It’s the little things that shore us up and help maintain the passion. In early 2010 I managed to write a comprehensive review of the wonderful Fleet Air Arm memoir They Gave Me A Seafire by ‘Mike’ Crosley DSC*, RN. Suitably inspired by a superb writer, I still think this was one of my better reviews. Perhaps what followed is responsible for that opinion.
A couple of months after the review was published on ABR I received an email from a gentleman who knew Mr Crosley and his wife Joan. Besides swapping pleasantries (I love hearing from readers of ABR) he mentioned he had forwarded a copy of the review to the Crosleys. My first thought was one of gratitude but this was quickly swamped by a wave of trepidation. Would the man whose story I had critiqued – admittedly, very favourably – like what some stranger had said about his ‘baby’? Sadly, I was not to find out directly.
Shortly after the first email, a second one arrived from Joan. She thanked me enthusiastically for the “lovely review” and then dropped the bombshell. Mr Crosley was suffering advanced dementia (Joan was his primary carer) and was moving into a specialist home in the near future. That this wonderfully intelligent, witty and talented man was a shadow of his former self made me ever so grateful he had taken the time to write his memoirs. Joan mentioned that, during one of his better days, she had read the review to Mr Crosley and he had enjoyed it. That did it. I no longer cared if I wrote another decent review again. Yes, I had spoken to family members before, often to apologise for the slowness of my writing, but never had a review been brought to the attention of a veteran and author (and a man I greatly respect and admire). A connection had been made.
Joan and I stayed in contact and it was during this time she mentioned a second book – Up In Harm’s Way. Post-war, Mr Crosley built on his extensive naval experience (North Atlantic, Mediterranean, Normandy, Pacific) and became a test pilot. The immediate post-war period was exciting and truly monumental for naval aviation and Britain was at the forefront. Jet aircraft necessitated a new way of operating and paved the way for innovations like the angled flight-deck (to allow simultaneous landings and launches) and mirror landing system. Right in the thick of it was Crosley DSC*.
Long story short, Joan said she would send a copy as a thank you for the TGMAS review. We left it at that as, barely six months after the review saw the light of day, Mr Crosley died. We did manage to stay in touch but Joan’s gracious offer wasn’t even given a second thought as we entered new phases of our lives – me with a new baby and Joan without her husband.
It was a pleasant surprise, then, when a welcome email from Joan earlier this year said the same gentleman who had put us in touch would be visiting Australia and that she had entrusted him with a copy of UIHW. The book duly arrived in the mail and I was immediately struck by how well it followed on from TGMAS and Mr Crosley’s role in the development of post-war naval aviation. His two books are comparable to those by, the perhaps more widely-known, Don Lopez – an American fighter man turned test pilot who wrote Into The Teeth Of The Tiger and Fighter Pilot’s Heaven. The Crosleys, though, will always be close to my heart. We shared an ever so brief moment, even though we never met, when Joan read the review to her husband. Her inscription in UIHW was as simple as it was personal – “To Andy, Mike would have liked to send this to you, Joan”.
It’s the little things.