Musings on the worlds of aviation, military and international affairs.
With reviews of books that cover these topics
A sequel to, you guessed, Out of the Blue – a well-received compendium of tales from the RAF. Like its predecessor this volume is published for the benefit of three forces charities – the RAF Benevolent Fund, ABF, and the Royal Navy & Royal Marines Charity – so doubly worth its £9.99 cover price.
Much like the ‘Boys’ titles from Grub Street, any collection of stories will be a little uneven. But the overall quality here is high - their length varies. Some of the shorter ones are ideal for taking the book into the smallest room. However, on second thoughts I counsel against it – the mirth produced may put you off the job in hand so to speak. A game called ‘Shirt’ is a tale which will have you rocking.
Each contributor is anonymous, allowing a degree of candour which will soon be welcomed by the reader. An early example, in looking back over his service career highlights, Fg Off Bloggs notes: “Air dropping chickens from a Beverley aircraft to troops on exercise, when the bottoms of the air drop baskets broke apart as the parachutes opened. Two hundred chickens in free fall is an impressive sight!”
Some of the stories are deliciously recounted – the airstrike in a now-‘cabriolet’ Hawk, comes to mind. Moreover some of the stories shed light on little reported episodes. Only now is the relief of Mirbat being talked about – a battle when the SAS were on the point of annihilation in Oman. This book portrays the RAF’s crucial part in their salvation. Another story illustrates the fact, hitherto unknown to me, that the nose cannon in the later marks of Shackletons were not only useless but also life-threatening (to crews)! Another sheds light on the unreliable nature of French officers under stress (in this case berating ATCOs trying to do their difficult job). Another that took my fancy was “What’s in a name?”.
There may be a handful of readers of this website who will find the tone of much this book too hoary and sexist – the majority I suspect will take it in very good part. One must remember that at least the flying arm of the RAF was exclusively male during the period from which this book draws succour. Hence comments such as this, by a rotary mate “I was firmly advised (in an un-PC way) that helicopters were rather like fat girls and mopeds, great fun, but not something one should admit one had a penchant for!” !!
There are some moments of levity: an account by a Tornado pilot of his first offensive mission (Gulf War 1), outlining his fears, is as good an account of the emotional aspects going to war in modern times, as one will read. The low point of the book, in my opinion, is the story of Op Black Buck (the bombing of the Stanley airfield during the Falklands War). It is extended and tedious, and will only appeal to aficionados of tanking.
But this is soon forgotten and there follows a stream of stories encompassing the surreal and bizarre.
Buy the book, and prepare for some puzzled looks as you rock with laughter!