First Light by Geoffrey Wellum

I’ll sat it again, I’m a big fan of the veterans first-hand account. I much prefer reading about the normal guy at the sharp end to hearing about the tit-for-tat arguments between Generals. Even with a fighter pilot, traditionally a well-covered part of the war, there is much to be learnt from personal stories.

Geoffrey Wellum volunteered for the RAF just prior to the Second World War, and this book charts his wartime experiences. From learning to fly in a Tiger Moth, and then a Harvard, Wellum brings alive the dedication and training required to make the grade as a fighter pilot. He was posted to an operational squadron at Biggin Hill at the height of the Battle of Britain. He was thrown pretty much straight into combat, demonstrating just how fast some of the few had to learn. For his efforts Wellum was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Then after a tour as an instructor Wellum took part in the epic Operation Pedestal convoy to reinforce Malta. Transported into the Mediterranean onboard the Aircraft Carrier HMS Furious, Wellum took off just after HMS Eagle was torpedoed. After landing on the besieged island he witnessed the cripplied Tanker Ohio limping into Valetta Harbour.

Wellum writes warmly of the cameraderie of a front line fighter squadon. We are also reminded just how young many of ‘the few’ were. But what really sets this book apart is the way that Wellum describes the rigours of air to air combat. He writes in a manner that brings the emotions, the intensity alive for the reader. He takes you into the cockpit with him. It is quite remarkable that he is able to recall those experiences all these years later.

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11 Comments

Filed under Book of the Week, Royal Air Force, World War Two

11 responses to “First Light by Geoffrey Wellum

  1. Ian Millen

    James,

    You might be interested to know that one of the professional actors employed by Fort Nelson does a 20 minute piece on the life of a Spitfire pilot that is taken directly from the life and book of Geoffrey Wellum. He does a cracking job of acting out a monologue as Wellum, complete with flying gear, mask and cap as he transitions from action in the cockpit to waiting in the crew room. It really is worth seeing if you get a chance. There is a wide range of characters brought to life by the actor (Geoff Pye) and a number of colleagues, from Victorian Fusiliers to Boer War soldiers and WW2 servicemen. I came upon this one day when I drove past Fort Nelson and decided to drop in. What followed was about three hours of fascination as I explored this completely free piece of history. Well worth a visit.

    Great website by the way. I like your perspective and your style. I linked through to it from the WW2Talk website as I am attempting to do some research myself (complete novice). I shall certainly set aside some time to browse your excellent website. I am particularly interested in any work you may have done on maritime aspects of the Falklands Campaign as a veteran of it myself. Congratulations on such a great website. BZ.

  2. James Daly

    Hi Ian, thank you for your comment. I live about a mile from Fort Nelson and I pop in there regularly whenever I have some spare time. I think I might have seen the chap doing a piece on the Alamo during their American Civil War weekend.

    I have been writing about the Falklands in the past few months, and coming from Portsmouth of course the Maritime aspects figure highly. And of course with recent events the Navy’s role down south has come under the spotlight once again.

  3. Ian Millen

    Hi James,

    i too live fairly close to Fort Nelson, having been in the RN from 1977 to 2007. Having now retired from the RN, I’m getting more interested in maritime history and plan to do some research on the ship I was serving in during the conflict, HMS Antrim. I’ll let you know if I turn up anything of interest, but I assume that records are still with the RN vice The National Archives.

    Once again, well done on the website. Good luck with your future research. If you ever do any historical research on the merchant navy, let me know – I might have a future speaking opportunity for you.

    Kind regards.

    Ian

  4. James Daly

    Hi Ian,

    My Dad worked on Antrim quite a bit when he was in the Dockyard in the late 70’s and early 80’s. Most of the documents regarding the Falklands are still closed under the 30 year rule, so 2012 is the magic year.

    I haven’t as yet done any research on the Merchant Navy – apart from some brie research on SS Laconia. thats a string I need to add to my bow at some point!

    Regards

    James

  5. Pingback: First Light by Geoff Wellum on BBC2 « Daly History Blog

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