I have seen. The range of photos used is second to none and include a stunning colour photo section and the ubiquitous profiles. Many of the captions are long and provide excellent detail.

The aircraft are introduced at the start and, weirdly, the Westland Whirlwind is mentioned but the Bristol Beaufighter is not. It’s the first time I’ve seen the Whirlwind included as one of the aircraft that contributed to the Battle of Britain. There are long passages for the Spitfire and the Messerschmitts, little on the Hurricane and the Defiant receives as much attention as the Whirlwind. As great as this book is, this is just one of the odd little things within its pages (and let's not go in to the 'modern' Hurricane on the cover!).

Continuing in this vein, this book needs an edit. A serious edit. It was originally written and published in Swedish and may (I do not know) have been translated in to English by the author. I very much doubt whether this English translation was edited because it really does appear that it wasn’t. There are clumsy sentences and statements where the order of the words is wrong or extra words are included. This occurs on every page. I raised this as I was reading it. Some were not concerned as they felt it took nothing away from the book, and they’re right, while others found it distracting. On top of those opinions, all of which I agreed with, I don’t think it honours the work of the author. Here’s a man who has spent more than forty years collating the material to produce a gem of a book only to have it tarnished by many apparent oversights post-manuscript submission. A full read through edit would have picked up some errors in the captions and some minor double-checking of details in the narrative. I would have no hesitation calling this book the ultimate discussion of the BoB if these errors and oversights were cleared up (and I have a list!) because it would then be near perfect. With luck a further print run or a second edition will clear this up but it will require a good dose of work that should have been done before the book was published.

Don’t let me put you off. This is the book on the Battle of Britain and this review isn’t intended to be a blow by blow account of the Battle or to approach the detail of the narrative. A large, A4 format of 330 pages and hundreds of photos, it takes into account all that have preceded it and gives credit where it is due. It is, however, an entirely original discussion, based on familiar knowledge, that goes beyond anything before it. It is mature, incredibly well-researched and insightful beyond belief.

Epic conflict. Epic book.

ISBN 978-1-61200--347-4


Friday, July 22, 2016

Taking Flight - Kristen Alexander


Aviation today doesn’t often make the headlines unless it’s bad news. Aircraft cross six of the seven continents hourly and usually do so to reach another continent on the other side of a vast ocean. Long distance flying is accepted if you want to see the world yet pilots of all ages still accept the challenge to tackle a route solo. Some do it in modern aircraft, some do it in vintage aircraft with or without a support crew. These flights remain remarkable achievements. If anything, today’s political and security landscape makes long-distance solo flights harder to plan let alone fly. This is especially so when trying to follow the flight path of a pioneer. Destinations have to be carefully picked and diversions assessed for their suitability and safety. Really, not a lot has changed since the early days of aviation. It is still an amazing effort to fly solo around Australia or fly to England in a Tiger Moth but, because of the airliners passing thousands of feet overhead, the mainstream don’t get it. It’s all been done before.

That’s the key point. Being the first to do something can’t be taken away. With the birth of aviation, everything was a challenge. That said, it still took something incredible to be lauded as a pioneer. There are two types of pioneer aviator. Those in the first group remain household names to some extent: Amelia Earhart, Amy Johnson, Jean Batten, Charles Kingsford Smith, Bert Hinkler, Charles Lindbergh, Wiley Post, Alcock and Brown etc. They have been extensively memorialised, their aircraft, or replicas thereof, reside in museums or attend airshows, books are still written about them and their likeness appears on currency. Then there’s the second lot. The unknowns. Those who have achieved just as much, perhaps more, but have been almost lost to history. Were they the less attention seeking perhaps? They might be remembered on a plaque somewhere or have had a book published, or written about them, that remains long out of print. To me, someone who inhabits the world of historic aviation, but who regularly wears blinkers out of necessity, Lores Bonney is one of the forgotten.

Well, with a bit of luck, and a good book, perhaps this will no longer be the case. One of Australia’s leading aviation biographers, Kristen Alexander, was asked by the National Library of Australia to write Bonney’s story using the library’s Lores Bonney Collection as the core. This collection, among various personal items, includes Bonney’s letters and diaries. Why is she significant? In a time when female pilots were regarded as somewhat of a novelty, Lores was determined to fly and, once she had achieved some semblance of proficiency, immediately started planning long distance flights. She first set a record for the longest one-day flight in Australia (more than 1,500 kilometres) and her second was a mere solo jaunt around the country. She was the first woman to achieve this. Mother England beckoned, as was its wont, so Lores set out to become the first aviatrix to fly there from Australia. Her trusty DH.60 Moth ‘My Little Ship’ was her companion on these first adventures and Lores, being the confident and driven type she was, trained as a mechanic and fitter so she was capable of maintaining the aircraft and effecting repairs. Husband Harry backed her flying financially but was always reluctant to let her go (although he did propose an idea that became her longest flight).

While she is credited with that first flight to England, a prang while landing to avoid weather in Burma’s very southern regions, led to Lores disassembling the Moth on the beach and having it transported, by barge and ship, to Rangoon and Calcutta respectively. It was a journey of more than 1,800 kilometres. Her timetable flew out the window as did her ability to get through the rest of the flight ahead of the known worsening weather en route. In typical Lores fashion, however, despite moments of self-doubt and frustration, she battled through and made it. It was 1933 and something no other woman had done before.

Lores followed the England flight up by becoming the first person to fly to South Africa, her country of birth, from Australia. This time she did it in a Klemm and the relative comfort of an enclosed cockpit. The destination was an inspired choice as, even by 1937, there were few aviation firsts to be conquered. The Klemm was falling apart and once again the weather played a big part in delays. Add in a little dysentery in India (and other health issues on the way) and bureaucratic bungling, and she didn’t arrive in the Union until mid-August, having left in April. What would be her final major achievement had been completed before her fortieth birthday.

Her plans for further adventures were scotched by, first, the loss of the Klemm, now fully rebuilt, in a hangar fire and, second, the outbreak of the Second World War. She continued to fly, but eventually gave it up in her early fifties, and kept travelling overseas exploring the world before her death in 1994.

To be honest, it is quite likely I would not have read this book if it were not for the author’s name on the front. It is outside what I like to think I specialise in (those blinkers again). That makes me a bit of an idiot as Lores Bonney was an unstoppable, albeit shy to a fault when out of the public eye, force of nature, her diminutive size belying an incredible fortitude that even managed to overcome her crises of confidence. With the resources available, I cannot think of a better author to tackle a new book (there is another, much older biography) on this pioneering aviatrix. The Alexander factor, as I like to call it, of teasing out personal minutiae, of tying together an inordinate number of threads, to sculpt an almost tangible image of a flyer long gone, is in full song here. Indeed, given it is a return to the individual biography for this author, after several years working on a collection of personalities, the Bonney work has captured a biographer at the top of her game. Having stepped away from wartime aviation and embracing the finicky, almost artisan, world of pre-war civil aviation, Kristen has got inside Lores’ persona and produced an insightful and revealing book.

A large format softcover of more than 270 pages, the endpapers include a very useful map of Lores’ travels in the Moth and the Klemm. The photos, at least one per two page spread, are reproduced well with the left-hand page being dedicated to either a full page photo (usually of Lores) or a smaller image accompanied by a detailed caption. Many of the better photos of Lores are well-selected, and enlarged, and often speak volumes particularly those featuring the aviatrix elbow deep in an engine or at large in one of her many destinations. The narrative, therefore, is limited to the right-hand pages and effortlessly combines excerpts from letters and diaries with details of Lores’ preparations, innermost thoughts, flying, failures, successes and adventures. It is an incredibly easy read and those personal photos of Lores really make an impression.

Will Lores Bonney’s history-making life emerge from the wilderness and into the mainstream because of this book? Probably not. Aviation enthusiasts will appreciate it and her name and achievements will continue to pop up because they will always maintain their sense of awe. She flew in the time of Johnson, Batten and Earhart, to name the obvious ones, two of whom were published authors, and remains overshadowed by these contemporaries. If, somehow, Lores Bonney does enter the public interest, it will be because of Taking Flight and, who knows, perhaps this book will be the genesis for the release of Bonney’s two unpublished (due to rejection!) manuscripts. Now that would be good news.

ISBN 978-0-642-27886-9

Thursday, July 21, 2016

A Special Duty - Jennifer Elkin


Despite my enthusiasm for all things North Africa aircrew-related and, by extension, Mediterranean and Italian, it has been a disturbingly long time since I’ve read anything about the Desert Air Force. Well, specifically for ABR, that is. I’m sitting here sipping a coffee, that really should be a whiskey to get the juices flowing, momentarily interrupted by my son stirring in his sleep, trying to work out how long it’s been. Of course, I could easily check the website but I’ve been distracted enough as it is already tonight. Let’s move to Italy. Ah, Mark Lax’s Alamein To The Alps, Just One Of The Many by Dudley Egles and, from a time before ABR, even Tom Scotland’s much reprinted Voice From The Stars, immediately spring to mind. Even so, as you can see by the dates on the reviews, we’re talking years. That’s just not right so it was pleasing to select (they select me if I’m honest) Jennifer Elkin’s A Special Duty to read and review. The title and the cover are a dead giveaway as to the content but, even knowing the premise, I was surprised by this book. It did, however, leave me wanting more.

This is the tale of the author’s father, Tom Storey, and his Halifax crew. They were assigned to No. 148 (Special Duties) Squadron. Initially flying from Libya, before moving to Italy, the squadron was key to supplying the various partisan groups and SOE missions throughout Eastern Europe. Of course, with the move to Italy, many more areas came within range which really only heightened the danger. Read enough aircrew books and you become familiar with the general approach. Take off with a load of canisters in the bomb bay and maybe some agents and/or loose parcels to let go through a hole in the floor of the fuselage. Fly to the rendezvous and look for the signal fires in the pre-arranged pattern. Drop on these from low level and head home. Read that again and just think of all the variables, things that could go wrong, at night, over enemy occupied territory. Now throw in the countryside to the east of the Alps and look for a dropping ground that, by necessity, had to be hard to get to in a region renowned for its average weather. The drop had to be made as per the cover – low, wheels and flaps down, bomb doors adding to the drag, the Halifax shuddering at such a slow speed and, more often than not, having to repeat the run several times to ensure an accurate drop. The Storey crew did this more than thirty times and there were a number of early returns and failed deliveries on top of that. This was all achieved from the night of their first op, 3 November 1943, to their last on 23 April 1944. That was a fateful night that would bring pain to a family for years after the war.

Over Poland, the Halifax faltered and gradually lost power. The crew were forced to bail out before they could deliver their load. Hunted by the Germans, who took a group of locals hostage until the men were found, five of the seven crew managed to evade because of the exceptionally brave actions of villagers and, ultimately, partisan groups. It was an interesting time with the Russians certainly making their presence felt through their support of selected partisan forces. Other groups were supplied by the western Allies and still others did what they could with whatever they could lay their hands on. While one of the crew found long-term refuge with a local family, Storey and three others were ultimately looked after, and lived with, a Soviet partisan group that only entered Poland several days before the Storey crew arrived by parachute. It was clearly a confused time despite the common enemy. Polish partisans of various persuasions, Russian ones with varying levels of influence over some of the Polish forces (acronyms everywhere!) and, in the middle of it all, some RAF airmen who were just happy to be alive and out of German hands. They were eventually flown out of a cornfield, flattened for the purpose, by a Russian Dakota, in early June and repatriated via Moscow, the first RAF personnel to do so. Happily, all of the crew survived the war.

It is quite the adventure and, I dare say, unique in bibliography of aircrew books. Much shaking of the head ensues both during operations and the time on the ground in Poland. All seven men certainly used their fair share of luck and it is quite refreshing to read a book where the entire crew of a four engine RAF aircraft survived to see peace. That said, however, a pall hangs over ASD from the moment you read the preamble. The author’s account of that day in 1964, exactly twenty years after the crew bailed out, doesn’t break your heart, it rips it out. It is an incredibly powerful, profoundly sad, opening that sets the tone as I said. It leaves the reader with a myriad of questions, some of which can never be completely answered, and a desire to turn the page.

The author endeavours to answer the questions, that she obviously had as well, with in depth research in to the supply dropping to the likes of General Tito’s forces and the SOE missions. Names like Spillway, Lapworth, Mulligatawny, Swifter, Claridge and Autonomous enter the vocabulary as codenames for the small teams of operatives supplied by the special duties squadrons. How these men survived, and many didn’t, behind enemy lines where they really couldn’t trust anyone, nor could they completely rely on a steady stream of supplies, is beyond me. The author has clearly spent a lot of time understanding the purpose, success and sacrifice of these missions and, although further detail is not relevant to the book, she has built a strong foundation to perhaps work on a future title that goes deeper in to their world or, indeed, what would be a valuable history of 148 (SD) Squadron as whole. Frighteningly, I was drawn in to this world and would love to know more but there are only so many hours in the day.

Operations, despite the crew’s experience, only cover about the first seventy pages of this 158-page paperback. The rest is given over to the time in Poland, which includes an unraveling of the crew’s movements and the people who sheltered them, certainly a tricky task. A good portion of the book, however, and it helps complete the picture of the man that was Tom Storey, is given to the author’s memories of the post-war period when a clearly intelligent and loving man was progressively overtaken by forces beyond his control, forces that began to manifest themselves well before his time in Poland, but found their anchor on that night in April 1944. Happily, the family history has come full circle as the author, her mother, and her sisters travelled to Poland and met former partisans and relatives of those who helped the Storey crew in 1944.

The first edition of this book appeared, self-published, in early 2014. It is certainly a fast turnaround for a relatively recent book but the publisher’s touch is evident and this is a story like no other so deserves such backing. Mention The War has produced a typically attractive paperback designed to be affordable and accessible. It is a book that punches above its weight. There are a number of technical niggles and clarifications I would like to see cleared up but these relate to several aviation terms and unit details that aren’t the main thrust of the book. After all, the author came to this subject cold and has understandably concentrated on the special duties aspects of her father’s war. The writing is straightforward, nothing fancy, and to the point. It tells the tale without a lot of embellishment because it isn’t really needed. There’s bravery, sacrifice, tension, triumph and pain everywhere. It is that evident that it doesn’t need to be emphasised.

A Special Duty has healed a lot of pain for the author and her family. It clearly hasn’t healed everything, nothing ever could, but, for a relatively small book, it has raises a good number of issues that we should never forget. The operational side is obvious, as are the aspects in 1944 Poland, but the analysis, for want of a less clinical word, of the struggle that many returned airmen lived through for years, and still do, is sobering. It is told from the viewpoint of one daughter for whom life would always be affected by a war fought before she was born. A special little book that, although there is closure for the family, leaves the reader wanting more.

ISBN 978-0993336072

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Flying Hours - Andrew Millar


Several years ago I stumbled upon a photo that depicts one of the things that fascinates me the most. I can’t remember how I found it but I did. I call it the League of Nations photo and, for long-term readers of ABR, you’ll know of my enduring fascination, and overuse of the term itself, with the 'melting pot' that was the RAF (and now I’ve used it in two consecutive reviews). Anyway, this photo of No. 20 Squadron pilots leaning or sitting on the wing of a rocket-armed Hurricane Mk.IV ‘somewhere in Burma’ includes two Australians, one Kiwi, a Canadian, a South African, a Scot and an Englishman (and not a bar in sight). While I pored over the photo and wondered at the dynamics between these men and the journey each had travelled to reach that point, little did I know that Squadron Leader Andrew Millar, the Englishman and CO, had, twenty years after the war, using some notes, his logbook and his memory, written his memoirs. This manuscript, although read by his family, has taken fifty years to see the light of day. It is now The Flying Hours and, although written with some hindsight, but still with an old world take on things, it is an astounding and, dare I say it, accurate account of one squadron’s war in the Far East.

The author arrived in India in June 1942. With two years as an Army co-operation pilot under his belt, Millar was in high demand and was posted to No. 20 Squadron. The squadron was equipped with the Lysander, the Army co-op aircraft of the day. Millar quickly proved adept at handling this remarkable aircraft, having flown them previously in the UK, and is soon busy flying the occasional recce of Japanese positions, dropping messages to Army units and flying senior commanders here and there. During this time he encounters the ever-challenging nature of India’s weather, the joys of finding and operating from remote strips and, inch by inch, accepts the culture and attitude that is required to survive this very different part of the world.

Then he flies Lizzie bombing raids. Towards the end of the year, while the squadron was based at Chittagong, the front line was forty kilometres south of Cox’s Bazar and anything that could have a go at the enemy was given the chance. As 1942 drew to a close, however, the Japanese were at the furthest extent of their advance in to the Arakan. The struggle to grind them back was about to begin. Fortunately, the squadron began to receive Hurricanes to replace the worn out Lysanders. That said, the first lot of Hurricanes was a mixed bag of marks, but by the middle of 1943, the 40mm cannon-armed Mk.IID was what the squadron would return to the war with.

The Hurricane Mk.IID had proven itself in North Africa against armoured vehicles. Very low strafing runs would be made against targets with the two .303 machine guns being used to sight the much heavier cannon mounted under each wing. At most two pairs of rounds, one from each gun, would be fired during each pass. Millar and his mates found a high angle diving attack proved to be more accurate with the slow-firing cannon. The squadron seems to have effectively written the book on the use of the Mk.IID in the theatre.

Shortly after the unit’s return to the war, in early 1944, Millar assumed command. He was to remain as CO for almost two years during which time he led arguably the most effective ground attack unit in the region. As the Japanese were forced back, the squadron became adept at relocating by air and quickly returning to operations. The pilots developed a reputation for identifying heavily camouflaged targets from the air. The rocket-armed Hurricane Mk.IV had also entered the fray and for a time the squadron was equipped with a flight each of both marks. The close-support work continued of course and as the war wound down, personnel began to disperse. Millar found himself in Siam (modern-day Thailand) in what is a brief but interesting look at the occupation of that country before returning to India and heading home in at the end of 1945.

There is a hell of a lot in this book. The summary above does not even begin to do Millar’s adventures justice. His observations extend well-beyond squadron and operational life but even the seemingly mundane in a place like India takes on a remarkable quality. To adapt, one had to effectively give in and simply roll with whatever the region threw up. Millar’s initial observations, somewhat culture shocked upon arrival, are that the old stagers were slightly batty. They seemed to have developed a particular languid state, an almost resigned air. This, of course, is familiar to those who have read about squadron life, indeed any military service, during the war in this part of the world. A good dose of ‘mad’ did help to relieve the stress of operations of course, nothing new there, but there was a generally accepted, coping, mental state that pervaded in India. The weather, the people, the fascinating mix of Imperial and centuries old local customs, the Japanese, the terrible diet, the poor hygiene, the inevitable debilitating illnesses, and the wildlife all combined to send men like Millar round the twist. Indeed, he freely admits several times that he was bonkers. Despite this, he seems to have been able to recognise that he had necessarily succumbed, but it didn’t interfere with his duties. He was a firm but fair CO intent on leading a happy, as far as possible, and effective squadron. He certainly achieved that.

Round the twist though he was as time wore on, there is no doubting Millar was an exceptional pilot. He is brutally honest about his flying, though, and had several close shaves, particularly in Lysanders, where he admits how lucky he was to have escaped harm. His accounts of Hurri ops are as fascinating for his ability to paint a picture of what he saw as they are for the tone in which they are told. The writing barely changes pace as he barrels along at low level but it effectively portrays the brevity and repetition, and occasional frustration, of some of these strikes.

On that note, this is not the book for you if you want reams of action. However, any book about a long stay in India/Burma is going to have extended periods of relative inactivity. That was the nature of the theatre and its campaigns. The weather and the terrain dictated everything, more so than the Japanese. However, when things did kick off, when the Allies had an overwhelming superiority of men and equipment, things were as frenetic as they could be and 20 Squadron was a brutally effective instrument. Millar’s career mirrors the fortunes and progression of the campaign in the theatre. He arrives ill-equipped for a new environment but adapts and does what he can with what he has until he has the experience and equipment to push forward.

This is an enjoyable read from the insightful foreword to the very last sentence. It is written as a stream of detailed, fleshed out memories, and it is clear that as Millar was writing, small anecdotes would pop up so he simply included them. Often, these are just one sentence paragraphs with little relevance to the preceding or following text other than to add colour to an already vibrant picture. Even in the longer stories and escapades, these little ‘vignettes’ pop up. Despite their apparent interjection, they don’t affect the flow at all.

As a medical student before the war, and then as a trained Army co-op pilot, Millar has a trained observational eye. His descriptions of the myriad of people he encounters are delightful albeit tinged with the language of the time. You instantly know who he has time for and who he just wants to be rid of but has to endure and that applies to everyone featured in the book. India herself, too, is laid out for the reader from the beaches and dry plains to the cool foothills where many a serviceman retreated on leave. Even up there life took on an almost surreal quality with remnants of the pre-war colonialism desperately hanging on despite the war.

This is another book from Fighting High and, as to be expected, it is a lovely hardback. I was never really taken by the cover as I felt a lot of detail was taken away from Millar’s face. Having read the book now, though, I see the cover but I am instantly transported to India such is the effect of the writing within. There is a traditional central photograph section of 35 images and an incredibly useful map with numbers, correlating to chapters, pinpointing important locations. The manuscript has been preserved as Millar wrote it so there are several technical and historical details that are a little astray but they are so fleeting, and ultimately inconsequential, to the book and the history that has been recorded, that they are only mentioned here for sake of a complete review.

The Flying Hours is several things at once. It is Andrew Millar’s memoirs, of course, but also a history of 20 Squadron from mid-1942. Overall, though, it is a remarkable social and operational look at India and Burma and a reminder of the challenges faced at all levels by those serving in the forgotten war. There are not many books that can portray life there like Millar has done with TFH. This will sound grandiose, but it is quite simply transcendent.

ISBN 978-0-9932129-0-1