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