Sunday, February 10, 2013

They Hosed Them Out - John Bede Cusack



I'm not much of a fan of aircrew fiction.  For the most part I find little, niggly errors (factual and historical and perhaps some not so small) that get under my skin.  That said, the same can be found in non-fiction books on the same subject!  I do admire the ability to write and publish one's own book but, really, aircrew fiction is not for me.  I mean, there's so many true stories out there - some more outlandish and incredible than the most gung-ho fiction author's imagination - I'll never have time for anything else!

However, where the fiction is written by a former airman, I am more than happy to recognise the exception to the rule.  Here's someone who was there and saw it all, for better or for worse.  Whatever the reason for writing a fiction story rather than a non-fiction one is not for me to ponder (too much).  I am just grateful the effort was made and, in doing so, a window to the man's soul is revealed.  It would take an iron will of a type never seen before to not let one's opinions and emotions be reflected in the story.  Understanding what they went through is part of respecting and honouring their memory and a 'fictionalised' account can achieve this just as well.

They Hosed Them Out's reputation precedes it but, until now, it has remained somewhat of an enigma.  Published incomplete, but with no effect on the story, it was written by former air gunner John Bede Cusack ... whose name didn't even appear on the cover (pseudonym John Beede).  So, an enigma wrapped in a mystery etc etc.  Whatever it was, THTO's impact cannot be denied.  This fictionalised autobiographical effort has been justifiably elevated to 'classic' status and shares this pantheon with the well-known (non-fiction) works of Don Charlwood and Ivan Southall.

How can something like this have new life breathed into it?  Why not just ride on the coat tails of the book's legacy?  Fortunately, this was not the approach taken when this new edition was put together.  Wanting to honour Cusack publicly, perhaps giving the man the publicity he somewhat avoided, this new edition has included, for the first time, all of the chapters originally written and, again for the first time, included his full name on the cover.  It does not stop there, however, as the editor, Robert Brokenmouth, has gone to great lengths to, where possible, reference the people and events of this fictional account to Cusack's logbook (and other sources) and the operations he was known to have flown.  This has been achieved through the use of footnoting and appendices so the original narrative is in no way interrupted or impaired.  It is a wonderful piece of work with the added gem of a short biography of Cusack written by his daughter.

So, not only do you get to experience a classic book in its entirety for the first time but you also see just how firmly this work of fiction is planted in reality.  The seed planted by 'Beede' many decades ago has truly matured.  The original was hard to put down and is truly revered by those who have lost themselves between the covers.  Expect the same from the new edition ... including the appendices!

Happily, this new THTO comes presented as a high-quality paperback.  Wakefield Press' tagline on their website is "We love good stories and publish beautiful books".  No argument here.  The pages are crisp and the book has that lovely, solid feel to it that I have come to expect from quality publishers in Australia and New Zealand. 

What excites me the most about this book is that it is not 'just another' heavy bomber crew book.  If you haven't read the book, this new edition may give you that false impression with the cover image.  Cusack flew as a gunner in Wellingtons, Venturas (Eindhoven raid, anyone?!) and Mitchells.  I can't even think of a book written by someone who flew all of these workhorse types operationally during their wartime career.  They are certainly few and far between and, with the justifiably massive interest in Bomber Command's heavy campaign at the moment, that's what makes the timing of this new edition so important.  These were the 'other' bomber men and they will be remembered.  They Hosed Them Out is fiction but not like anything you have experienced before.

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