As much as I am a fan of the physical book, I do begrudgingly accept there is a place, and a definite need, for digital editions. Most of the titles featured on Aircrew Book Review are now available in some digital format, making them accessible almost immediately from anywhere with a half decent internet connection. It was still a bit of a surprise, however, when I was asked to review a pilot’s biography produced by specialist publisher Air War Publications. How to tackle what is essentially appears as a long, well-researched magazine feature supplied as a PDF? The same way as everything else: fairly and honestly. What I found would put most magazine articles and shorter books to shame.
Barry Gale was an Australian Spitfire pilot, albeit born in England, who joined No 111 Squadron in mid-1942. He stayed with this unit until July 1943, initially flying on offensive operations across the Channel before the squadron moved to Algeria in late 1942 to support the Torch landings. Gale had already had some success flying the Spitfire Mk.V against the far superior Fw 190 and this would continue in Africa, although the Spitfires were now weighted down by Vokes chin filters. Conditions on the airfields were very basic and the men were subjected to regular raids by the Luftwaffe. It was an unpleasant existence, but the best was made of things and the squadron kept busy with interceptions and regular successes against their generally better-equipped enemy counterparts. Gale became a flight commander in March 1943, an indication of his experience and leadership qualities, and was awarded the DFC at the end of his tour.
The requisite rest spell followed, as an instructor at the RAF Fighter Leader School, before Gale was posted to No 165 Squadron. Now flying the Spitfire Mk.IXb, Barry and his colleagues were very much on the offensive in the second half of 1944 and converted to Mustang IIIs in January 1945. Barry was already acting as the CO of the unit and was promoted to squadron leader during this period, making him one of the few Australians to fly the Mustang in RAF service, perhaps one of the most senior too. He remained with the unit post-war but was eventually back in Australia by March 1946. He became a respected civil engineer and passed away in July 2011.
While I printed off my copy of The Life of Barry E. Gale (because I stare at a screen enough as it is!), the eArticle is designed to be viewed and read on a screen with all the advantages that offers (scalability, clarity, colour etc). While not restricted by space, although perhaps working to a predetermined in-house length and layout, the author (Western Australian Andrew Arthy) keeps the focus firmly on Gale yet manages to capture some of his contemporaries in passing. The fine control of the narrative indicates an author across his subject, at ease with it and definitely not flying his first solo. Considering the subject didn’t leave behind a diary or bundle of letters, there is a lot here; the references listed, consuming almost a page and a half of the eighteen-page document, put a lot of books to shame.
This is not a long read, of course, and might barely consume thirty minutes. That said, taking your time with it, absorbing the supporting tables and the excellent map, will easily chew up an enjoyable hour. The useful glossary and ‘life at a glance’ sit on the inside front cover and, with the map on the following page, provide the ideal snapshot of Gale’s war.
The important thing about this work is it tells the story of a pilot who, at best, probably just gets a mention when featured elsewhere in photos or operational reports. A more than capable fighter leader, Gale falls into the ‘one of the many’ category, the thousands of remarkable aircrew who got the job done. We can only hope the author has the chance to apply this treatment to other Australian airmen. Who knows, perhaps a book of collected stories might eventuate. In the meantime, consider this and other titles from Air War Publications and you’ll discover a small publisher doing big things, and a Western Australian aviation historian ranking among fellow West Aussies like Cyril Ayris and Charles Page.