‘Heroes of the Skies’ by Michael Veitch.
I was drawn to this book because I have always been interested in the ordinary people who ended up in extraordinary situations in times of war: the stories of what they did, how they coped both during and after these unimaginable circumstances.
This is Veitch’s latest book on pilots who flew in World War II. He has previously written ‘Flak’ and ‘Fly’. ‘Heroes of the Skies’ is a collection of 20 stories featuring 30 pilots, gunners, and navigators. Veitch wanted to capture their stories before they are all gone. Out of the near one million Australians that served, fewer than 30 000 remain, and the youngest is aged around 88. A recurring statement in the book by the people interviewed is that when they came back no one was interested in their stories, or they couldn’t speak about them, but that in the last few years people have started asking questions.
Having met a few surviving pilots, tank drivers, and nurses who served in war time, I have often found myself saying, “You must have some stories to tell”, or “Someone should write these stories down”. This is exactly what Veitch has done.
Some people in this book have told their stories for the first time. There are many tragic stories retold, but these are lightened up by the recounting of some of the larrikin exploits of these once-young men, the thumbing of their noses at the ‘higher-ups”, and it is also great history. However war is never glorified in this book – it is not jingoistic in tone, but it is respectful of these men, without glamorising them. And if you like reading about the different aircraft they flew, you will also enjoy this book.
Veitch sums it up so well in his closing words, when he says, “I am thankful for what they did, and their nobility amid the ghastly ignobility of war”.