Musings on the worlds of aviation, military and international affairs.
With reviews of books that cover these topics
True Tales from Pilots of the Hawker Hunter
Grub Street, 2014
ISBN 9781 909808034
Another of Grub Street’s excellent compendia of stories, the second to be edited by Pike. The Hunter pilots were blessed to be able to fly (and go to war) in one of the most beautiful fighters ever. Sir Sydney Camm really hit the jackpot with this design. It was of course many moons ago, so the contributors to this volume must be a little long in the tooth by now.
The first chapter is by Alan Pollock, and records his well-known epic feat of flying under Tower Bridge in London – a deed which unsurprisingly brought his RAF career to an untimely end. It was his way of complaining about the decision to cancel any celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the foundation of his beloved force. His clarity of thinking was not helped by the combination of effects of some drugs prescribed for his heavy cold (the RAF has advanced its aviation knowledge a little since then!).
Less well known treasures emerge from the pen of Harry Anwar, a Pakistani pilot who, in his first of 2 chapters tells an interesting tale of his detachment to Jordan to attempt to weld that country’s fighter pilots into a cohesive force for (the keen pilot) King Hussein.
Although brought into service well after WW2 the Hunter is witness to the fact that the RAF has lost men on active service in every year (bar one) since. It did sterling service in the ground attack role in the Yemen, and Tim Webb relates how tribesmen treated captured SAS men with complete barbarism. Webb – who writes very well - later was seconded to help the Iraqi air force and ended up based at Habbinaya, an Iraqi airfield with much resonance for the RAF (see Gus Dudgeon’s autobiography for example).
(Helped by Transport Command) the Hunter was a star on the global stage, and Brian Mercer writes entertainingly about the social aspects of some detachments to the Far East. Indeed the book is at times an epitaph for an era when British armed forces really did have a global footprint. The Hunter was a good British export – to the Indian continent as well as the Gulf. A chapter gives an illuminating insight into the 1971 Indo-Pakistani war.
The chapter by the late Neville Duke is very readable – he led an interesting life – but it is merely a crib from Duke’s excellent (if unoriginally titled) autobiography – Test Pilot.
Whilst Hunter pilots perhaps struggled to match the supersized egos of Lightening jockeys, they were not shy in coming forward. Tim Thorn has a wry style: as a prelude to a carpeting after a gross misdemeanour he observes “On the whole fighter pilots are only human, albeit in a very highly evolved form.” He goes on to prove single-handedly that the Hunter clan could conjure exploits as colourful as any RAF aircrew sub-species. The baton of work hard/play hard jet jock is passed later on in the book to Tony Haigh-Thomas who lets the reader into some trade secrets about how inter-squadron competitions were won. THT, who has a vivid prose style, went on to become a well known civil display pilot, and latterly has been connected with the Shuttleworth Collection.
Like Lightening Boys, one suspects that the editorial hand of Richard Pike has been a little heavy, but if the different accounts have a slightly uniform style, it is one of a high standard. The book is an entertaining window into what must have been one of the most glorious periods to be in Fighter Command. Envious? Me? You bet!