In June 2012, the Bomber Command Memorial was dedicated in London. Those present witnessed 55,573 poppies tumbling from a Lancaster, one for every Bomber Command man killed during the war, the iconic red flower symbolising the souls of those lost to Bomber Command operations during World War 2.
Australian journalist of long standing, Peter Rees, mingled with the 106 Australian survivors attending this event, and went on to write this book as a collective experience of the Australians who fought, survived and died in the RAF’s bomber war.
This book works as Rees has made so many of these stories personal. We meet the air crew in training camps and learn what made them join up. We meet some of their families and their sweethearts. We meet their mates in the RAF and learned how they took care of each other in times of much stress. We hear how many of these young men never made it home.
It covers mundane occurrences such as writing home to sweethearts, first ops, the drinking culture, and living life as if there were no tomorrow. It also mentions planes crashing into the sea, air crew as Prisoners of War, and so many of their heroic deeds.
There are many historical references to the war, including the Dambusters, Pathfinders, the bombing of Dresden, and even a mention of Q for Queenie’s cheeky flight under the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
The name of the book is a bit of a misnomer, as many of these fly boys also flew Halifaxes, Wellington’s, and Stirlings.
You don’t have to be either a military or aviation fan to enjoy this book. It’s a good read with the historical background not being overly dry. Indeed, much of it was very interesting. I learned that many of those that served in Bomber Command were treated with disdain by other exservicemen at wars end as they were considered “Jap Dodgers” who were “hiding over in England”.
Well worth the read.