Lancaster, The Forging of a Very British Legend

...from Simon & Schuster

Title: Lancaster
Author: John Nichol
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
ISBN: 978-1-4711-8046-0

This new book from author John Nichol takes on the story of the Lancaster, the most famous of the the bombers used by the RAF during WW2. It isn't a technical description of the design, service history, list of squadrons, facts and figures but the story of an aircraft as told by the people who flew it as crew members or maintainers.
It is a collection of personal accounts, veterans who have told their stories to John and which he has skilfully been able to put down on paper. Not just a sequence of this happened and then that happened, but so vitally intertwined with how they felt at the time, and in some cases, afterwards as well. It even includes one instance where the crewman failed to return from the raid on Peenemunde, and how his daughter coped after her father failed to come home, and how she was eventually to find some personal closure. The various accounts do tell us about the internal arrangements of a Lancaster, including the difficulties of climbing over the main spar, the loneliness of the rear turret gunner and even the general avoidance of using the Elsan lavatory if possible. There are so many facets of the story of the campaign of Bomber Command during WW2, including aspects of what is often called the 'psychology of distance' and when shot down, or at the end of the war, how they reacted to the devastation of German cities. There has been plenty of debate about the rights and wrongs of the policy of Bomber Harris and this is mentioned at some points, but while hindsight is a wonderful thing, it remains a choice made in the moment and circumstances of the time. War is not a nice thing. Some of the stories come from survivors who were made POWs, and some also from those who got home to find many other bunks in their quarters left empty after other crews failed to return. These men had to cope with numbers that remain quite eye-opening. Of 125.000 men who served in Bomber Command, 55,573 died. Men not only from the UK, but also from Canada, Australian, New Zealand, Poland, India, the Caribbean among others.
This is a remarkable book, one I found difficult to put down. Many veterans find it difficult to talk about their experiences, but possibly the more recent experience of flying in combat, surviving being shot down and abuse at the hands of his captors in Iraq allowed for a shared mutual connection between them. He has been able to not just capture their experiences of flying the Lancaster in combat but express it so well in writing. A first class book that I have no hesitation in recommending that you should read.
Thanks to Simon & Schuster for our review copy.