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4.5 out of 5 stars54
4.5 out of 5 stars
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on 7 January 2012
Fictionalised, I suspect, only slightly from Victor Yeates's personal experiences, this is a vivid, touching portrait of the life of an ordinary RFC pilot. As much a classic as Sagittarius Rising or No Parachute, this book deserves far greater recognition.
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on 7 September 2012
I have owned this book for about thirty years and regularly re-read it. The authenticity and immediacy always strike me. Like Frederick Manning's 'Middle parts of Fortune', it is a novel of the World War One penned by someone who was there. It is atmospheric, sympathetic but never steps over the line into sentimentality or cliché. If you are at all interested in aviation stories, this one is up there with the best.
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on 12 November 2014
This is an autobiographical novel, but there is no doubt that the events recorded happened to someone somewhere, and I suspect it was to Yeates himself. The period of the War over the Western front that the novel covers is one where the RFC (which morphed into the RAF on 1April 1918) had air superiority. Although the Sopwith Camels were becoming obsolete, newer German aircraft like the Fokker biplane were being flown by pilots who did not have the fighting spirit of 1916. Despite this superiority, British losses were still high, and Tom Cundall, the hero, is only able to continue his war by going on massive benders to deaden the sense of loss and fear that blights him. This book ranks with "Sagittarius Rising" as an unvarnished record of what it was like to fly fighters in the First World War. It is so good, that having finished it, I want to start reading it all over again straight away! I will probably be sensible and leave it for a few weeks, but I have the feeling that this will be a book that I'll read many times. Superb!
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on 12 July 2013
A great triumph of writing. His words give a true picture of life as a pilot in World War 1. With far from perfect machines they faced death each day. The joy of flying which he perfectly describes is eroded by the constant slaughter in which he is involved. It is one of the best anti-war books I have read yet at the same time illuminates the great virtues of courage, humour, loyalty and honesty which all of us long to have.
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on 11 December 2012
Although this book is fiction it is almost certainly autobiographical. As the author did not write his biography this must stand as his account of the Flying Corps of the Great War. Undoubtably his exploits are clearly here.
In my opinion this is by far the best novel of the air fighting of the period. It is not all thrills and spills - although there is plenty of thrilling action - it concentrates more on the physical and psychological effects of intensive action under the ever present threat of death. The day to day life with its rapid fluctuations between lassitude, exhilaration and fear are startalingly portrayed in vivid detail. There are many lighter moments and deep discussions ranging from the mundain to the metophysical. The perceptive reader will find much here below the surface.
Even if you have little interest in flying you will find this book very enlightning.
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on 22 February 2015
I finished this book about a week ago and since that time I've found it hard to pick up another book to read. Although presented as fiction I feel sure this is as close a V M Yeates got to writing an autobiographical account of his experiences as a pilot during the last 10 months of the first world war. Although one can neither describe the prose nor the composition as first class literature what comes through is the authenticity of the accounts. This is an important book because it provides us with an insight into the feelings and minds of these first world warriors. What comes across again and again is the feeling of futility and manipulation by the army, the politicians and the 'folks back home'. It is sad to read that Yeates himself was barely recognised in his lifetime for this important contribution to first world war literature. Very highly recommended, indeed.
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on 18 April 2012
I had read this book before many years ago. It is still a very powerful representation of a WW1 fighter pilots life. You can understand why fighter pilots in 1940 were willing to pay £5 for a copy. Highly recommended for any aviation history buffs.
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on 25 May 2013
A very good and well researched novel of life as a pilot in the Royal Flying Corp. If read along with McCudden's Flying Fury and Mannock's King of the Air Fighters, you get a really good feel for what life must have been like in those days
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on 22 May 2014
Highly recommended. This book, although fiction, is a thinly disguised factual account of the day to day life of a frontline pilot in an RFC Camel Squadron during the various military pushes of 1918.
The simple - and sometimes poetic - descriptions of flying two or three times daily into enemy territory by author VM Yeates, himself a veteran RFC flyer, confirms that this book is the genuine article.

It describes, through the nervous, battle weary eyes of young flying officer Tom Cundall, the daily struggle to stay alive in the skies above and behind enemy lines. Nightly nerve calming whisky binges are followed by frigid dawn patrols flown with savage hangovers through masses of colourful cloud or in the high, rarefied air two or three miles up.

Tom Cundall lives with the awful knowledge that his next patrol could be his last and the only thing that can save him and his friends from death is bad weather – and lots of it - or by the ending of hostilities. To make things worse he’s disillusioned by a war he believes is being fought simply for the benefit of bankers and profiteers, thus making his probable fate all the more bitter for him to accept.

Death can visit these flimsy craft in many ways; enemy planes, anti-aircraft shells, ground based small weapons fire, in-flight collisions, engine failure and stressed out struts and airframes. Taking your eyes off your tail for a second could get you killed by a stalking enemy flashing out of the sun and away again, probably unseen by all, even the victim, who could fall from formation dead without anyone even realising an attack had occurred or an aircraft had gone missing.

Towards the latter part of the book there is some repetition in the descriptions of taking off, patrolling and landing but it is a necessary device to describe the relentlessness of the deadly patrols these very young airmen had to continuously fly.
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on 29 April 2013
This is a book which grabs you by the guts and takes you straight into the reality experience of aerial combat in a Sopwith Camel in 1918. It is no book for the faint hearted, as the casualty list is unrelenting. Some will find, as I did, that the introspective passages drag a little by contrast with the narrative description, but this is perhaps reflective of the state of mind of pilots faced with these daily trials. I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone at all interested in the reality of aerial combat,
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