Recommended Reading

A Bomber Command Navigator shot down and on the run.

ETA – Gordon Mellor

Fresh in at Morecambe Library

Library reference 940.544941.MEL

When visiting the library I make a point of visiting the military history section, perusing the shelves for something new. On a recent excursion I was not disappointed.

Gordon Mellor served as a navigator with Bomber Command during World War Two.

ETA is his personal account from his call up for service from his comfortable suburbia lifestyle in 1940, training in Canada and the UK, through to active service in Wellington and Halifax aircraft from a North Lincolnshire airfield.

Shot down during a raid over enemy territory, evading capture with the help of brave resistance, he manages to get back home.

Incredible stuff, had me gripped and quite often I get bored with a book half way through. The pace was good and there was little embellishment of the facts.

A thought-provoking read you should put my on your Autumn / Winter reading list for those dark evenings.

Graeme Austin.

This is one of those books you will be reluctant to put down, and just hope that it will go on and on. It provides fascinating insights into the US and German airforces during the Second World War, especially the German airforce.

The Gallipoli Oak

Local members will remember that last May we had a talk by Martin Purdy on the subject of his doctoral thesis, Westfield Memorial Village. Martin’s other specialism is Gallipoli and we had hoped to book him to talk about this in 2016. Unfortunately, this hasn’t been possible but my disappointment was compensated a little by the book I came across in Lancaster library.

“The Gallipoli Oak”, which Martin co-authored with Ian Dawson, is a fascinating and moving account of the valiant men of Middleton, Todmorden and Rochdale who answered the call to arms at the beginning of August 1914 and signed up with the 1/6th Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers.

After less than a month of training the Battalion was heading overseas, across the Mediterranean to Egypt where they spent the winter months. For lads used to the cold and wet climate of Lancashire, this felt like heaven and the majority thrived; the quotes from letters home show how much they initially enjoyed this period. However after a while the novelty palled and as one of them wrote, “from the Colonel to the youngest bugler boy the daily prayer is that we may soon get out of this intolerable sand, sun and smell back to a bit of good honest Lancashire mud and rain.”

This was not to be – on 1st May the Lancashire men left Cairo and sailed from Alexandria bound for the Dardanelles. The book succinctly sums up why:

“The battalion was being sent to act as the second wave of an infantry attack on the Gallipoli Peninsula, a Turkish outpost bordered to the west by the Aegean Sea and to the east by the straits of the Dardanelles. These straits controlled the route to the Black Sea and the oil fields of the Middle East. If the Dardanelles were to fall into British hands, the Navy could be in the port of Constantinople within a day and in a position to deliver a potentially fatal blow to the Ottomans, while opening a route through to their allies in Russia.”

Using quotes from many letters, diaries and memoirs, the authors intimately involve us in the devastation of the Gallipoli campaign: on landing on the Peninsula the battalion was 1000-strong; after seven months more than one quarter were dead and as many as 800 wounded. The roll of honour lists 11 officers and 194 men who lost their lives, but taking the wounded into account it is clear that the battalion was almost completely wiped out.

So why ‘The Gallipoli Oak’? One of the officers was 19 year-old 2nd Lieutenant Eric Duckworth from Rochdale who led his men in a catastrophic attack on 7th August 1915 in the Battle of Krithia Vineyard at Cape Helles. Eric was fatally wounded but he fell in an advanced position so recovery of his body was impossible. However, the chaplain Rev Dennis Fletcher wrote to Eric’s parents that many of the men from the platoon knew exactly where he fell and could point it out on a map should they ever wish to visit.

Seven years later James and Mary Duckworth did just that, carrying with them on that long journey, in a bucket of water, a sapling English oak tree from their summer home at Coniston. This they planted, not on the spot where Eric died but in the Redoubt Cemetery alongside the bodies of many of his men.

The oak tree survives to this day: though not as large as its English counterparts due to the poor, dry soil, nevertheless the care it receives from the Turkish gardeners employed by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission ensures that it is a living memorial to one brave young officer and a focus for pilgrimages to the site of one of the most bloody military campaigns of the Great War.

The Gallipoli Oak

Martin Purdy & Ian Dawson

Moonraker Publishing, 2013

ISBN 978-0-9554472-1-1

Jane Latin

(War in Britain Series)

Jon & Diane Sutherland

Lancashire libraries code 940.544341SUT

If you have served in the Royal Air Force, Fleet Air Arm or Army Air Corps and have been stationed on an airfield in Britain during your service career then this book is for you.  If you spent your time at a Maintenance Unit, HQ or training establishment, then I hope a companion volume, along with one for overseas units is waiting to be written to keep you entertained.

From Abbots Bromley to Zeals and including that RAF station for insomniacs, Little Snoring. Lulsgate Bottom, for which I am sure you can get some cream for at Boots the Chemist,  and RAF Hell’s Mouth, an unlikely posting for a Padre.  They are all here in this concise volume. 

It has been interesting to thumb through and read the history of the stations to which I had been posted throughout my career and others to which I would have liked a tour, but Innsworth never heeded my requests.  

An interesting quiz could be arranged around the current use of closed stations.  Which one is now a prison? How many have been handed over to the Army ? or are now a golf course ? (no the bunkers are not in use).  

Any military aviation enthusiast should acquire a copy of this book.  

Locally, the histories of Inskip, Millom and Windermere are included and you will not drive along the A591 between Windermere and Ambleside again without wishing a Sunderland flying boat was in circuit. 

The only error I could find, which any ATC cadet who is proficient at aircraft recognition would have pointed out, is on page 305, where a photo of an Army Air Corps Lynx helicopter taking off from Middle Wallop is incorrectly labelled as a Puma.

Overall a good read.  If the authors require some assistance in compiling an overseas volume I can have my case packed and passport ready at short notice to assist with the research.

Graeme Austin

My Bonnie by John Suchet

John and Bonnie Suchet had both had unhappy first marriages and when they met it was a meeting of minds and souls. In 2006 this was shattered when Bonnie was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease.

John was recommended to keep a diary which, after initial reluctance, he did and this book is based on that. It is a “warts and all” account of how Bonnie’s condition deteriorated and how John coped with seeing the love of his life become a stranger. It is moving and funny by turns, and pulls no punches. John is very honest about his feelings, his frustration and anger when Bonnie said or did things that were out of character or didn’t make sense – and his remorse after he had lost his temper with her. He is full of praise for the Admiral nurses who supported and guided him, and has made it his mission to publicise their work. For three years, John cared for Bonnie at home but ultimately this became too much and again he is honest about how he felt when after 26 years together she had to go into full-time residential care.

Today, this distressing and puzzling disease has touched most people’s lives. If you are a carer, then this book will support you, remind you that you are not alone and perhaps give you some ideas to assist you in your struggle. It will also help those less directly involved to understand and suppor the carers.

Jane Latin

Slide Rule by Nevil Shute

It was when we went to the Yorkshire Air Museum that my misconception that Nevil Shute Norway was only a good author was dispelled; he was also a famous aircraft development manager and engineer. I decided to make up for this by searching second-hand bookshops for his writings. I now have a nearly complete set of his books and am starting to work through them. Nevil had a keen observing eye of human character and his books contain that gentleness yet rapid movement, cleanliness and excitement missing from our books today.

Slde Rule takes us back to the pre- and in-between World War years when flying was highly experimental and very risky. Nevil lost his elder brother who was badly injured in Flanders and susequently died from his wounds. Nevil developed a love of aircraft from his earliest days and envied the Flying Corps pilots even though their average life on the Western Front was a mere three weeks. Nevil suffered from a severe stammer and eventually was dismissed to re-enter civilian life just before being commissioned for the newly-formed RAF. He ignored his old school tie and became a private soldier within the Suffolk Regiment. He knew of no life then or since so restful as that of a private soldier who was considered incapable of any rational thought and because of this he enjoyed the pursuit of mental leisure and reflection and never regretted his experience. He never saw combat and yet found a way of spending hours within a grounded Sopwith Camel while still in the army.

After the war he attended Oxford University from which he obtained a third class degree in engineering which was not a promising start for an outstanding aircraft development manager. He adopted writing as a means of relaxation and stress-relieving therapy.

We are taken through the development of the R100 airship under Sir Barnes Wallis which competed against the ill-fated government-sponsored and managed R101. It is noteworthy that power is not an abstract thing but has to be owned by somebody on whom rests responsibility. In the case of R100. there was a clear structure and allocation of responsibility, whilst with R101 power was dissipated among a wide range of power blocs and this led to disaster. Those responsible for the development of a previous R38 airship, which broke in two, catching fire and killing 44 people, were also involved in R101. The building, modifying and flying of a massisve airship structure makes a fascinating story. Those interested in human-system failures could do well to study the R101 which had all the pre-conditions for disaster embedded within it.

Nevil goes on to descrbe the anxious and nail-biting years – with hire and fire and desperate depression – from 1930 to the beginning of World War II; how he formed a small company, “Airspeed”, which had to survive in impossible circumstances; how he culled investment from others, and eventually how he found key people and welded them into a winning team.

In eight years, Airspeed never made a profit, until just before it was taken over by de-Havilland. There are many lessons and jewels here for entrepreneurs today. Nevil divided people into “starters” and “runners”; the latter ran things to show a profit while the starters were risk takers and creative – without a doubt he was one of these. For those interested in aircraft, his period in the aircraft industry covered DH.34, R100, Turn Sail Plane, Ferry, aircraft refuelling, very hazardous especially in those early days, Courier with the first restractable undercarriage to be produced in the UK, the Envoy and the Oxford, by which time he resigned in 1938 to concentrate on writing books.

I wish I had read this years ago during my time in strategy and R&D.

Bob Latin