05 May 2009

Just One Of The Many - Dudley C Egles MID

Books come in all shapes and sizes and, lately, I’ve seen a couple that are not what you’d expect – but more of those in later reviews. Value for money is an important consideration and there’s nothing like immersing yourself in a nice, 300+ page book (although not conducive to rapid reviews). However, to use a cliché early on, good things do come in small packages and, really, when it comes to aircrew books, we are grateful any effort has been made! Just One Of The Many is one such small package. A paperback of just 120 pages, this is an easy book to devour in an afternoon or over a couple of days. If you’re new to the genre, it is a nice way to ease your way into the world according to aircrew – and in this case, a navigator.

Dudley Egles rips into his service career right from the start. At the age of 18, he signed on as an Observer in 1939 because the waiting list to commence training was shorter than for pilots. Ground school follows as expected before he embarks for Canada to begin Navigation School ... and ends up in South Africa. As it turns out he is on No. 1 Course EATS in South Africa so there’s a particularly interesting bit of history right there. He enjoys himself on Ansons before returning to the UK for bombing, gunnery and OTU. A subsequent posting to 148 Squadron involves an 11 hour daylight flight to Gibraltar by Wellington before eventually commencing operations out of Egypt.

There is little note of the passage of time as Egles has simply ‘shot from the hip’ somewhat when remembering his adventures. Every now and then you get a ‘time stamp’ – such as Egles catching a bit of flak in his rear end during a trip to Greece on his 21st birthday. In his time with 148, Egles joins the Goldfish Club - after his Wellington ditches following a raid on Benghazi – and the Late Arrivals Club when, on a later trip, he and his crew are brought down in the desert and have to walk home through enemy territory (ultimate rescue comes in the form of the Long Range Desert Group). As you can imagine these two adventures are interspersed with other experiences which make for interesting and often amusing reading.

Volunteering to navigate Liberators across the Atlantic comes to nothing besides a short, enjoyable stay in New York City. Egles eventually finds himself back in the UK instructing Canadians before being sent on a GEE course. He marries and, through the fortuitous answering of the phone in the Navigation Office, gets himself assigned to Pathfinder training which ultimately sees him posted to 462 Squadron based at Foggia, Italy. This squadron eventually becomes 614 which makes for some interesting comparisons to Tom Scotland’s Voice From The Stars. Up until now, there is little indication of Egles’ skill as a navigator (other than the stint instructing) as he understates his involvement in various escapades. A short chapter about an unfortunate but 'anonymous' Joint Squadron Navigation Officer’s chartless Pathfinding trip to Bucharest therefore comes as a pleasant surprise (and ends amusingly). I found myself thinking “Good for you, Egles”. You’ll see why.

Egles soon joins the Caterpillar Club when he bales out of his burning Halifax and becomes a POW in Romania. It turns out he is the first RAF officer imprisoned in that country so his memories of this rarely reported part of the POWs in Europe is most welcome – particularly the leeway he and his fellow inmates were shown towards the end of their imprisonment. Before you know it, Egles is back in the UK, is demobbed, trains as a teacher, tries to rejoin, but fails due to hearing loss, and then casually mentions he and his wife spent time in Uganda during the reign of Idi Amin.

Okay, reading through this book, you’ll find there is enough detail to follow up on if you are so inclined, but not enough if you’re itching for an in-depth read – inquiring minds want to know etc. With so much happening in just a few years, I was left wondering what Egles could have done with another thirty pages. The chapters are largely related to one particular event or posting and some are only a couple of pages long. On the positive side, this is somewhat refreshing as you can dip in and out if you want and can get a quick ‘fix’ of adventure should you feel the urge.

The photo on the cover gives you an indication of the character of the man – that moustache is epic. The sparkling eyes of the elder Egles on the back cover are just as revealing. The writing is entertaining, light-hearted, modest and will leave you wishing for more. Anyone who is shot down three times will certainly see life in a different light to us mere mortals and this is reflected throughout the book. While I wish there was more than a sentence or two about Uganda and Idi Amin, Just One Of The Many (a nice little jibe at ‘The Few’) is a worthy addition to any collection for two main reasons – firstly, it is written by a navigator and is therefore ‘different’ and, secondly, the lucky ‘Many’ are now too few and any book, no matter how small, is a tribute to them.

I bought my copy about 18 months ago from ebay.com.au. I have not seen it pop up again since but a bit of hunting will no doubt uncover a copy. I was lucky to acquire the book for less than $10 so here's hoping you can too. Looks like there's a couple (and I emphasise 'a couple') of affordable copies on Amazon UK.

Reviewed copy published by The Pentland Press Limited in 1996.

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