& Bullets

Musings on the worlds of aviation, military and international affairs.


With reviews of books that cover these topics


Last Man Standing

Geoffrey Rothwell, survivor of 71 missions, POW, and last of the SOE pilots


Gabrielle McDonald-Rothwell


Amberley, 2018

Rothwell was a tall, good-looking, ginger-haired chap, who had his fair share of ladies and wives. The author is the last of the latter, and was, one presumes, much younger than him at the time of their marriage in 2002.


After going to a school in Leeds (which was the twin of  my mother’s school) he progressed into the (just) pre-war RAF by a zig-zag route. Like many he dreamed of flying Spitfires, but was streamed multi-engine. The book gives a vivid portrayal of the less glamourous parts of Bomber Command – the primitive facilities at the airfield at Newmarket, for instance, whence Rothwell flew Wellingtons in the winter of 1939/40.


The author rather oddly relies on quoting great chunks of Max Hastings’ book on Bomber Command, in order to give context; after a while this seems clumsy. Rothwell was clearly a gifted pilot, and particularly good at fighter evasion, flinging his bombers (never a Lancaster) around the sky to great effect. However the author’s description of flying scenes are a little over-wrought.

The author appears over-confident about her knowledge of British topography: the location of RAF Tempsford is mis-described – it is actually very easy to locate from the air, and RAF Ford was nowhere near RAF Westcott.


Rothwell’s wartime flying career came to an end in spectacular fashion. He ended up flying Stirlings on SOE missions, and was on one such with two Dutch agents when he met unforecast CBs over the North Sea; he could only go under them as he neared the Dutch coast. They had just dropped the agents (300 feet sounds rather low to me), when the Stirling lurched as though it had hit a large foreign object. Losing power on 3 engines, Rothwell was forced to ditch. But fortuitously he just managed to reach the North coastline of the island of Texel where the aircraft crashed in the dunes. Only Rothwell and one other crew member survived, but with injuries that meant that had to give themselves up after a few hours. Rothwell was far from a ‘model prisoner’!


The sometimes florid style grates, but the book has its moments, and sheds useful light on the dark area of SOE missions in bomber aircraft .