24 April 2009

A Gremlin On My Shoulder - Ron Cundy DFC, DFM, MID

First impressions of this book is that there's not a lot of pages which might make you turn to something else on the shelf that appears to offer better value for money. However, don't let the 170-odd pages fool you (and if you're a Desert Air Force nut like me you can't go passed it). This is a seriously good book and is well written with lashings of flying, humour and insight.

Ron Cundy grew up dirt poor in the depression. He often attended school barefoot but received a good education thanks partly to the sacrifices of his WWI veteran father and mother. His first job was with the New South Wales state government but when war came he was pretty keen to join up. His initial assessment, due to his below par maths marks, was an "O" for observer - a rating he was pretty distressed with. However, a chance meeting with a colleague, now an RAAF clerk, fixed this with one stroke of a pen...

Initial training and flying was in Australia before attending further training in Canada. Cundy then served a short time in the UK with a Hurricane squadron before his sense of adventure led to him volunteering to fly in Russia. When issued with tropical gear, he knew something was up but was still a little surprised to be headed to North Africa. There, he joined 260 Sqn on Hurris after, in his words, being lucky not to have to fly a Hurri across Africa to Cairo from the west coast (a fellow pilot was told to follow the trail of burnt out aircraft if he got lost). Cundy is realistic about his combat flying abilities and freely admits the first enemy aircraft he fired at stood little chance of being hit. He is also quite critical of the lack of training in this area and how under-prepared he was. This criticism aside, what comes through here is his very understated writing style. He gives full credit to the great men he flew with, and against, but doesn't dwell on his own actions. Indeed, he reports the many sorties he went on from his perspective of being a part of the bigger picture, rather than "I did this and then I did that". However, through this modesty, you can read/see and feel him becoming more capable as a fighter pilot. After 260 switches to Kittyhawks, he really seems to come into his own. I would hazard a guess to say this was to do with the hours Cundy was lucky to build up rather than the aircraft of course. As a Sergeant pilot, he leads the squadron on numerous occasions - something frowned upon from higher up.

Ron Cundy was good mates with Eddie Edwards, the Canadian ace and cover artist of this edition (and whose books I need to hunt down), and mentions him often along with many other interesting characters, the loss of whom Cundy laments but adds how they had to move on - that familiar coping mechanism mentioned below in the Tim Vigors review. He did not regard himself as a hero. At one stage, after standing by their aircraft in readiness and then diving into slit trenches to take cover from bombing and strafing '109s, Cundy tells how he was very reluctant to emerge when the order came to stand by again. However, this apparent 'fear' is countered by the fact that he got out of the trench and followed the order. He recounts many other brave exploits. Not his, though, his squadron mates.

The DFC came from attacking a lighter and setting it on fire - another sortie where he recounts in detail the action but makes no mention along the lines of "this was the action I got the DFC for". It was just another flight for him.

I know I keep going on about the modesty of his writing and it is nothing new for men of this calibre/generation/ilk. It is just so very pleasant to read and the book is particularly hard to put down especially when, with a bit of pre-emptive research, you know when he earned his DFC etc and you haven't got to that date/time yet!

After his 200 hours, Cundy stayed with 260 and flew a captured He 111 to 'supply' the squadron. There are some amusing anecdotes there. His return to Australia, stint instructing, time in Darwin on Spits, marriage and further instructing are all covered relatively quickly. He returned to the civil service after the war.

So, a small book but if you can get your hands on it and if, like me, these memoirs never cease to amaze/teach you, you will be hard pressed to find a better book. As an RAAF memoir of North Africa, it is invaluable. As an open, honest tribute to the men of 260 Sqn, it is priceless.

I first came across this book in Boffins' Bookshop in Perth, Western Australia, several years ago. For the life of me, I don't know why I didn't invest $15 at the time. I have since bought a copy off Ebay.com.au where it regularly comes up.

I will be including data blocks for each title reviewed shortly. Each block will include edition, publisher and ISBN details.

Available in Australia from Alexander Fax Booksellershttp://www.alexanderfaxbooks.com.au/

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