- Leonard Cheshire VC, OM, DSO & two bars, DFC, with additional commentary by Dr Robert Owen Official Historian 617 Squadron Association
- ARRSE Rating
- 4 Mushroom Heads
This small volume reproduces Leonard Cheshire’s book, Bomber Pilot, published in 1943, and is accompanied by Dr Robert Owen’s analysis of the book and the relevant parts of the Operational Record Book and Log Book of the squadrons that Cheshire flew with in this period.
Cheshire was encouraged to write, following the success of Paul Ritchie’s Fighter Pilot in 1941. He was introduced to William Kimber of Hutchinson & Co, and it was fortunate that, at this time, he had completed his first operational tour and had the time to submit a first draft manuscript. The final manuscript was not completed until February 1942, due to his conversion to Halifax aircraft and posting to 35 Squadron, with final amendments being dated June 1942. On its publication in January 1943, its initial print run of 10,000 sold out within a month.
The first part, then, is the reproduction. In this Cheshire, by now nicknamed Cheese, describes his day-to-day events in the work up to becoming a qualified second pilot and then captain on Whitley bombers of 102 Squadron. This was a time when Bomber Command was still ramping up to take the war to Germany and before the arrival of “Bomber” Harris as Air Officer Commanding.
He describes, over the following chapters, his progression to aircraft captaincy and the missions he undertook, his conversion to Halifax and finishes with a raid on Berlin, although there are two subsequent chapters describing some events after. I’m struck by how much of the book is about relationships with others as well as the task in hand.
In the second part of the book, Dr Robert Owen provides additional commentary on the book. He amplifies the details, some omitted due to wartime security measures, and others because of wartime economy measures on paper etc. This commentary adds depth to the book and raises some anomalies with the written records and the reasons for these are discussed. There follows a short account of his time leading 617 Squadron, his service record and his operational record.
Overall, I enjoyed reading this book. The bomber pilot part is reproduced faithfully, and is written in an easy to read style. Readers may notice that some descriptions may not accord with current practices, but are very much “of the time”. The narrative following is painstakingly researched; almost everyone Cheshire flew with has been identified, and their fate noted.
I think that it highlights how the wartime experience of Cheshire lead to the activities that he became associated with, post war.