This is an intensely personal book about a plane crash in World War Two; a fairly simplistic topic but one that has fascinated the author, Roger Leivers. He is a local historian in Godmanchester in Cambridgeshire who heard about a Stirling bomber that crashed close to the town, killing two of its crew. Further research indicated a lack of local knowledge about the men, the circumstances of the crash and even its exact location. This inspired the author to try to find as much information as he could and tell the story.
- Roger Leivers
Leivers has very much succeeded in his efforts. You get a strong sense of the painstaking work required and he writes very much from the heart. He brings the story to life and, through his efforts, you understand the men better, their careers before and after the crash, the wider events which defined them (both in and out of the war) and an understanding of their families, including the ones that they grew up in and ones that they themselves had.
This gives a great insight into what motivated to fight and why they joined the RAF, some before the war and some during. The bonds that are established between them are quickly evident as is the impact, both physical and mental, of the war and the crash in particular.
This is a labour of love for the author so it does feel a bit cheap for me to criticise the book! That said, he does make a number of assumptions in his work, ascribing views or feelings to individuals quite freely (the phrase “no doubt” routinely prefaces these) which is somewhat jarring, the language is occasionally melodramatic and he does make one or two minor factual errors. These are nothing to get overly excited about but it is the level of detail and structure of the book which is the main challenge.
Having done the hard work, it is quite natural for Leivers to want to share it. Part of the book reads more like a history of XV Squadron RAF than the story of the crew of a particular aircraft; the context is important to the story but it does begin to overwhelm it and a significant amount of detail is included. Perhaps a separate technical annex about certain aircraft types, some basic maps and a timeline of events would have reduced this and made it easier for the reader to follow the story.
There are a number of tangential stories that are included in the book (and it is all the better for them) but they would have been better in distinct chapters or annexes as opposed to being in the main text. The level of detail included once again overwhelms the narrative somewhat and is a distraction for the reader.
I have included a number of criticisms (and more than I would have wanted) but this is a story worth telling and thus worth reading. Leivers writes very much in the style of Martin Middlebrook, empathising with his subjects and having done much detailed research, and his passion is infectious. Anyone interested in Bomber Command would enjoy this and it is a rich addition to the existing archive on this topic.