I have always enjoyed reading books in which the author writes about his or her passion. There is no doubt that Michael Ashcroft is writing from the heart in Victoria Cross Heroes, his new book on the VC.
It becomes apparent from the first few pages of the book that his interest in bravery goes back to when he was 12 years old. Now, half a century or so later, he has written a book detailing his fondness for the VC - as well as a concise but entertaining history of Britain's premier bravery award.
However, by far the best part about this book is the 140 or so remarkable stories based on the courage of the recipients whose VCs are in Lord Ashcroft's collection of medals. The awards in his collection are "topped up" by other tales of gallantry from a channel Five series which is being screened in conjunction with the book.
Some of the heroic stories will bring a tear to many an eye. I was particularly moved by the story of Second Lieutenant William Rhodes-Moorehouse, a WWI pilot and the first airmen to win the VC. He effectively went on a "suicide mission" knowing he had little or no chance of surviving his low-flying bombing raid to damage Germany's supply routes in the spring of 1915. After unbelievable bravery, he was badly wounded and died with a letter from his wife on his pillow. Before going on his ill-fated mission, he had even written a "first and last letter" to his baby son.
The most moving story relating to the tv series VC is that of Warrant Officer Andy Mynarski, a Canadian who died in WWII trying to drag his best friend from their blazing AVRO Lancaster in June 1944. When Mynarksi was forced back by flames and finally had to abandon his trapped friend, he looked towards him before jumping from the plane. He then saluted him saying "Good night, sir": this was Mynarski's traditional comment to his friend that he used to say before retiring for the night. In, fact, in a miraculous escape, Mynarksi's friend, Pat Brophy, survived the crash landing whereas the Canadian died from the severe burns he had received during his thwarted rescue mission. Brophy later wrote: `I'll always believe that a divine providence intervened to save me because of what I had seen. - so the world might know of a gallant man who laid down his life for a friend."
Sterling words - and there are many more liberally sprinkled around in this splendid book. Lord Ashcroft is to be commended for this immaculately researched and deeply touching work. If the tv series of Victoria Cross Heroes is even half as entertaining as the book, we are all in for another treat starting this weekend [November 19].