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The very definition of `Duty!'
on 19 February 2014
Denis Barnham enjoyed a passion for flying and art and, prior to WW2, was already proficient at both. Joining the RAF at the outbreak of hostilities, he was an experienced combat pilot by the time his squadron was posted to Malta in 1942. For whatever reason, he decided to diarise his time in Malta - having never done so before or since. A diary is, of course, a private and personal thing where one is always honest - to oneself. This document, however, was to become brutally so as this gentle man went through - and survived, what he described as "Ten weeks of Terror." It was at least that!
After the war, he never flew again and it was not until 1956 that he transformed that diary into a book in which all his personal and private thoughts were laid bare. Now republished, the final product is as fiercely candid as the original diary and gives a very robust, pure and unadulterated look into the thoughts of those who face danger as they operate weapons of war on a daily basis. All the fears and hopes are included - as is the daily expectation of invasion.
Malta occupied the most strategic position in the central Mediterranean and, therefore, became the key to success or failure in North Africa. With almost the entire northern coastline of the Med' occupied by Axis forces, coupled with the relatively short distances across to North Africa, the role of the RAF in Malta became pivotal. In addition to those aircraft tasked to protect what few bombers existed, others went in search of enemy ships whilst yet more defended the country from onslaught after onslaught by overwhelming numbers of enemy aircraft. By comparison to the Greater London area, the Maltese capital of Valletta complete with its extensive harbour complex is a much smaller target. Add to that simple fact that the more famous London Blitz lasted for 57 days and the Blitz on Malta continued for 157 days and it was into this maelstrom of military mayhem that the newly married 22-year-old Denis Barham arrived for duty.
By cleverly combining his diary entries with his own sketches made at the time - including anything from portraits, scenes, crashed aircraft and relaxing pilots, we are treated to the most illuminating insight into the sheer hell which was his lot at that time. By highlighting his own private thoughts, fears and experiences in such a manner, he manages to relate the absolute horror of war from different perspectives. He does not seek to portray himself as anything other than an ordinary man with flying skills who continued to do his duty - almost in spite of his own personal demons. In so doing he provides an account which is the very definition of Duty.
This is Denis Barnham's story and, for that very reason, we must overlook whatever inaccuracies may exist - such as wrong names or failing to mention someone important at the time. It is not about them! There are also instances when the grammar might be improved - but when the Devil walks through your front door you do not check to see if his boots are clean!
Denis Barnham never truly recovered from the changes brought about by his experiences of Malta and he died in 1981. This edition has been produced by his ever-loving wife Diana who provides one of the most moving Forewords it has ever been my privilege to read. All servicemen and especially former servicemen deserve to find someone like that!