Musings on the worlds of aviation, military and international affairs.
With reviews of books that cover these topics
This is the second volume of David Herriot’s autobiography, the first Adventures of a Cold War Fast-Jet Navigator appearing from the same stable in 2017, and reviewed here. As I said then, Herriot was fortunate to crew my favourite RAF aircraft – the Banana Jet, aka the Blackburn Buccaneer. In vol 1 I said “for most of the time, particularly in his bachelor days, he was clearly operating on the outer fringes of the acceptable performance envelope for RAF aircrew officers.” In vol 2 the effects of partying catch up with this navigator: there is an unusual focus, for a service autobiography, on the contents of his annual confidential reports. This grates after a while. He did not make Squadron Leader until almost 38.
There is an excellent and warm foreword from David’s near contemporary, Timo Anderson, who rose to Air Marshal. David progressed from Bucc to Tornado GR1, and as navigators were re-branded as Weapon Systems Operators, so David evolved into a weapons delivery specialist. He did several staff tours in various guises writing manuals on such a theme, and then training courses, and towards the end of his service career, evolving the training of air warfare doctrine. The book will provide much meat for students of RAF progress in these areas from the Seventies towards the end of the century. He appears to have gained the most satisfaction from a spell as Wing Commander Cadets on Initial Officer Training at Cranwell, perhaps underlining the warmth of his personality.
Another aspect of the narrative that many will find of interest is his description of the various Staff College courses he attended (then at Bracknell). His choice of paper on the Advanced Course – the absence of a UK Combat Search & Rescue force – is one I absolutely endorse. Despite the paper being brilliantly drafted (in his words), and supported by those in the know at MoD, we continue to have to rely on the US for CSAR. Which makes it somewhat tricky should we go to war without the Yanks alongside.
Herriot generally calls a spade a spade, and this is useful when he describes the members of overseas forces with whom he came (increasingly) in contact. His gregarious nature ensured his international contacts list grew rapidly. The partying is not quite as hard as vol 1, as an older Herriot has realised , to a degree, its effect on his career trajectory; but there are enough stories to keep the narrative jogging along. One episode which is astonishing to this reviewer (a predominantly GA pilot) is that the author allows himself, together with his two teenage children and luggage for a 2 week holiday, to be ferried by a low-houred private pilot in a Cessna 172 across Canada to Calgary’s international airport. An accident waiting to happen.
The book tails with a brief account of his post-retirement activities, but also a very useful summary of the operational abilities of a GR1 compared to a Buccaneer – the old Banana Jet comes out very well. DH also describes his work as founder and secretary of the Buccaneer Aircrew Association. This has the laudable objective of providing an annual opportunity for these retired aircrew and engineers to sink the week’s output of one of Britain’s finest breweries, with secondary objectives of providing a forum for retelling of lengthy war stories, and a tertiary objective, much to be applauded, of buying, then acting as guardian angel for, the Bucc which the BAA has lent to the Yorkshire Air Museum at Elvington. There is a comprehensive index.
So this book adds useful colour to the RAF’s strike activities in the period it covers. But, to my amazement, it suffers from the same stylistic flaw as its forebear. This is more than a writer’s tic, it is an addiction! Herriot’s prose is besmirched by endless exclamation marks! Much in the manner of a teenager! In some cases they even replace question marks – unbelievable, isn’t it! On one page I counted ten successive sentences ending in the damn things!
I commented on this in reviewing volume 1, and it is a mark of editing that in polite company can only be described as ‘loose’, that this pernicious habit has been allowed into volume 2. A great shame since DH otherwise writes quite well for those who have been imbued throughout their career with service writing style.