Reviews of books featuring aircrew of the RAF, FAA and Commonwealth air forces during the Second World War with occasional reviews of other titles covering the conflict.
Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Blood, Sweat And Valour - Steve Brew
You know the times when you just have to sit back and take stock of what you see before you? Often, it is a good thing to be sitting down as the euphoria and awe that washes over you might be a bit too much! Such was the case when my copy of Steve Brew's epic work on No. 41 Squadron - Blood, Sweat And Valour - arrived in the mail yesterday.
Epic is an understatement but the only other word that comes close is "brick". At 980+ pages this book is simply massive yet, cleverly, maintains a manageable size in that it would not look out of place among the big hardback fiction books that top the bestseller lists. Fiction it most certainly is not of course. As one of two units to receive the Spitfire Mk XII in 1943, No. 41 Squadron and its EB codes are a familiar sight to RAF, Spitfire and WW2 afficianados. Exploiting the first Griffon-powered Spitfire in operational service to the hilt, the Squadron excelled particularly against the V-1 flying bomb threat.
However, while the Mk XII is perhaps the most famous 'face' of the Squadron post-Battle of Britain, there is a reason why this volume (effectively volume two) is so large. No. 41 Squadron was involved in just about every major operation that has since become iconic within the history of the RAF - Dieppe, D-Day, Operation Big Ben (anti-V2 ops) and the Arnhem landings. A ridiculously impressive service record that deserves a ridiculously comprehensive 'biography'.
This has been achieved with BSV and is an absolute credit to the tireless work of Steve Brew. He is the current historian for the Squadron and, beyond the valued relationships he has developed with current and past members, has a direct and proud link to the unit in that his great uncle was shot down and taken prisoner in 1941. A very quick flick-through of the book revealed an attention to detail very rarely seen particularly with regard to personal details ... and not just of aircrew. This is truly a tribute to every serviceman who had the privilege of calling the Squadron home.
As you'd expect from a book of this size and detail, there is a lot of text. Happily, there is no separate photo section. The more than 300 photographs can be found throughout the book and are placed so as to be relevant to the text surrounding them. Nothing like putting a face to a name as you read. One of the more personal aspects of the book are the numerous caricatures which reflect a lighter side of squadron life and are the perfect foil to the purposeful, and somewhat sobering, maps and tables. Text that is missing, however, is an index. This would have been invaluable but its absence is understandable given how much bigger it would have made the book. Fortunately, Steve Brew has circumvented this somewhat by including a downloadable personnel index on his BSV website.
A word of advice. This is, obviously, a very heavy book and I was reliably informed it will justifiably retail in Australia for more than $70. I am not in this game for free books so rather than expect publishers Fonthill Media (they have excelled themselves with the production of what must have been a challenging project to put together) to foot the bill, I bought my copy through an Abebooks seller in the UK for roughly, all up, A$40. I am a strong supporter of book stores but, like you, have a limited budget for such things so like to 'invest' wisely.
That this book is accessible affordably is something to take advantage of as its value goes beyond anything monetary. It will teach, enlighten, move and entertain even the most 'hardened' reader of this genre. BSV is the shining light that guides us down the historical path to a time seven decades in the past. It is a past we are losing as the men of that time dwindle in number. Blood, Sweat And Valour keeps their memory alive like no other RAF squadron history before.