17 April 2009

Down to Earth - S/L Kenneth McGlashan AFC with Owen Zupp

As you'll discover, I can go on a bit about a book I've really enjoyed because, to me, they are such a privilege to read. However, Down To Earth is more than that. Sure, it's great that Owen Zupp has shaped and shared this story with us but, at the end, you come away feeling like you know Kenneth McGlashan and wishing you could shake his hand. That's how much his character comes alive in this book.

'Mac' flew over the Dunkirk beaches during the evacuation in 1940 and, through self-admitted inexperience, walked those beaches after his Hurricane was shot down. He is young, 19, but mature. Further trips over Dunkirk follow and he evolves into an effective single-engined fighter pilot. The Battle of Britain follows during which Mac's squadron is posted for an intriguing interlude in Ireland chasing German Condors as they in turn hunt out the ships steaming across the Atlantic. Here, his desire to pass on his knowledge surfaces and his commitment and drive to better himself as a leader and pilot is evident. He returns to England and flies cats-eye night fighter ops where he has to rely on his skill, eyesight and a lot of luck. Over time, Mac finds himself working with searchlight-equipped Boston/Havocs - the infamous Turbinlites - the latest great idea in night fighting to prove unsuccessful but nevertheless exciting when flying close formation with a bomber at night. Finally, though, he finds himself posted to a Mosquito night fighter unit and, at last, an effective way to hunt at night. What follows is a love affair with the Mossie, a harsh lesson on single-engined flying that sees him in hospital and determined to learn and teach what he can about "assymetric" flight, continuing anecdotes of the great men he flew with, an amazing sojourn with BOAC in the Middle East, flying during the invasion of Europe, training, raising a family, the end of the war, successful command of a Mossie squadron, award of the AFC, transfers, time in Cyprus and living around the world. What a life!

The writing is relaxed and so easy to follow. It is casual but evocative, regularly amusing but equally poignant. Mac certainly made the most of his scrapes over Dunkirk, his lucky escape over Dieppe and his serious crash in the Mossie. He learns from his mistakes and adventures as indicated by the fact he flew operationally for more than four years, more or less. His eventual return to the scene of his Dunkirk incident brought a lump to my throat as he relived the events of that day surprised he could remember such minute details. Mac's stories are supported by excellent memories from his wife, Doreen, adding a very personal aspect to the reading. Owen comments that the current restoration of Mac's Hurri, recovered from Dunkirk, is a fitting tribute to the man. I think it is fair to say, so is this book.

I read this book in 2007 after ordering it direct from Owen - a good friend of mine and all round nice bloke. The review has appeared on Amazon and, in parts, on Owen's website - www.owenzupp.com. You can order the book through Owen's website from the front page of his website (scroll to the bottom).  The Australian book site Booktopia is also worth a visit if you're looking for a copy of DTE.

Published by Grub Street, it may appear as a paperback in the future. The hardback is very well put together and the photo reproduction is superb.


  1. Terrific site for info and orders, just discovered by it chance, and much thanks for getting all this together.

  2. Many thanks for your kind words, David. I really appreciate it. It's always a work in progress so hopefully you can find new stuff here regularly. The Review Library is the best place to go if you're looking for specific books but the Blog Archive will list every bit of writing on the site.

    Thanks again.