26 August 2014

They Gave Me A Seafire - new edition

Every book I read stays with me in one way or the other.  Some, of course, really strike a chord and give more than just a good reading experience.  These are the books that just keep giving and even the mere sight of them on the shelf makes me smile (and cause me to wax lyrical...).  Regular readers will know how special 'Mike' Crosley's They Gave Me A Seafire is to me so it is with great pleasure that I can report on Pen & Sword's new edition of this marvellous book.

'Mike' Crosley signed up for the Fleet Air Arm at the height of the Battle of Britain because the 'wait list' for the RAF was too long.  Joining a service that was struggling with its own identity, a lack of modern aircraft and components of the leadership team who vehemently questioned the very existence of the aviation branch, he makes it through intensive - albeit occasionally archaic and amusing - training before flying operationally.  He survives the sinking of HMS Eagle, the North African landings, Arctic convoys and so much more before taking command of a Seafire squadron prior to its deployment to the war against Japan as part of the British Pacific Fleet.  He is frank about the service's failings, particularly the mis-use of the Seafire and fighter force in general, but highlights the phenomenal job everyone did despite them.  The Fleet Air Arm, by the end of the war, was a very effective fighting force and was perfectly placed to take advantage of the massive advances in naval aviation, many developed by the service itself, that were to come in the years immediately following the war.  Crosley was there for all of it. 

As I've said before, the review for TGMAS generated a wonderful response from the author's wife who, pleasingly, has written a beautiful postscript, using excerpts from letters, about her husband.  While the main body of the book, because it is so well written, allows the reader to build the perfect picture of Crosley the man, this postscript looks at him through the eyes of his wife of more than 40 years.  She is an absolute saint of a woman, having nursed 'Mike' in his final years as he struggled with an aggressive form of dementia, and writes, understandably, with heart and passion remembering a committed family man, a talented woodworker who built many a boat and a fine pilot who contributed so much to naval aviation.

The book itself is a typically well put-together hardback from this publisher.  A first look through the text didn't reveal any particular changes from the edition I first read other than the postscript mentioned above of course.  Indeed, the text is a perfect copy of the 2001 Wrens Park edition to the point of page count and word placement.  The only difference, due to the slightly larger dimensions of the Pen & Sword edition, is a slightly larger font (great considering it was originally bloody small).  The author's wife did ask me about the 'Nat' Gould timeline error I mentioned in the original review and it is pleasing to see this has been corrected.

What really adds to what I guarantee to be a brilliant read is the two sections of now glossy photographs.  The collection of photos used, with some exceptions, are the same as the earlier edition.  The additional images do add to what has already been published but they are placed at the end of the second section and, in some cases, are out of order chronologically.  It's a bit odd to see photos from 1945 and then see the author as a trainee naval aviator in 1940.  It's in these 'new' photos that a clanger is encountered and something, given the plethora of Seafire photos in the book to this point, that even the lay reader will notice.  A photo captioned as Seafires in 1945 is actually of Hawker Sea Hawks (jets!) and Westland Wyverns!  Both types entered operational service in the early 1950s so this is obviously a photo more suited to Crosley's second book, Up In Harm's Way.  It is a surprising error that should have been picked up but, I hasten to add, takes nothing away from the book as a whole.  It is only mentioned here to hopefully lessen the blow when new readers to TGMAS discover it (and hopefully prevents any potential angst!).

If you have not already read this superb book, this is the perfect opportunity to right a wrong.  If you've read it, introduce a friend or younger type who has not yet had the pleasure!  It remains one of the most honest, candid and truly delightful memoirs I have read.  This new edition, with the postscript, is the perfect memorial to one of the Fleet Air Arm's greats.

20 August 2014

Win something different ... in hardback!

There are a lot of aircrew stories out there these days and they all have their merits.  Every now and then one really surprises me.  With One Life Left this was partly due to discovering it had been around for a few years before I stumbled upon it recently.  I'm certainly not going to claim to knowing about everything that is published but sometimes I wonder just what I have missed and have still to discover.  It's rather an exciting thought!
Discovering something like One Life Left, Hugh Garlick DFC's memoir of his 10 years' flying in the RAF and FAA, is why I love doing what I do.  It just asks to be read.  While there's nothing unfamiliar about a pre-war RAF pilot seconded to the Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm (it was a common occurrence in the mishmash of Fleet Air Arm management between the wars), the images reproduced in the book, and on the book's photo website, conjure up all that is wonderful about British wartime flying in the 1930s.  Gloster Gauntlets compete with Hawker Nimrods and Fairey Swordfish.  It doesn't get much better.  Anyone interested in the aviation of World War 2 holds a distinct soft spot in his or her heart for the aircraft of the 1930s.  Some of these aircraft did what they were designed to do albeit in a war that their designers, working with the technology of their time, may have struggled to imagine.

What has me particularly excited about this book is reading the few pages available on Google Books.  I don't often do this but while trying to find what I could on the book (after speaking with Garlick's nephew, John Hooton), I started reading the first chapter.  Long story short - Malta, 1938, recovering in the sun after some heavy drinking ... enough said! The writing is nothing short of delightful and the author has a wonderful ability to capture the atmosphere of the time.  His honesty and self-deprecating humour instantly reminded me of 'Mike' Crosley and They Gave Me A Seafire and Charles Lamb doing his thing in War In A Stringbag (funnily enough, these chaps were Fleet Air Arm types too of course).  This first chapter, while I was already interested in the book, has me hooked.  Skimming through the remaining pages online only reinforced this.

I first found One Life Left on Facebook.  John Hooton runs this page and has a small competition running for those who 'like' it.  The prize?  A hardback copy of the book.  While there are many e-book formats available for One Life Left (I am particularly keen to try the new 'fully loaded with extras' iPad version), it's fair to say the hardback is certainly going to be the prettiest!  A 'like' on Facebook doesn't take much, and sometimes doesn't mean a hell of a lot, but perhaps helping a relatively little-known book get 'out there' a bit more, in whatever format, will help a good man's incredible tale be remembered by many ... as it should be.