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First Light - Geoffrey Wellum

 
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Soulsister



Joined: 14 Sep 2010
Posts: 242
Location: Good Old Sussex by the Sea

PostPosted: Sun Oct 10, 2010 2:25 pm    Post subject: First Light - Geoffrey Wellum Reply with quote

The recent Battle of Britain coverage, and the dramatisation of Wing Commander Geoffrey Wellum's book First Light and his various interviews and appearances (now aged 89) prompted me to order it from the library. I picked it up yesterday and couldn't put it down. Have just finished it and it's blown me away to be honest.

Written in 1975 when he was at a very low ebb - marriage failed, business gone bust etc. etc. ... he sat down and began to write in a bid to prove to himself that he was worth something. It really is the most incredibly moving book I have read. Obviously it is about war, but it also explores his innermost feelings and thoughts about the whole dreadful business he was involved in. A Spitfire Pilot at the age of 18, dog fights with the enemy, the daily business of just staying alive, and the emotional and physical toll it took on him.

The section about the siege of Malta is especially moving. The supply convoy to the beleaguered island shot to hell by the Luftwaffe, and only a few boats getting through including a fuel tanker so badly shot up it had to be supported fore and aft by two destroyers that literally carried it in to port. The Maltese standing there watching with tears running down their cheeks. Without that tanker the island would have been lost.

The book wasn't published until 2001 when Wellum handed it over to James Holland (a war historian) who had contacted him. It really is an incredible read. Can't recommend it highly enough.
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becky sharp



Joined: 01 Dec 2008
Posts: 6140

PostPosted: Sun Oct 10, 2010 7:23 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I watched the dramatisation of his book on the BBC just recently in their season of programmes about the last World War,Sis, and found it compelling
I never knew that pilots who were so young were doing such responsible jobs ..maybe they were too young which begs the question why were they doing them? ..where were the older pilots?
Whatever, we owe them a huge debt for their sacrifices - in some cases the ultimate one.


Last edited by becky sharp on Sun Oct 10, 2010 7:43 pm; edited 2 times in total
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ColinB
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PostPosted: Sun Oct 10, 2010 7:30 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I watched "First Light" on TV and I thought it was superb. I look forward to reading the book.

I think it's really sad that a whole generation of young people have no real idea what they guys went through in WW2. Thankfully my own 26-year-old son isn't one of them - he recently had a ride (on the tarmac, not in the air alas) in the Battle of Britain Flight Lancaster Bomber, during which he chatted with some real ex-WW2 bomber command pilots. He was, by his own admission, quite moved by their accounts of battle at such a young age.
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Schizoidman



Joined: 20 Sep 2010
Posts: 1140
Location: Rural West Sussex

PostPosted: Sun Oct 10, 2010 7:57 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

It is a bit sad, and even depressing, that today's generation know little about the war.
Trouble is, I have to include myself here. I was born in 1953, just eight years after the war ended, yet have never really appreciated the sacrifices made. It was only recently that I found out that most of those in The Battle Of Britain were so young, 19 or 20. I couldn't even drive a car at that age, let alone command a fighter plane or bomber! And I had always assumed most of the pilots were upper class types called Ginger and Squidgy. In fact they were mainly ordinary middle/working class types. I guess the media are to blame for that portrayal.
And many of them were of course not Brits but Poles, Canadians etc.
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ColinB
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PostPosted: Sun Oct 10, 2010 8:10 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I was talking to a 27-year-old graduate the other day who didn't even know that there were two, not one, world wars during the 20th century and who also thought that the Civil War was that thing that happened in America.

Yes, dear reader, I was indeed rather shocked and surprised, as you can imagine.
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Soulsister



Joined: 14 Sep 2010
Posts: 242
Location: Good Old Sussex by the Sea

PostPosted: Sun Oct 10, 2010 8:32 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

becky sharp wrote:
I watched the dramatisation of his book on the BBC just recently in their season of programmes about the last World War,Sis, and found it compelling
I never knew that pilots who were so young were doing such responsible jobs ..maybe they were too young which begs the question why were they doing them? ..where were the older pilots?
Whatever, we owe them a huge debt for their sacrifices - in some cases the ultimate one.


They were there Becks. Sailor Malan (one of the highest 'scoring' RAF pilots - for want of a better word) was in his 30s, Bader was 28 etc and there were others who were older, but the World War I pilots were too old and mainly in adminstrative roles and in the 30s flying was very much a young man's game. They weren't conscripted, they were volunteers who had gone into flying training straight from school. A lot were also auxiliary pilots who were pulled in immediately invasion looked like a possibility.

The reason most young men signed up was because it gave them the chance to fly without having to pay. Flying was what every young man wanted to do back then, but few could afford to pay for lessons which were incredibly expensive. Everyone has this assumption that the Battle of Britain pilots were all public school boys Tally Ho and Jolly Hockey sticks and all that, but nothing could be further from the truth. You did get squadrons like 601 (dubbed the millionaire's squadron) but truth is they were a real mixed bunch. Ginger Lacey (2nd highest 'scorer' - hate using that term but you know what I mean) was a yorkshire farmer's son, and there were many like him, Flight Sergeants and the like. There is a fabulous radio interview with Ginger on the BBC archives site if anyone is interested, along with some other fascinating stuff. His toughness is apparent, and a contrast to Geoffrey Wellum's sensitivity, but they were all remarkable men - no doubt about it.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/archive/battleofbritain/11418.shtml

If you enjoyed the TV adaptation then please do read the book. It is stunning. Not because of the accounts of dogfights and all that but just the way it's written in a stream of consciousness kind of way, you are there in the plane with him. I don't like flying on ordinary commercial flights to the point where it has actually stopped me going overseas in recent years, but after this I tell you, given the chance I would jump in a Spitfire tomorrow! Very, very moving book and unputdownable. I had a butcher's on Amazon earlier and read the reviews and like me, most read it in one or two sittings.
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becky sharp



Joined: 01 Dec 2008
Posts: 6140

PostPosted: Sun Oct 10, 2010 10:28 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

That is a terrific wealth of information,Sis, thanks for answering my question so fully!...Smile

I said recently on the book thread I have recently bought over thirty books in a book sale (not all for me I might add)so new books are off the agenda just now but I will try and keep it in mind for the future...

I meant to ask how you enjoyed your day with the Spitfires the other Saturday....
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