on 5 October 2007
"Winged Victory" is an extraordinary book. It takes a bit of getting into (the style of writing, the slang and the very detailed descriptions of the flying) but once you are there, you are really there, with RFC pilot Tom Cundall and his comrades. The book reads far more like a diary or documentary than a work of fiction and feels authentic through and through. The destruction of one man's personality through the unending pressure of war is incredibly documented. But this is not an ultimately depressing book: the dark humour and beautiful descriptions along the way stay with one as well as the message. It's a book that I'm sure I'll pick up and re-read within a year.
on 2 March 2005
By chance, I came across this book a few years ago, read it, and now treasure it among my favorites.
The author gives an unvarnished account of a young RFC/RAF fighter pilot's experiences on the Western Front during the spring and summer of 1918.
Despite the glamor often associated with the public image of the "dashing airman" of the First World War, he faced a variety of hazards, from anti-aircraft fire, collision in a dogfight, to the prospect of a fiery death from "the Hun in the sun".
In "WINGED VICTORY", the reader is given access to the all the perils, fears, and frustrations faced by the young pilot Tom Cundall, who, each day he went off on patrol, gambled with his life and fought to keep his sanity, never knowing which friends wouldn't return to the aerodrome. Or whether he would survive or be maimed or crippled.
Unlike their German counterparts (who had the "Hennecke" harness in the later stages of the war), the Allied airman was issued no parachute.
"WINGED VICTORY" brings back the immediacy of what it was like to be a British fighter pilot on the Western Front in the last year of the First World War. Highly recommended.
P.S. One minor note: Cundall flew a Sopwith Camel, not an S.E.5A as featured on the cover.
on 16 January 2006
Anyone reading Winged Victory will be quickly aware of the stark difference between this and any war fiction written by one who was not there. Yeates served in 46 Squadron - his flight leader, "Mac" in the book, was the Canadian Donald MacLaren who was credited with 48 aircraft and 6 balloons shot down. The book has completely authentic slang, and many topical references to music hall shows, songs and comedians of the era, some of which would require a glossary for those not familiar with the period (how many will know why an RE8 was known as a 'Harry Tate' or what 'flaming onions' were?) It captures the misery of life in the RFC during the Big Push of April 1918, while still allowing its protagonists to be grateful that they had escaped the trenches. The book stands successfully also as a novel, even outside the genre of historical and military fiction, because of Yeates' great ability to observe and his clear, and at times, beautiful prose. Read this book!
on 15 April 2003
This is one of the most moving and tragic accounts of an RFC pilot's life during the First World War that has ever been written. The book portrays with a vividness and savagery the horror and fear that swallowed Tom Cundall (the main character) during aerial combat.
It stands today as a testimony to the bravery and humanity of the pilots who fought eighty years ago and a stark warning of the horrors of war. That it is out of print is a great tragedy.
on 3 December 2009
I bought this copy to replace a rather tired paperback copy which I've had since I bought it new over 40 years ago. It is an excellent novel, written by someone who was himself a Royal Flying Corps (RFC) pilot in the First World War. It has a strong storyline and some very exciting passages. It has a moving climax and gives an excellent picture of the first example of aerial warfare on a large scale. Anyone with an interest in flying will thoroughly enjoy this book which ranks with Sagittarius Rising by Cecil Lewis as a "must-have" for understanding what it was like to be an RFC pilot.
As someone else has commented, it is a pity the jacket illustration is of an SE5a when the heroes of the novel fly Sopwith Camels. The same picture was used for the 1961 edition, by the way. I think it is a pity, too, that the new edition doesn't include the very interesting Introduction by Henry Williamson (who knew Yeates) from the earlier edition.
I can thoroughly recommend this novel. David Stallard
on 25 March 1999
I have read this book several times and I always find something different in it. It is a book about the abject terror inside the author and his total fear of displaying it,which is conveyed very forcefully. Although fictional in content,it graphically portrays the feelings and fears that the author must have had during his time as a pilot in the Great War. It makes me feel as if I was there,and taking part in it. It was so obviously a very strange way of life with long periods without danger punctuated by moments of sheer terror. Its only flaw is that the more times I read it the more the cynicism seems to break through.
on 12 March 2002
Winged Victory, by Victor Maslin Yeates, remains the seminal novel about war. It is a book that is steeped in humanity whilst accurately conveying the horror, hardship and cameraderie of being a front-line fighter in a major conflict.
The book is written in third person but is believed to be based upon the author's own experience as a pilot in the old RFC. Whilst the general reader may be initially less enthusiastic about the vivid depictions of flying and fighting than would a student of the period, there is no doubting the superb poetic quality of description throughout. In between the awfulness of combat, Yeates' narrative injects frequent moments of humour and pathos.
I commend this book to anyone who loves great writing. This book deserves classic status. The fact that it is no longer in print is nothing short of a crime.
on 18 October 2014
First published in 1934, ‘Winged Victory’ is a very naturalistic story of the war in the air on the Western Front in 1918. The hero, Tom Cundall, is cynical and war-weary. He has little desire to fight and feels no great animosity toward his enemies. His sole motivation is to stay alive long enough to be sent back home, although he is driven by his pride to act in ways that will prevent his peers from branding him a coward. The great strength of this book is the ease with which Yeates draws you into his characters’ world. After a few chapters, the men of Tom’s squadron start to feel like friends you know personally, and by the time you have made it halfway through the book they almost feel like family. This makes it very easy to feel for their loss when they die, and when their names are mentioned again several chapters later, their absence from the book is keenly felt. Yeates does not appear to kill off his characters in order to suit some narrative device, but lets them die seemingly at random, as heartlessly as in real-life, and this creates a palpable sense of threat whenever they take to the air.
Yeates assumes that his readers are at least reasonably familiar with the war in the air. He offers little or no explanation of some of the terminology he uses, and if you have never read a book about First World War flying before you might find it difficult to understand some of the lingo. ‘Winged Victory’ is an excellent novel. It can be a bit long-winded in places, but the story has the power to absorb you totally, and it is a great example of how a novel can be true-to-life without being unbearably dreary and dull. The tone is sober, but the characters are very likeable and the flying scenes exciting.
I've got an old hardback edition of Winged Victory, a little bumped on the corners and with dog-eared pages and a faded wrapper but, all the same, it sits in pride of place on my book shelves because it is, quite simply, one of the most intense and moving novels I have ever read.
The book tells the story of the final months of World War 1 as seen by Tom Cundall, a pilot in what was soon to become the RAF. It's all there: the hours of empty nothingness where the pilots wait for something, anything, to happen; the moments of nerve-shredding activity where they engage the enemy; the sheer mental strain of being shot at day after day after day without a perceptible end in sight and, in the most exquisitely beautiful prose, descriptions of the sheer joy of flying, looking down on the clouds, diving towards the earth and contour-hopping over the French counryside. The book has it all, containing lyrical descriptions of flying, the pain of loss, the numbness of endless combat and a great deal of philosophical discussion about the origins of the war and the reasons for its seemingly endless continuation. Yeates could write - this isn't just a fascinating eye-witness account, it is a quite beautifully crafted novel.
Yeates was a pilot in the first world war and it shows. The book is full of slang - strange nicknames for the various aircraft - and contains many detailed passages about flying which could only have been writen by someone who had served his time, someone who had put in the necessary hours amongst the clouds searching for enemy planes and dodging machine gun fire. It's as close to being there as any of us are, thankfully, likely to get. Beautiful - a superb account of the final months of one of Europe's darkest moments.
on 24 September 2009
I purchased this as my mother briefly mentioned that my grandfather was in the rfc (but didn't fly much I think) and I wanted some idea about the force before I read the text books. I quickly realised that this is more than an account of battles and aeroplanes (though I appreciate understanding the exact difficulty of the sopworth camel). Its far more and it is a sober analysis of the reasons behind war and a great antidote to the overall view that war is for the greater good. This book is so alive that I felt I was in the mess, in the plane, I felt the grinding down of the day to day life of inaction and then sudden terror, the boredom and I grieved, really grieved for these young lives who did their duty even though they had long since ceased to value the reasons for it.