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'Boy Racers with Brains'

Day after Day – New Zealanders in Fighter Command, by Max Lambert.

Published by HarperCollins Review: Bill Hopper Review: Pat Duggan June 2011

Day after day for the six years of World War 2 scores of young New Zealanders took to the skies over Britain and mainland Europe. They were flying many types of aircraft...Battles and Blenheims, Hurricanes and Spitfires, Typhoons and Tempests, Defiants and Mustangs. From all parts of the country and all walks of life, they travelled halfway round the world to join RAF Fighter Command’s strident battle with General Herman Goering’s much vaunted Luftwaffe.

As the Battle of Britain Hymn says, they had “… skill of hand and eye, and quick discerning mind ….” One hundred and thirty-five were members of Churchill’s ‘Few’, proud possessors of the Battle of Britain Clasp – 16 pilots and four air-gunners died.

But most were engaged in unrelenting airborne skirmishes with their German counterparts high above occupied Europe and the green hills of England.

Many, like Colin Gray, Alan Deere, Johnnie Checketts and the legendary ‘Cobber’ Kain, became household names, but Max Lambert in his second World War 2 aviation epic, Day after Day – New Zealanders in Fighter Command, has concentrated on telling the stories of many of those who are almost unknown to most New Zealanders.

As he says, “They all played their part in winning the war.” Bravery and courage seem words too trite to describe these youthful warriors of the sky; perhaps the author puts it better in calling them “boy racers with brains”. In combat they put their lives on the line and were resolute in showing contempt for danger. They were heroes, all.

In an absorbing narrative he follows the young colonial airmen’s successes and defeats across France, Britain, Dunkirk, D-Day, right through to the end. He takes the reader up into the skies with Wally Churches to “blow a fleeing Me109 to pieces over the Channel” and to witness two Defiants of 141 Squadron gunned down into the sea. Both Kiwi pilots John Kemp (25, Wellington) and Rudal Kidson (26, King Country) – their bodies never recovered – are commemorated among the thousands on the Air Forces Memorial at Runny mede.

Putting their precarious way of life and imminent possible death into perspective, Fighter Command survivor Tony Bartley is quoted: “From an hour before dawn to dusk we lived at our dispersal point…fought until we ran out of ammunition. At night we drank and played and made love like there was no hereafter…we lived for the present and dismissed our future… some came in the morning and were dead by nightfall.”

Max Lambert is to be congratulated, Day after Day is a wonderful tribute to the men of Fighter Command and the later 2 Tactical Air Force, to those 315 airmen who gave their lives and to those who survived. They were all magnificent men in their flying machines.



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