BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Wreck Hunter: Battle of Britain & The Blitz’

122.

BOOK REVIEW

Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: The Wreck Hunter: Battle of Britain & The Blitz

Author: Melody Foreman

Total Number of Printed Pages: 217

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 7

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When writing in this volume’s Foreword, Edward McManus (Historian and Committee Member Battle of Britain Monument London) states that ‘Probably the first person known to have embarked on researching and executing ‘digs’ is Terry Parsons’ and that ‘This book documents a selection of his most interesting…excavations over the years and the personalities , living and dead, that were drawn in’. It is an excellent summary of what is to follow.

The afore-mentioned Foreword is placed immediately behind the volume’s Contents page, and is followed by the book’s Introduction. Within this, the author details the both historical background to the wrecks described within the narrative and the current Governmental policies of care and protection which apply to both these unique items and their contents, with particular reference (in the latter case), to the human remains which are frequently found within such sites. The fourteen Chapters which comprise the largest part of the volume now appear. Chapter 1’s title (The First Wreck Hunters), while largely self-explanatory, does introduce the reader to the history of the recovery of crashed military aircraft (An ‘occupation’ dating back to World War I). It also introduces the volume’s ‘Hero’; Terry Parsons, and records the formative World War II events of his childhood; events which subsequently significantly affected his later life.  In Chapter 2 (Boy of the Battle) Terry Parsons himself elaborates on these events, while simultaneously using actual Air Combat Reports and reminiscences to provide authority and background to the events that he was personally effected by. Chapters 3 (My First Dig) to 14 (Flying Heroes and the Giant Teapot), while following a similar format, are autobiographical in nature (although with added eye-witness accounts which led to that particular aircraft excavation), and were (according to the author’s note on page 208) taken directly from Mr Parson’s personal notes and diaries. This gives them an immediacy which takes the reader into the at-times complex world of aircraft wreck recovery. An Acknowledgements section follows Chapter 14.Within this, the author thanks those who contributed towards its creation. A small (thirteen-entry) Bibliography section follows, and this is in turn followed by the book’s final section; its’ Index. The volume contains numerous Quotes, Reminiscences and reproductions of newspaper clippings, letters and various official documents in supportive of the narrative. As these items do not however carry any supporting citations, their authenticity inevitably comes into question. Each Chapter is accompanied by supporting Photographs.  These are monochrome in format and informatively captioned, but again, with only five exceptions, do not carry source citations. Neither the Contents Page nor the Index mentions the photographs’ existence. The volume contains no Maps.

For this reviewer, this was a ‘Muddle’ of a book; a volume trying to be several things at once and succeeding at none of them. It is simultaneously a biography, an autobiography, a reference work and (as shown in the first four sentences of Paragraph Four of Page 7), a work of uncritical adoration.  The Index is problematical, and could most politely be described as being ‘Patchy’ in its content. Random searching produced many examples where terms used within the  text were not to be found in the Index, those of Operation Nightingale, Richard Osgood, Stephen Macaulay and West Blatchington (all on page xiv) being but four examples. Curiously, the names of Harold Penketh and Vince Holyoak on the same page were accorded Index entries. The reasons for this contradiction on a single page is unknown, and as numerous other such ommissions were also found, the authority and veracity of the Index inevitably came into question. The already-noted lack of Source Citations for the numerous Quotes, Reminiscences, Letters and Official Documents together-with the book’s lack of Maps, further served to undermine such authority as the volume may have had. Is what is presented ‘true’, or imagined? In the absence of documentation to the contrary, there is no way to know! The caption A scene from Biggin Hill airfield in 1940 attached to the aircraft-related photograph appearing on page 22 also did nothing for the volume’s cause, the aircraft concerned being later model Spitfires and, on the presumption that the image is actually a genuine World War II image (rather than from a movie set) is one that was taken sometime after June 1944 (rather than as per the caption) as evidenced by the D-Day recognition stripes carried by the central machine. While it is possible that the original photograph might have been incorrectly captioned (and that a mistake made as a result), this discovery reduced confidence in the narrative still further. The author’s very-evident hero-worship and lack of objectivity was also unhelpful.

Despite its lack of authenticating documentation (Which diminishes its historical value substantially), this volume may be of interest to Archaeologists of all persuasions and aviation and military Historians, Readers with an interest in the Royal Air Force, the Battle of Britain and general military history and aviation, may also find it worthy of their attention. Despite the photographs being monochrome in format, aircraft modellers may find some of these useful for reference purposes.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given this volume a 7.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Wreck Hunter: Battle of Britain & The Blitz’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Uncommon Valour: The Story of the Victoria Cross’

115. UNCOMMON VALOUR (VC)

Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: Uncommon Valour: The Story of the Victoria Cross

Author: Granville Allen Mawer

Total Number of Printed Pages: 282

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 6

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When writing in this volume’s Introduction, the author makes the following observations: ‘…The VC [Victoria Cross] is the ultimate bravery award…’ and that ‘This book sets out to not only examine individual deeds with a view to understanding them, but to also align them collectively with the expectations of those who instituted the decoration and those who administered it thereafter’. As a precis of the book’s intent it cannot be bettered.

Within the volume, an Acknowledgments section is placed immediately after the Contents pages. Within this the author pays tribute to those who assisted him in book’s creation. A list of Illustrations follows. The title is self-explanatory. Within the book the author has used a variety of graphs to provide visualisation of statistics relating to the awarding of the Decoration. These are listed as a subsection (titled Figures) within the list of Illustrations section. The 27 Chapters which form the bulk of the book now appear. Within these the reader is led from the ‘Cross’s origins to the Twenty-first Century, With the exception of the book’s final Chapter (Chapter 27; Rules and Exceptions) each Chapter within it presents a particular aspect of the larger narrative. To reinforce that aspect, the actions of VC recipients are presented as specific examples of that particular perspective. Curiously (and in an apparent attempt to assist readers in finding specific individuals sans Index), although the names of such individuals appear under each Chapter when the latter are listed on the Contents page, the self-same names are not placed at the head of the individual Chapters within the volume itself. Why this should be so is unknown. The previously-mentioned Chapter 27 focusses both on military protocols in respect of the award and on efforts made to have deserving individuals added to the list of recipients.  Three Appendices follow Chapter 27. Appendix 1 (The 1856 Victoria Cross Warrant) reproduces the ‘Founding Document’ on which the award is based. The title of Appendix 2 (The Who, When, Where, What, Why and How of the Awards) is self-explanatory, with the information-concerned being presented in Table format. Within the table however, the recipient names are presented in a First name, Surname sequence instead of the more-usual Surname-first sequence. As result trawling through the tables to find a specific individual can be both tedious and time consuming.  By way of contrast, Appendix 3 (How I Won the Victoria Cross) is an Australian-sourced humorous recitation best described as being ‘A tale of unintended consequences’. Where necessary within the individual Chapters, additional information is provided through the use of End-notes, these being numerically-sequential and Chapter-specific.  The relevant citations appear in a designated Notes section placed after Appendix 3. The volume’s Bibliography now appears. It lists the printed sources used in its creation. The Bibliography is followed by the Index; the volume’s final section.  The book contains 49 Images that are ‘…Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons unless otherwise attributed’.  The source has resulted in a collection of pictures of varying quality, many excellent, but several seemingly from boys comics; those on pages 88, 118 and 173 being examples of the latter. There were several others. The volume contains numerous Quotes and while many carry supporting citations to verify their authenticity, others (such as those on pages 144 and 151 and 152 [for example]) do not. While wishing to believe that the latter are also authentic and accurate recitations of events, the absence of supporting citations does raise questions… The book contains no Maps.

For this reviewer poor proof-reading has served to reduce this book’s effectiveness and resultant usefulness. This is specifically evident in the Index where a lack of attention has served to destroy any pretentions of authority that that section (and, inter alia the entire book) might have had. The Index consists of 19 pages, numbered from 263 to 282. Random searching during the review process revealed that (for example) a written entry for Aaron, Arthur (incidentally the first entry in the Index itself; on page 263) could be found on page 266, and that one for Topham, Frederick (Index entry page 280) would be appearing on page 271; i.e. within the Index itself! These are but two of numerous similar examples. To find that one Index entry only leads to another Index entry raises serious doubts about what other ‘errors’ might exist. There is no way of knowing. It was also noted that at least one individual’s name (that of Moana-Nui-a-Kiwa Ngarimu) had been entered under M rather than his surname (Ngarimu) As the name is not ‘British’ this is perhaps understandable, although the name IS correctly given within the Appendix 2 table (Award No. 1238; page 238). Have other similar ‘mistakes’ been made? Again, there is no way to know.  In addition the Index is largely ‘People’-focussed, to the almost total exclusion of geographical locations or events. Notably (despite being active participants in the larger narrative and mentioned within the volume), Australia, New Zealand and Canada as geographical / political entities are not mentioned within the Index. When combined with the previously-noted issues with Images, Quotes, Maps and Award Tables the ‘Index-related’ difficulties serve to seriously-erode the volume’s usefulness as a serious work on its subject.

Although in this reviewer’s opinion the problems detailed above are of considerable magnitude, the volume is both well written and easy to read. Military Historians with a specific interest in the Victoria Cross may find it of interest, as could readers with a more ‘generalist’ interest in the British armed forces, and their awards for brave deeds. Readers seeking descriptions of ‘Feats of daring-do’ by ordinary individuals in unusual situations may also find it worth of their attention.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent I have given this volume a 6.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Uncommon Valour: The Story of the Victoria Cross’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘‘D Day’ Dakotas: 6 June 1944 ‘

109.

Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: D Day’ Dakotas: 6 June 1944 

Author: Martin W. Bowman

Total Number of Printed Pages:  335

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 6

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The Douglas DC-3 (Especially in its military guise of the C-47) is one of the most famous aircraft of all time. Its fame rests largely on its military activities during World War II; during which-time it saw widespread use in many of that combat’s theaters of operations. Of all these the C-47 is most-closely associated with D-Day; the Allied invasion of Europe. This volume looks at both that use, and the experiences of the military personnel involved with the C-47 on 5-6 June 1944.

Within the volume, a poem titled Tribute To The DC-3 follows its Contents page, and is in turn followed by an Acknowledgements section, within-which the author thanks those who assisted with the volume’s creation. The 15 Chapters which comprise the bulk of the volume now appear.  While primarily-focused on the C-47 and its part in the D-Day invasion, these also provide background to that operation and relate the individual personal experiences of the personnel who were involved; both as aircrew and paratroops (the latter being C-47’s primary passengers on 4-5 June 1944). An Epilogue placed after Chapter 15 (‘Galveston’ and ‘Hackensack’) provides analysis of the operation, and is in turn followed by the volume’s Index; it’s final section.  The volume contains numerous quotes, some accompanied by citations indicating their source; the majority not.  It also contains two separate Images sections. The images they contain are monochrome and, in addition to various aircraft, also showing different aspects of the C-47’s D-Day operation, and, where applicable, individuals mentioned within the volume. While being informatively captioned, the majority carry no source citations and are not mentioned on either the Contents page or in the Index. It was noted however that at least one caption (That of the ‘supposed’ Chalk 43 in the second images section) was incorrect in its statement; the aircraft in this instance carrying a very obvious No.44. Whether other, similar, errors exist is unknown. Where additional information and source details are required, this is presented in the form of numbered Footnotes placed at the bottom of the appropriate page.  The numbers are sequential and volume rather than chapter-focused. The book contains no Maps, and despite the various acronyms and unique terminology within it, is not provided with an interpretative Glossary. What (for example) is a ‘Serial’ (page 60 and Chapter 7) an SOP, a DZ or an AEAF, these latter (along with others of a similar nature) being terms widely used throughout the book? Although the author evidently believes that the meanings of such terms are well-known, the average reader, especially one with no prior knowledge about such things, cannot be expected to have such information. The volume also contains no Bibliography or list of the books quoted throughout it.

Although this volume is both well-researched and written, various ‘technical’ difficulties meant that this reviewer found it very difficult to read. Of these, the most troublesome concerned the inordinate use of unsourced quotes; page after page after page of them. While to some this may be unimportant, their sheer volume and ‘convenience’ to the narrative being presented, eventually reached the stage where they became totally unbelievable and raised questions as to their origins. This is not to say that some quotes weren’t referenced; the occasional one was, with that from one Ben Ward on page 294 being one such example. Yet on the same page an unsourced quote from Major Francis Farley commences, and was followed in turn (on page 295) by even more unsourced quotes from one ‘Bob’ MacInnes and from Howard ‘Fat’ Brown. These are but two examples of a practice pervading the volume, a practice not helped by poor punctuation and the lack of the necessary ‘closing’ quotation marks at the end of a Quote.  Paragraphs 2 and 4 on page 184 are but two of many similar examples. In addition to the foregoing, the Index leaves much to be desired. It appears to be predominately ‘People’-focused, to the exclusion of almost everything else. As an example of this latter contention, a random Index search for such text-mentioned geographical locations as Portland Bill, ‘Hoboken’ marker, Contentin Coast, Portbail, Guernsey and Alderney (All mentioned on page 58) found no Index entries. As this was on a single, randomly-selected page, and similar results were found for other (also randomly-selected), subject searches, for this reviewer, the authority and veracity of the Index became extremely doubtful.

This volume fills an important gap in knowledge about the D-Day operations, and as such it may appeal to Military and Aviation Historians, while aviation enthusiasts of all persuasions and aviation modellers may also find it of use and interest.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given this book a 6.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘‘D Day’ Dakotas: 6 June 1944 ‘