At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the first-hand veterans account is the most important aspect of military history right now. While in the immediate years after the war historians were pre-ocuppied with grand strategy, and what colour socks Churchill wore, recent years have seen a surge in the popularity of the memories and experiences of the ordinary man at war. Perhaps this is down to a realisation that as time passes, their memories might be lost. Perhaps it is also down to a broader democratisation of history. Maybe a combination of both.
This book by Martin Bowman comprises a unique selection of experiences from British and Commonwealth Bomber aircrew. Their accounts are not pre-occupied by strategy or tactics, but rather the emotional aspect of war. They are not the usual ‘tally-ho’ accounts of senior officers – most of the men in question were plucked from civvy street – but they are strirring, gripping and memorable.
The Bomber war was a unique experience. While battleships might see action infrequently, and army units might train for and fight set piece battles, Bomber crews routinely went into battle several nights a week – often night after night. Losses were heavy, even on supposedly quiet nights. The empty places in the mess halls must have had a sobering effect indeed. How on earth do men deal with such emotions and experiences?
There is nothing in this book that is particularly new in terms of the bigger picture. There are plenty of other similar books out there, but this book is very well presented and researched. Often veterans accounts can be overshadowed by the authors writing, but not here. Every similar book adds a new building block. We should be grateful that the individual stories of these men have been recorded for posterity – the more personal memories and experiences that are captured, the more material historians of future generations will have to ensure that the Bomber crews are never forgotten.