The great melting pot that was the RAF during the war has always, to me, been a strong indicator of how people from different countries and backgrounds can work closely together to achieve a common goal. Sure, the Commonwealth countries that contributed the majority of international aircrew for Bomber Command (Canada, Australia and New Zealand) had very firm ties to Britain (as did all contributing nations), but as established societies they naturally developed their own way of seeing the world. Throw them together in a, to use a modern cliché, work hard/play hard environment in a strange country with different weather, customs, and the sobering task of risking their lives regularly, and you can’t help but marvel how well so many ‘strangers from strange lands’ bonded and got the job done. There’s a few people around today who could learn a lot from that sort of co-operation and acceptance.
The quiet achievers of Bomber Command (and better drinkers than the Australians apparently, they just didn’t broadcast it as much!) were the New Zealanders. Of the 6000-odd Kiwis that served in Bomber Command, almost one third (1,850) were lost; it's a sobering statistic at any time, but even more so when you consider the population of New Zealand at the time was roughly 1.6 million. Since we’re talking statistics, just what did this less-than-six-per-cent of Bomber Command’s personnel actually contribute? Well, it is Bomber Command so you can easily imagine their struggle for survival, but for the ultimate narrative you cannot go past Max Lambert’s superlative Night After Night.
Drawing on countless interviews with veterans and families, the author blends the individual stories together with considerable skill, walking the reader through the entire war from the early, disorganised days of operations to the eventual cessation of hostilities. The main text of the book is separated into sections (one per year) and each is introduced with an overview of the war’s progress and Bomber Command’s situation and evolving tactics and campaigns. This necessary context ably supports the chronological recording of stories ranging from training, adventures, narrow escapes, deaths and imprisonment to the rewarding journeys home to New Zealand. Lambert, through the multitude of interviews obviously performed for this book, has clearly understood the images and memories shared with him and writes with immense detail and empathy. First-hand accounts of life in Bomber Command are certainly not rare, but to have a large number from a variety of personalities at your fingertips is an effective way to help develop or add to a deep understanding (lots of value if your budget is limited or, like me, you've commenced another self-imposed book-buying ban). The peril faced by these brave airmen will have you shaking your head in disbelief at their survival one moment and then swallowing the lump in your throat upon reading of their loss the next.
This is a wonderful-looking book with a simple, but beautifully illustrated, cover. The thick card cover of this original edition is a little different to the norm, kind of like a cross between a paperback and a dust-jacket if that makes sense. In this case the quality presentation equals the content inside including the range of photographs (featuring one of the saddest images I have ever seen: a pilot, looking for all the world as though he’s asleep, still strapped to his seat as the mangled remains of his Wellington are recovered from the sea the day after his ditching, I get emotional just thinking about it) which span the entire course of the war. Easy to read, you’ll be surprised at how quickly you can devour 450+ pages of what can be confronting experiences.
This is an extremely valuable account of just part of Bomber Command's war and a fitting, and overdue, literary memorial to the contributions of a small, but proud, country to that campaign.
I bought my copy off Ebay in Australia, but the book is widely available from other sources including Amazon etc. It’s a heavy bit of gear so watch the postage if you’re buying online from somewhere that doesn’t have set rates. Having said that, my copy is a paperback so it’s certainly not as heavy as some of the hardbacks out there.
Night After Night would be a nice companion for Hank Nelson’s Chased By The Sun (Australians in BC). I hope to prove that one day as I’m still kicking myself for not buying CBTS when it was widely available in the big department store chains!
Reviewed copy published by HarpersCollins Publishers (New Zealand) Limited in 2005.