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No Moon Tonight (Witness to War) Paperback – 4 Feb 2003
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Indeed the blurb at the back of 'No Moon Tonight' compares the book to Sassoon's 'Memoirs of an infantry officer' and to Remarque's 'All Quiet on the Western Front'.
There the comparison ends.
For the aircrews of Bomber Command the 'Front' was the skies over Germany and the cities over which they flew.
Don Charlwood, no less than Sassoon or Remarque, entered his war sure of the righteousness of the cause for which he had volunteered.
However, earlier than did Sassoon and Remarque, he soon began to question the methods that he and his compatriots were required to use in the hopeful expectation of victory over the enemy.
Unlike Sassoon and Remarque, Charlwood's unease was based, not solely on the terrible losses suffered by combatant forces, which in his case included the deaths of virtually all of the group of young men he joined up with; but now that unease also included the toll that Bomber Command was nightly, and increasingly inflicting on the enemy civilian population.
The book takes us from Operational Training, via Wellington bombers, to Squadron operations on Lancasters at RAF Elsham Wolds
Charlwood makes no pretentions to heroism, indeed he is unusually self effacing; a
constant underlying theme being his poor opinion of himself as a navigator.
He was in every sense but one, 'the average bomber aircrewman'.
But in that one respect he was far from 'average'.
It was the all important difference between him and all those other young men he joined up with.
Ultimately, it was the only difference that mattered.
During his period of operational flying with 103 Squadron at RAF Elsham Wolds, only he and his crew survived on the squadron to complete the 30 operations required for a full tour of Operational Duty, and an end,(temporarily) to operational flying.
The others of his group would become a part of the 55,000 aircrew who died on operations in RAF Bomber Command.
The book paints a 'broad brush' picture, rich on atmosphere but lacking in detail.
In a 1984 preface to this edition the author explains that when writing the book he felt the urge to make large cuts to 'prevent the exposure of so much that I had previously concealed', but states that he resisted the temptation (to cut).
What does this mean? He does not elaborate.
Perhaps, it refers to his expressed sympathy for the civilian victims of Germany's wasted cities.
One suspects though, that when he published his book in 1956, despite that sympathy for Germany's civilian victims, he did not wish to be associated with the Government inspired post war backlash against RAF Bomber Command that had been so cynically orchestrated to deprive Bomber Command and it's brave airmen from any recognition whatever, due them for the truly appalling sacrifices their Government had required them to make, as a vitally important element of the final victory over Nazi Germany.
Whatever his motive, one is left with the feeling that there was much more to Don Charlwood's war than is told here
The constant loss of colleagues and many with whom he started out with from his homeland is a stark reminder of the horrendous losses of aircrew: few had any hopes of completing their tours yet their were many questioned what they were doing i.e.killing civilians!
Don Charlwood came from Australia to fight in the RAF and after being initially trained in Canada came to England to finish his navigator training and was then assigned to 103 Squadron based at RAF Elsham Wolds (part of One Group). Flying Lancasters operationally with a crew from England, Wales and Australia - they faced the daunting task of surviving thirty operations to complete their first tour.
You can read as many histories of Bomber Command as you want, but nothing helps you to understand what the actual crews went through, like this book does. Reading as one after another, Don Charlwood's friends are cruelly cut down makes sombre reading, but stands as a testimony to their bravery and commitment.
You will learn about their superstitions, their closeness as crews, dicing, squadron life, the women who loved them and waited for their return, how death could strike seemingly anywhere to anyone. You will read with tears in your eyes how close friends are killed, the crushing impact upon Don Charlwood and how in one case he helps the new wife of one dead friend.
Don Charlwood shows how crews had their focus fixed, I would say obsessively, upon completing their tours and while they did at times consider the morality of what they were doing, that aspect of the bombing campaign does not seem to be at the forefront of their minds.
Methods used by Bomber Command to keep the crews in check is subtly explored. For example the constant threat of being labelled LMF (lacking moral fibre) which caused men to push themselves sometimes beyond endurance. Also when forced to return during an operation, or unable to go on an operation - even in situations completely beyond their control - the Wing Commander made the pilot pay with accusations of "being yellow" and worse.
On one occasion the pilot of Don Charlwood's aircraft was forced back due to engine problems. Once back at their base the Engineering Officer agreed with their assessment of the situation and stated that they had no alternative to returning. But the following morning the Wing Commander was furious & reported to Group that they failed to reach their objective through "lack of determination." The recommendations for commissions for the pilot and engineer were halted - through no fault of their own and without reference to the Engineering Officer.
Don Charlwood's book is not without its humour and one account stands out when the crews were watching the on-base cinema and are told during a film about road accidents that at the present rate of road accidents one out of every ten in the audience would be killed. Given the rate that the crews were dying it is understandable why the airmen fell about the cinema laughing at this statement.
If you only ever read one book about the men who flew bombers during WW2 for the RAF's Bomber Command make it this one because it is without doubt a very fine account indeed and rightly regarded as a classic. Don Charlwood has indeed not let the others down and has told the world about their sacrifices and the bond that existed between the "Twenty Men."
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