Saturday, July 30, 2011

I blame Ron Cundy

I am always on the lookout for someone to blame when it comes to my apparent inability to not go searching for new or previously unheard of books to buy or add to the wish list. I mean, it's only fair...

It occurred to me that while I can blame my wife, friends and family I can also land some squarely at the feet of a former Kittyhawk pilot. Ron Cundy, author of the magic A Gremlin On My Shoulder, is this pilot. Although I read his book about three years ago the references within its pages continue to resonate with me today (as well as his exploits). RC, an Australian, briefly flew Hurricanes in the UK before joining No 260 Squadron RAF in North Africa. His desert flying led to the award of a DFM and DFC although you would be hard-pressed to realise it in the book given the modest nature of the man and his writing.

This modesty, however, means he gives a lot of credit to other fine men ahead of himself. Two of the men who particularly stand out are his CO - the gloriously-named, Battle of Britain veteran Osgood Villiers 'Pedro' Hanbury DSO DFC* - and the baby-faced Canadian ace James Francis 'Stocky' Edwards DFM DFC*. Both obviously were close friends of RC and had a profound effect on his life in the desert.

Both had a profound effect on me too as I read so I decided to look into them further. As these things go, I am often distracted from such tasks by other fascinating aircrew but I at least noted that JFE had written a biography with a chap called Michael Lavigne. Kittyhawk Pilot was added to my wish-list and promptly pushed to the back of my head as something that I would eventually stumble across. Michael Lavigne, however, was very much at the forefront of my attention when I discovered he had written, with JFE, two 'bibles' about Canadians in the desert - Hurricanes Over The Sands and Kittyhawks Over The Sands. The period when I began lusting after these thick, A4-format hardbacks happened to be mid-2008 - and I spent most of 2009 unemployed after being made redundant. My investigations had determined these books were hard to find and necessarily pricey so, like Kittyhawk Pilot, they were kept at the back of my mind but ‘refreshed’ as I made long-distance enquiries through the wonderful people at Comox Air Force Museum in Canada as they seemed to be the only seller of the books.

This correspondence led to the eventual purchase of these two books and they arrived, after three months at sea, to a rapturous welcome and much joy. Starting a new and great job in early 2010 certainly added to the enjoyment as did an automatic email from Abebooks informing me it had found a copy of Kittyhawk Pilot within my (lowish) price range.

2010 was indeed a red-letter year as Grub Street released (or at least that's when I was made aware of it) Pedro: the life and death of fighter ace Osgood Villiers Hanbury, DSO, DFC and bar by Rhoderick Jones. I managed to contain my excitement - well, my credit card reflex - until just this month when Abebooks again came through with an affordable copy (less than A$20) and the book arrived on my doorstep last week. On top of all that I learned Vintage Wings of Canada fly their Kittyhawk in JFE's colours and even sell a t-shirt...

So, from the humble beginnings of reading the self-effacing biography of a truly great pilot and writer, to the discovery, 'chase' and final success in finding copies of these books, it has been a journey of three years. While, in the great scheme of things, I haven't devoted a lot of time and energy to finding these books, it's been most enjoyable and included a few doses of serendipity. The icing on the cake will be when I finally get the chance to read them one of these days! In the meantime, I can look at them on the shelf, leaf through their pages filled with fascination, remember the path that led me to them and think about the man who is responsible for it all. It's all your fault, Ron Cundy ... thank you.

10 comments:

  1. Have you seen the free Ebook Kittyhawk Pilot? http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/44094

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  2. Wow, no I hadn't! That is brilliant. Many thanks for the link.

    I'd like to speak with Michael Lavigne somehow so if you have any suggestions, I'd be most grateful.

    You've made my day.

    Andy

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  3. Here is Michel Lavigne's website, with his contact info: http://homepage.mac.com/guy.samson/Lavigne%20Aviation/index.html

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  4. Andy, Another great book is Wayne Ralph's "Aces, Warriors and Wingmen". Search for it on amazon.ca and read excerpts about W/C James Francis "Stocky" Edwards (his photo is on the front cover). Ron Cundy is also mentioned as is A.V. "Pedro" Hanbury. ~Sara

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  5. Thanks, Sara, haven't heard of that one before.

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  6. My dad served in the same squadron as RC as a LAC fitter, i was lucky enough to meet Ron a few years ago at his home in Australia, a real hero

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  7. Andy, you’d love a book I just read, ‘GOON IN THE BLOCK’ by Flt. Lt. Don Edy, RAF No 33 Sqn, written 1940s-50s, reprinted 2 years ago. A very satisfying ride, tons of info and anecdotes kept me grinning the whole read. His Training cohort had Bert Houle, Wally Conrad, lots of great names too. I loved a story about an American, Wade, same squadron, absolutely put his life on the line. I found his POW days very interesting, he was in Stalag Luft III, North compound 1943-1945 during Great Escape days. But from N. Africa 1941-42 and first POW’d in Italy 18 months to capitulation, then by foot, streetcar, train, you name it, chronicled all the way thru German camps too, and ended with all the interesting events and places of Forced March to Lubeck. What a journey and he makes a very good eyewitness (his POW ship sunk) but also there was a clever escape from Fort Bismarck of 6 prisoners kept secret for 4 days, outstanding for several reasons, accomplished in broad daylight, 3 days running and all the prisoners watched it go down each day, he gives a full description of how clever the men were. By the way, when I say interesting guys he knew, I mean it, in Italy camps and on to Ft. Bismarck pal was Pedlar Palmer of Tobruk. He described RAF No 33 Sqn missions, and Stalag 3 stuff is just outstanding detail and lots of good stories about the men. All in all I had such a good time reading, I had to share. - Ron

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  8. Hi Ron

    Many thanks for the recommendation, most appreciated. I have heard of the book but know it by name only. It looks like a cracker so I'm off to hunt down a copy. Again, thanks for helping me spend my money! Ha ha.

    Kindest regards

    Andy

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