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on 23 November 2015
Factual or fictional, from the early 20's onwards an increasing number of books began to appear, written by veterans, expressing, well... "Disenchantment" (by C.E.Montague), a collection of newspaper articles published in 1922 is considered the first. Disenchantment with how the war was fought. Disenchantment with why the war was fought. Disenchantment with what was happening in the years after the war to end all wars, that rather inevitably gave rise to WWII.
Winged Victory was written in 1933. The author walked out of Colindale Hospital because he couldn't write there. One presumes that he was already afflicted by tuberculosis; a disease he inflicts on one of his characters; the tuberculosis that would sadly kill him before the end of the following year. The novel is semi-autobiographical; indeed a number of the pilots' name are those of real people, his comrades. Yeates finished the war an accredited fighter ace.
Where the book shines is in his depiction of squadron life, of flying and "jobs" i.e. combat missions, and of the war-weariness & frayed nerves that are part & parcel of extended tours of duty, particularly in that age when psychology was in its infancy & such phenomena were little understood. Where it dulls is in the over-extended philosophising that happens repeatedly, sometimes extendedly, and occasionally rather convolutedly. The books that can be put under the "Disenchatment" heading were largely ignored when they were originally published. To what extent that cynicism & strained nerves of the time might have become disillusionment over the intervening years is impossible to know now. Certainly, though, an awful lot of that shows through in the novel of 15 years later.
There is too much of that in the novel, which is the sole reason I don't give this 5*. The style is a peculiar mix of florid description and unliterary matter-of-factness; none the worse for that. If you want the shortest possible summing up, "Winged Victory" was the title the publisher insisted on. The author's choice was "Wingless Victor" - suitably bleak. It enjoyed a new popularity, unsurprisingly, in WWII. One of the blurb quotes on the 2004 paperback (the edition I own) from an unknown fighter pilot reads "The only book about flying that isn't flannel."
It is not an autobiography, never mind a history. But if you have more than a passing interest in WWI, and want to get the sense of how the war appeared to at least some of those serving, then this is well worth reading.