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4.6 out of 5 stars49
4.6 out of 5 stars
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24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on 30 September 2008
This is possibly the best aircraft related war memoir I have ever read. Cecil Lewis is a wordsmith in his own right, he lived to be 98 and became a successful BBC broadcaster. He wrote this book later on in life, but not from an adult perspective only just how he fell at the time as a 17 year old youth joining the Royal Flying Corps. It's full of love for flying, full of passion and knowledge of the machines, full of feelings that will take you on an emotional rollercoaster and make you laugh and cry as you read through this magnificent masterpiece of a memoir.
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46 of 47 people found the following review helpful
on 14 April 2001
Cecil Lewis is above all gifted writer. He gives the reader a rare insight into the life of a young man during the first world war and shortly afterwards.
A "bit of a Poet" he tells us of his experience as he trains to be a pilot and then during active duty.
This memoir lets us see through his eyes what live was like. Perhaps we see it better for he has a keen eye for detail and is both sensitive and perceptive.
The flying and combat scenes are perhaps the best ever written.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 26 September 2011
I bought this because I was reading another book called Fighter Boys which is a well researched account of the development of the RAF leading up to a detailed account of the Battle of Britain. In the early stages of the book the author frequently cited Sagittarius Rising by Cecil Lewis as one of the best accounts we have of flying in the first world war, and it certainly lives up to that description. Cecil Lewis joined the RFC as soon as he could in the very early stages of WW1 and seems to have led a charmed life, being on active service in the RFC as a pilot throughout the war, carrying out duties as an airborne observer for the artillery, flying photographic reconnaisance missions over enemy territory, and being involved in dogfights including encountering von Richtofen's circus. The book is punctuated with his philosphical musings about war and civilisation which are as relevant to-day as they were then. An excellent well written account which is also very informative on the rapid development of aviation technology during the war.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on 23 April 2009
There are not many books which give first hand accounts of the air war in the first world war - there were not many who survived. Cecil Lewis was not only a survivor - against the odds - he was also a writer of talent. The backdrop which is provided of youthful exuberance, combined with the sense of duty, helps explain why young men continued to accept and face up to the near certainty of death. This is not just a book about the air war, it is a eulogy to a lost cast.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 5 December 2009
The above superlatives are all appropriate. I want to add that the technicalities are good enough for pilots without baffling laymen, and his description of the extreme difficulty of keeping his Morane Parasol the right side up, for example, is a masterly illustration of the perennial balancing act in military aircraft between lethality and safety, in other words, hoping they kill more of them than they do of us. Photos would have been good, and the edition I had was a facsimile of an early edition, meaning there was no postscript on what became of Lewis himself, or commentaries and footnotes by a historian, which would also have been nice to have.I am afraid, Mukisa, they really did think it was "ripping" to go to war -- at first, of course -- and a lot of memoirs only got written in the 1930s because the veterans did not at first believe that anyone but other veterans could possibly understand what they experienced.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 18 April 2014
I read a number of good reviews but saw one that said the author lacked some clarity with certain events as he wrote the book too long after his experiences.

Undeterred I still purchased the book and have to say the point above is a valid one. The book is still worth reading, especially if you also watch the short clip recording of his post Great War interview (search under his name in iPlayer "The Great War Interviews" and you will see his recorded recollection are equally focussed in the book and well worth comparing with each other. Viewing the description of how he lost an Observer when a shell hit him and watching him get upset, then reading the same passage in the book brings an extra poignancy to the reading as you feel his sadness in the passage.

Other events recorded in the book feel less focussed, comments like "log book records a flight with observer XXXX I cannot even remember what he looked like, it is just a name. (Not an exact quote but you will spot the passage upon reading), do not help.

Even so, still worth reading, just do not expect too much. Currently reading Open Cockpit by Arthur Gould Lee which is better written and more focused so consider this book as well
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 10 June 2013
This is a fine book that I've been meaning to read for ages. I've only given it 3 stars not because it isn't as well written as others have suggested but because it should have been written earlier, when his memory was fresh. Instead we have, in my opinion, a rather sketchy attempt to capture those anguished times that young men hoped to survive.I wish he'd kept a diary!
Still it is a book that no doubt shouldn't be missed by any collector of genre.
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on 27 May 2014
The first chapter in this book is one of the best that I have ever read. The main body of the book covers the authors training on very basic trainer aircraft and charts his progression as a pilot through-out the war, covering a couple of tours on the western front and also on the home front. I found the chapters about the home front particularly interesting as I have always viewed the air war during this period as a particularly French affair. The book also charts the rapid technological development of aircraft during this thankfully relatively brief period of our history, and also covers the transition from Royal Flying Corps to the inception of the Royal Air Force.

The Author seems to come from a relatively privileged background, and his writing style is of his era and social class. However, the book does not really suffer for this, and the author comes across as a decent, honest person, doing his best under circumstances most of us can only really begin to imagine.

Towards the end of the book the Author talks briefly about his brief career after the end of the war, particularly about his relatively brief time in china, I found this part of the book a little maudlin and overly poetic. For me it detracted from a book that up to this point I had enjoyed very much. I was interested in what happened to the author after his experience in the war, but felt that he should either have finished the book at the end of the war, or to more fully describe his later career. I would, However, not want this to put anyone of this otherwise excellent book, the last part is relatively brief and after all, this is just one persons subjective view.
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on 6 March 2014
Firstly I should make very clear that Cecil Lewis was nothing short of an incredible man, accomplished in so many fields, including journalism and writing. This work is truly a reflection of this, ahead of its time in many regards and a terrific tale in its own right. Important on so many levels.

Before progressing to my personal experience with the book, I should make clear it's really worth reading and I thoroughly recommend it.

With that said - having read it about six months ago I really cannot remember any of it. I think this is partly because I spent a lot of my childhood reading the tales of Biggles. Of course, Biggles being a character of fiction spent a lot of time getting in to all sorts of japes that are frankly impossible. Cecil Lewis, of course, lived a life of which was incredible but utterly realistic and gravely reflective of the War. Thus it could well be that my consciousness has been blurred by the tales of fiction, meaning my experience with what is actually an incredibly important work has faded already. Biggles focuses on adventure, whereas Lewis focuses on what it was actually like to be there, as a human being. So important and I'm disappointed with myself that I cannot recount a single one of his experiences having read the book.

So please do buy it, as it is a valuable work, enjoy it while reading it and reflect. However, if you spent your childhood reading Biggles, do be prepared to sadly forget a lot of it against the backdrop of fiction that stands tall - possibly too tall - in this genre.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 7 June 2009
A unique book, for sure, and a wonderful insight into the lifestyle of WW1 fighter pilots. But I can't rave about it as the other reviwers seem to have done. Some of Lewis' writing is overly sentimental, such as when he talks about his various love affairs - for me, this was neither relevant nor very interesting. There's also an element of Boy's Own in his style, such as the faintly ridiculous "Wouldn't it be ripping!", as he and his friend (aged 17) decide excitedly to sign up for the Flying Corps. More critically, most of the text was written from memory, a full 18 years after the war ended, which must cast some doubt on the details of the discussions and descriptions that he includes. One final criticism, this time of the publishers: Lewis talks lovingly about the many different types of aircraft that he flew, but for nearly all readers (myself included), it is impossible to have a mental picture of these long-gone machines. Could they not have included some photos?

These critiques aside, I felt by the end that I would have greatly enjoyed the company of Cecil Lewis. This sense came not so much from his descriptions of the War - extraordinary though they were - but from what he wrote towards the end of the book about his time training (or trying to train) Chinese pilots in Peking in the early 1920s. He was a sensitive observer of people, and I appreciated his genuine appreciation of the Chinese. At a time when most of the British expatriates there were fairly disdainful of their host nation, his attitude was that of a very substantial person, as well as - at least in this respect - rather a humble one.
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