Fay Baker takes a look at a release from Pen and Sword written by Dilip Sarkar MBE, titled Letters from the Few - Unique Memories from the Battle of Britain.

Introduction

The following introduction is taken from the Pen and Sword website:

Fascinated by the Battle of Britain from an early age, as a young man Dilip Sarkar realized that recording and sharing the Few’s memories was of paramount importance. At the time, back in the mid-1980s, membership of the Battle of Britain Fighter Association was well populated and the then Honorary Secretary, the now late Wing Commander Pat Hancock DFC, OBE, supported Dilip’s research by forwarding letters to individual pilots of interest.

Those members of the Few included a wide-range of personalities, from famous airmen like Group Captain Peter Townsend and Air Marshal Sir Denis Crowley-Milling, to the ‘also rans’, as Battle of Britain Hurricane pilot Peter Fox famously described himself and peers. Indeed, it was Peter’s ‘also rans’ that were of the greatest interest to Dilip, who recognised that whilst many famous and distinguished pilots had either published personal memoirs or had biographies written about them, lesser-lights had no platform to record and share their experiences. This Dilip became dedicated to resolving.

For many years, Dilip enjoyed prolific correspondence with the Few. These letters – hundreds of them – now represent a unique primary source, confirming the incredibly close relationship the author enjoyed with his heroes and high esteem in which they likewise held him. Over the years, Dilip’s published work has enormously benefited from his unique knowledge of the people involved through this very personal association, the memories collated providing his books a real ‘human’ touch. As the Few sadly fade away, it is only now that the significance of Dilip’s correspondence, industry and archive arising are becoming truly apparent.

 

In Letters From The Few, Dilip shares with us, for the first time, a small selection of his correspondence with Battle of Britain fighter pilots, providing us an inspirational insight into the immeasurable value of this research and personalities involved.

Review

This offering is a hard backed book from Air World courtesy of Pen and Sword. This book gives you a great insight into some of the people who fought during the Battle of Britain over 307 pages. There are a few photographs provided but I feel this is a true reading and absorbing title of good quality. The contents of this title are presented as follows:

 

Authors notes and Glossary

Acknowledgements

Foreword

Prologue

 

Flight Lieutenant Richard Jones AE

Group Captain Peter Townsend CVO DSO DFC

Wing Commander Roger Boulding

Squadron Leader Dennis Adams

Group Captain George Denholm DFC

Squadron Leader Jack Stokoe DFC

Group Captain Herbert Pinfold

Warrant Officer Peter Fox

Flight Lieutenant Denis Nichols

Wing Commander Frederick Higginson OBE DFC DFM

Flight Lieutenant Reg Johnson

Air Commodore Herbert Mermagen CB AFC

Wing Commander Frank Brinsden

Wing Commander George Unwin DSO DFM

Air Vice Marshal David Scot-Malden CB DSO DFC

Group Captain Alec Ingle DFC AFC AE

Air Commodore Peter Brothers CBE DSO DFC

Flight Lieutenant Reg Nutter DFC

Squadron Leader Bolesalw Drobinski VM KW DFC

Squadron Leader Bob Beardley DFC

Flight Lieutenant Harry Welford AE

Flight Lieutenant William Walker AE

Air Marshall Sir Denis Crowley-Milling KCB DSO DFC

Squadron Leader Jerzy Poplawski VM KW

Sargent Ray Johnson(Armourer)

Group Captain John Cunningham CBE DSO DFC

 

Epilogue Hauptmann Hermann Kell

Bibliography

Index

 

This offering written By Dilip Sakar MBE covers a short period of history, covering a section of the lives of men who fought during Britain’s time of need, and survived World War II to rely this portion of their lives to the reader. The author has presented the contents of this book, in a mix of his own words using a chronological manner and accompanied by the words and memories of those who were there. The stories presented are not really a case of daring do, and are instead presented more as a case of the men doing the job that was placed before them as best they could, with varying results. The book covers the exploits of a broad range of ranks, and I was particularly pleased to find the story of a member of the groundcrew, as these men tend to be forgotten, where the Battle of Britain is concerned.

In some ways I found the contribution by the member of ground crew the most entertaining and interesting, due to it covering the stories of pilots returning in situations that were dangerous at the time, but funny in retrospect. Stories such as the pilot that returned with his head and shoulders sticking out of the cockpit due to his seat having collapsed due to enemy fire or particularly hard manoeuvring. He also tells of the sad loss of Pilot Officer Douglas Shepley who at the age of 21 was killed after just 6 weeks of marriage, his brother had been killed in Dunkirk and sister who was a nurse having been lost at sea after the ship she was on having been bombed and sunk. There is a pub reportedly near Wood Thorpe Hall near Sheffield called the Shepley Spitfire and is named as a form of recognition of the efforts of the parents and widow of Douglas to raise money to buy a Spitfire. 

Conclusion

I have to say, that having read the book I found the story of the pilots interesting and at times amusing ,but for me the short entry by Sergeant Ray Johnson was the one that I enjoyed the most, as the mix of highs and lows, I feel gave me the best idea of what it was to live and serve during this particular point in history covering the few, during the Battle of Britain.

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