Into the Swarm...

...Stories of RAF Fighter Pilots in the Second World War,, new from Fonthill Media

Title: Into the Swarm
Author: Christopher Yeoman and Tor Idar Larsen

Publisher: Fonthill Media
ISBN: 978-1-78155-615-3

This is a new paperback edition for 2017 of a hardback book originally published back in 2013.  The two authors have been able to capture and therefore preserve the stories behind a selection of fighter pilots from WW2, and made a fascinating collection.  Each chapter tackles one individual, with the exception of the first, which provides the story of two brothers, the Woods-Scawens.  Both were successful pilots with victories to their names though sadly both were to be killed within days of each other, in separate circumstances. The stories of these veterans have been assembled from various sources, including letters and diaries as well as the memories of those who knew them.  Some survived the war, others did not.  Some were British, other Canadian, South African, Danish and Norwegian a good cross-section of the various nationalities that flew with the RAF in WW2.

A couple of things about the stories of a couple of the Norwegian pilots helped bring home to me the determination that young men had to fight for their homeland.  Finding themselves in an occupied country they chose to escape to Sweden and then travel all the way to the Far East to find a ship to get them to North America and on to a Norwegian Flying school in Canada.  It must have taken real determination to keep going.  The other thing that is explained is how different was the reaction to those veterans when they went home to Norway, quite different to that in the UK.

It relates how pilots had to wait to go into action, and then a sudden rush of adrenalin when they found themselves in combat.  They fought hard and often played hard as well.  Amidst the stories are interesting side aspects such as pilots flying alongside Squadron Leader Roger Bushell, whose involvement in POW escape attempts were made more famous for being the basis of the character Roger Bartlett, played by Richard Attenborough in the film 'The Great Escape'.  The chapter dealing with Butch Barton includes that he was flying Hurricanes alongside Flt Lt James Nicholson, who was the only RAF fighter pilot to be awarded the VC in WW2.  Then for fans of watching restored warbirds, read the chapter on Pat Lardner-Burke, who flew Spitfire MH434 in combat.  It is now based at Duxford, has appeared in a number of well known feature and was the aircraft so brilliantly displayed by Ray Hanna for so many years, and some of which I remember feeling privileged to have seen.  Interesting to read a bit more about the service history of the aircraft.

I found this an interesting set of personal stories.  Wartime pictures show aircraft while this is a useful reminder that any aircraft had a pilot/crew and their personal experiences are such a vital part of the history.