Reviewing this book harshly seems a bit tight as it was written for domestic consumption in the middle of the war. I am sure it served its purpose but inevitably it is now compared to the contemporary account written by Cheshire's rear gunner Richard Rivaz. The Rivaz book is still a compelling account whereas this book often seems tired and dated. It is however still a fascinating insight into Cheshire's early thinking which is of great significence given the icon he was to become. Cheshire the young Pilot Officer was probably a very different person from the Group Captain and post war philanthropist. However the mature Cheshire does come through in this book, albeit discreetly. Too much of this short account is written as a general description of life in Bomber Command. This may have been interesting in 1943 but most readers nowadays will find this part of the book somewhat stall. It comes to life when he writes of missions and comes close to matching the tension and immediacy of the Rivaz book. Whilst Rivaz takes a fatalistic approach to the death of friends and colleagues there is a sense that death hits Cheshire much harder but this is frustratingly never articulated. If you are interested in Leonard Cheshire or contemporary accounts of Bomber Command this is worth reading. If not there are better books out there.
I read Bomber Pilot many years ago whilst at school in the mid 1950s. At the time it was one of the very few accounts of the bomber war available. Re-reading it all these years later, it is very disappointing. Written by Cheshire in 1943,the dead hand of wartime censorship is all over the book. For anyone wishing to read anything other than an anodyne account of the early years of the bomber war, this book is not for you. It is painfully obvious on reading 'Bomber Pilot' that the 'Butt Report' told the unvarnished truth. The efforts of the aircrews of Bomber Command to find, let alone bomb their targets were truly lamentable. This fact, intentionally or not, is made plain in Cheshire's narrative. At this early stage, having been told of the target for the night,aircrews individually planned and flew their operations, choosing their route to and from target, even time of attack, with none of the highly organised planning that was to come with the introduction of the bomber stream. Pilot Officer Cheshire writes of flying round and round, often at very low level, searching for signs of the target sometimes for up to an hour, before bombing who knows what, or where. Cheshire at this time flew the twin engined Whitley bomber, which was fortunately a forgiving aircraft, considering some of his flying habits at that early stage of his career. One curious tactic he writes of, is deliberately flying into searchlights at low level, on the principal that their position was also an indicator of the position of the target! All this would pay off in spectacular fashion later on when Cheshire developed and used his techniques of ultra low level target marking, which resulted in some of the most successful and accurate bombing operations ever carried out by the Bomber Command of 1944/1945. But that was all in the future. For most of the book encounters with enemy defences are barely mentioned, and it is not until the final third of the book that this changes, and losses among his fellow aircrew comrades inexorably begin to mount. The final chapter ends with a short passage about Cheshire's participation in the 1000 bomber raid on Cologne. And then; in an epilogue, comes another pointer to the possibility of 'official interference' with the writing of the book. As was common practice with British films at this stage of the war, when the outcome was far from certain, the book ends on a highly positive note of almost propaganda proportions. One can just imagine the gentleman from the Ministry of Information handing him a typewritten sheet and saying, 'just pop that on the end, and you can publish'.
One ends up with the impression that there was so much more we could have been told, but in mid 1943 only so little, and even then, censored to anonymity was permissable.
I believe 'Cheshire V.C.' by Russell Braddon is still available. It is the book that really tells the story of Cheshire's war.