This easy to read book tells the stories of five members of the Royal Air Force ‘Bomber command’ that were captured during WW2.
- Albert Gunn & Charles Clarke
Of the five men involved, their stories are told from enlistment, their training, operations over Germany, and eventually to being shot down and ‘ parachuting out into the night’ each of their individual captures are described, also each of their eventual release from captivity at the end of the war.
During the early war years it was interesting to see how quickly various civilian resources were taken over by the military; Lords Cricket ground became a reporting centre for RAF ‘Aircrew’ enlistees from all over the country, it virtually became a Barracks with QM stores, Dining Halls, Pay Office and Sleeping Quarters for hundreds of airmen. From Lords they progressed to other parts of the country for Basic and for ‘Special to Arm’ training, such as Brighton Pavilion which housed Navigator training. Manchester being inland and safer from air attack had more RAF training facilities than other areas.
The book shows that the RAF fought for the whole duration of the war, deaths in training seem to be far greater than other services. One airman on posting arrived at a railway station in Scotland, the truck sent to collect him had ten coffins on board to be unloaded, the dead were a crew of seven, and three instructors, killed on ‘crash landing’ the previous day.
The special to arm training is informative, we have in our group of five; a Pilot, two Air Gunners, a Bomb Aimer and a Navigator. Their training and required skills and equipment are well expanded on, and in each case the equipment’s use when operating over Germany
The ‘Pub’ social life in villages near to Air Stations was ‘leaping’ with airmen having little room to move, all being packed in tight with Airmen and WAAF’s One of our stalwarts remarks “It was best to find a girl for the night inside the Pub, because of the ‘Blackout’ outside you couldn’t see what sort of ‘looker’ you were getting.” There is also sadness, one of our airmen in the story was in a Pub when he saw a school friend over the other side of the Bar, he couldn’t make his way to him, they just waved to each other. After the war when visiting his hometown in Chepstow he saw his friend’s name on the war memorial . Also of the six men in his ‘Navigator Group’ for training; by late 1944, four were dead and two were in prison camps, himself being one of the POWs.
Bomber Command had about 125,000 serving in its ranks, just under 58,000 were killed and 9,858 were in prison camps.
This is one of the best books that I have read for some time, there is plenty of ‘Human stuff’ in its pages. One Air Gunner said “ I knew no fear, fear only comes if you have an alternative to what you have to do” Another of our five was captured on a small wooden bridge between Holland and Germany, the lone German soldier that captured him, took him down into a wood fire heated dugout, the German saw his awful state of fatigue and gave him a blanket and a warm bowl of soup.
I recommend the book as informative, very interesting and an excellent read. I award it five stars.