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4.9 out of 5 stars
507
First Light (Penguin World War II Collection)
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on 20 October 2016
In my opinion this is the greatest memoir to come out of the Second World War. At the outbreak of War Geoffrey 'Boy' Willum was 18. He fought thought-out the battle of Britain. Protected convoys into Malta and somehow managed to survive the war. And yet he barely describes a single dogfight in this wonderful book. his is an intensely moving story brilliantly told.

It's to a few very young men, like Geoffrey Willum, that Britain and the whole of Europe owes it's freedom. Indeed there is an argument to be made that with Britain defeated Hitler would have been able to turn all his forces against an unsupported Soviet Union. Once Russia was out of the picture Germany would have been free to develop the atomic bomb and long range rockets earlier. Both of which could have threatened the USA long before they had developed the A bomb to protect themselves.
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VINE VOICEon 13 May 2016
Both during and after reading this book, the thoughts of the author after yet again engaging the enemy in another combat mission, kept running through my mind.

"How many will remember or give a thought to, apart from the next of kin, of course, in 20 years time, or 20 months, for that matter, the battles going on over their heads at this moment?"

On Page 188 of the paperback version the writer ponders if people will remember the experiences of himself and his fellow pilots, or just take for granted the fact that German storm-troopers were not parading up and down The Mall or changing the Guard at Buckingham Palace.

He wonders, as he goes into combat again, if the popularity of the RAF pilots will fade and if it will be convenient for future generations to forget in days to come.

Geoffrey 'Boy' Wellum takes the reader through his latter day experiences at school and then as an applicant for the Royal Air Force at the age of 17 years. The RAF entry procedure, the various aspects of training and eventual progression to a RAF fighter squadron are all covered in great detail.

This detail continues apace as Wellum's front line experiences at the age of 19 years, in 92 Squadron of the Royal Air Force, hold the reader's attention on every page. You share the loss as so many of his friends and colleagues are there one day and gone the next.

It has become a cliché that a book is' hard to put down'. Indeed, in recent years few have held my attention in such a manner. That ended as soon as I began reading this exceptional personal account of a RAF fighter pilot's experiences during the Battle of Britain.

I became totally immersed in the combat experiences of Geoffrey Wellum and his colleagues. It almost felt as if you were there alongside him in the Spitfire.

His description of his own thoughts, feelings and the fears during combat illuminated the dog-fights better than any film that I've ever seen. The author manages to convey the atmosphere of almost "being there" better than any other I've read to date.

This is a remarkably honest, well written classic account and an absolute must-read for anyone interested in the Royal Air Force during the Battle Of Britain, and indeed the full context of Word War 2. Highly recommended.
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on 10 September 2015
This book is by far the best I’ve read on the Battle of Britain. Fluidly and without fuss, it covers all of its dimensions - personal, organizational, engineering, tactical, and strategic.
It's a personal story: a 17-year-old growing up; mastering the complexities of flying basic trainers; accepting the discipline of hard study; learning to fly and fight as part of a team of young men; dealing with the death of friends and with his own terror; learning the visual, physical, and mental skills that keep him alive in combat; falling in love; and finally physically burning out.
The book has other, complementary, dimensions.
It's a vivid and technical description of the terrors and challenges of learning to fly those 19030s/1940s piston-engined planes.
It's an insight into the (very British) bonds that held a team of pilots together and kept them fighting through death, disaster, and constant fear.
It's a historical record of the technicalities of flying and navigating those planes that culminates in a hymn to the glorious Spitfire – there’s a beautiful passage describing his return from combat, slipping alone high above the murk, the sky darkening as the sun dips below the horizon.
It's a testimony to the ground mechanics whose patience, hard work, and ingenuity kept the fighter planes flying through thick and thin.
It touches on the enormous and highly successful engineering effort at Supermarine and Rolls Royce as their engineers rushed to fix the Spitfire’s problems as revealed by the first battles, and gives insights into how the ground crew and pilots worked as part of that process.
It provides insights into minds of the German pilots flying at the limit of their range to fight an unexpectedly better organized and better equipped enemy.
And finally, it describes his sadness at surviving the great battle and realizing that his life will never again burn so bright.
Wonderful.
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on 26 January 2014
If you want to know what it was like to be a spitfire pilot in the Battle of Britain, then this is the book you need to read. The author was a public schoolboy that joined the RAF just before the outbreak of war. He signed up in the spring of 1939 and started training as soon as he finished school in July 1939.

The first third of the book is a very detailed account of his entry to the service and the flight training. Through this we get to know the author as a typical public schoolboy, he struggles with the academic side, but has no problems with the discipline and dealing with being in a service institution. Flying is clearly his passion, and is most of the focus of the book. Other than his struggles with the training matter, and the mental stress of combat flying and dealing with the progressive loss of his friends there is little else in the story.

There is no bigger picture, or even narrative of the wider progress of the war to put things in context. When he is rushed out of training and posted directly to an operational squadron (no.92) it is because the Germans have invaded France, however we're not directly told this. The closest he comes is when the rest of the squadron patrol over Dunkirk, losing many of the old hands including the CO Roger Bushell (who lead the Great Escape). If you didn't know how the war went then you could be baffled by some of this. Also, there is nothing about the Battle of Britain directly, other than accounts of some of his more notable sorties (the first, some where he has narrow escapes or shoots down or damages enemy aircraft).

That said, it is a very good first hand account of what it was like on a very personal level. The flights are very well described in some detail. It is clear that Geoffrey Wellum was deeply affected by his war experience and that being an operational fighter pilot represented the pinnacle for him. His tour as an instructor between operational tours is dispensed with in a couple of pages. The narrative between flights shows him moving from an enthusiastic schoolboy to a novice pilot and eventually to a mentally exhausted veteran.
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on 10 March 2016
Absolutely loved this book. Wellum is a true national hero and he weaves a wonderful true tale of simple courage interwoven with quintessential Britishness that brings tears to your eyes. New arrivals to the squadron are described as "a perfectly lovely chap", "rather than an odd sort", "splendid fellow". And as for being told by the RAF that with war clouds looming (1938) he could delay his arrival to the training squadron to finish the cricket season...I laughed out loud...and we still won the Battle of Britain.

I'm speaking English today and writing this review in English not German thanks to lovely blokes like Geoffrey Wellum. I cannot recommend this book enough, whether you are male or female it's a joyous read. And we all owe this guy (and his mates) a debt of gratitude.
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on 5 October 2017
This was a wonderful insight into the lives of the very young fighter pilots during WWII and brings home the difficulties they encountered at such a young age. It makes for fascinating reading. I have given four stars as I would have liked to have known a little more about Geoffrey Wellum's life after the war and if indeed he did marry his sweetheart Grace, & their life together if he did so. Also, being a female reader, and not au fait with the technical side of flying I found the descriptions of the dogfights etc., a little difficult to get through. However, having said that, I realize that the descriptions were necessary for the book. A wonderful man - to be admired along with his compatriots - many of whom never lived to tell the tale he has been able to tell us here. Excellent read.
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on 7 November 2015
I ordered this book after seeing Geoffrey Wellum on TV recently. My father worked on Spitfires during the war...so always of interest. However....once the book arrived my husband got hold of it before I did and is still reading... He got up this morning and I have never seen him so animated about a book! He had woken early and continued reading it....he was so engrossed he ignored me when I got out of bed, let the dog out, put the kettle on etc and he finally emerged from the bedroom ten minutes ago. He had been so enthralled ...he felt he was with Geoffrey, flying the plane down the coastline off Orford and the Deben...(our locality) trying to see the cockpit instruments and finally getting back to land safely!
I have just had an involved, excited review of the adventure! (No Spoiler alert!) Highly recommend this book! My turn to read it soon!
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on 15 November 2014
Excellent insight into the reality, success and massive pressure for Battle of Britain pilots. VERY highly recommended !

I read Squadron Leader Geoffrey Wellum's book 3 times. In fact it inspired me some years ago to learn to fly and get my PPL. His book is completely open, honest and witty. He reveals all the mistakes and challenges in his learning process and it certainly helped me when I questioned my own ability when learning to fly. It also prepared me for the elation of becoming a pilot and roaring off into a clear blue sky. Clearly he was an amazing and extremely brave pilot, especially having to learn so much, so quickly at such a young age. I am also amazed at what a great author he is. I really would love to meet him !

I think this book is essential for anyone who wants to fly and even for those who don't, it is excellent reading about some great personalities and their experiences.
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on 18 October 2017
Over the last few months I have read a massive amount of biographies / autobiographies from WWII pilots, mostly Battle of Britain....This book stands head & shoulders above any of them. The author somehow manages to make even his pilot training a edge of the seat experience for the reader. Not packed with technical details more his feelings as he progressed all the way up to joining his initial squadron and the consequent air battles over England & the channel. He manages to convey his passion, excitement, fear & dread, as well as deep feelings of depressive states as he goes through the loss of friends, and has the toll of up to seven sorties a day against overwhelming odds wears away his resolve and courage. What struck me most is his honesty, he opened up with all his feelings at a time when men believed that that your feelings should remain your own, and although a 'man's man' he could not help but talk about his experiences openly, his fears, his relationships with friends & family, and all with his heart firmly on his sleeve...A truly remarkable book, and the first that, for me, that really put me in the seat there with him every time he flew and like him I held a dread for that next 'scramble' trying not to think about it being my last...
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on 17 October 2012
First Light by Geoffrey Wellum.
This book will not appeal to everyone but if you have any interest whatsoever in the Second World War and what many brave young men did and the sacrifices that they made, then you must read this.
What is immediately evident is just how young some of these men were, indeed virtually boys. I look at my son at the age of 21 and it really brings home just how young many of them were.
This particular book is about a Spitfire pilot called Geoffrey Wellum who joined the RAF right from school. He knew what he wanted to do right from the start. He wanted to fly Spitfire's, the RAF's best fighter plane of the era.
Geoffrey Wellum takes you from the school gates to the seat of the pants action in the fight for the skies over Britain. His training is not straight forward and at times he sinks into the depths of depression fearing failure but after a few close calls he makes it through even with the loss of a close friend during night flying exercises. Indeed once he progresses to actually joining a squadron of Spitfires, he is thrown into the "deep end" and experiences his first flight in a real fighter plane. He has to go solo since there are no aircraft with twin seats. He does well until night flying when he has difficulty in landing and almost crashes, damaging a Spitfire. This is one of his lowest points but he soon recovers to fly as a proper fighter pilot with all its danger.
Follow Geoffrey Wellum as he progresses through his "on the edge of your seat" experiences when he finally fly's operational missions, defying death as he engages with the enemy, some of whom are already expert pilots.
Written some 60 years after the event, this book has a measured maturity that makes for compelling reading from a brave man that was actually there in the thick of it and lived to tell the tale.
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