nother review from way back, this from one of my favorite fictional World War One flying novels, Goshawk Squadron.
This book is from Derek Robinson, who would go on to English infamy for a later book, Piece of Cake. And this is pretty much a proving ground for what he’d do in Piece, that being create a squadron of misfits and unassuming youth and then fling them into war. The book starts with Major Woolley sitting in a deck chair, watching his squadron float towards the frosted landing field. Uncouth, foul, always angry, as his adjutant announces each pilot’s name (by the number on the cockpit side) he fumes, “I hate the bastard”. And seemingly, he does.
For it is 1918 and everyone is scared. The war has been going on over three years. Their once-proud SE5a’s are showing their age. The pilots have been drawn from a pool of ever-younger, even-less-trained cadets. They are boyish, idealistic, and excited to be entering the war. And Woolley, he’s out to change that.
And so he starts his training program. When the mechanics paint gunnery figures of men with iconic hearts, he screams for them to do it over with the hearts on the left (for he would never attack an enemy from the front). He throws massive fireworks at his men. He curses them. He comes up with training programs to show them true air combat (like having them mill around at lower altitudes while cans are dumped from a higher plane; everyone banking about, shooting at tins and trying not to ram each other).
And so the men grow to love him. No, that’s not right. They despise him. They begin to backbite each other as their quirks grow into personality traits. Once released on the Germans, they prove to be deadly and professional about it.
And then, interestingly enough, once they are cold blooded killers, Woolley tries to be friendly. And that’s when the book really gets uneasy…
I loved this book – have read it several times in the distant past and have decided to give it a quick read soon. The first time I got it (checked it out of the Cincinnati Library, I don’t think the librarians knew what they were loaning this young eleven year old). But I loved it – it’s a book of blood and thunder, of mud and machine guns, and it’s a smashing good read. If you can find it, have a gander at this goshawk.