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A fine account of an unassuming Aussie airman at war
on 15 September 2011
The terrible ordeal of it's 1943 - 1944 offensive over Germany has been referred to as RAF Bomber Command's Passchendael.
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