The Crew – Review by Mark Barnes

There have been many great books devoted to the life of RAF Bomber Command in World War II and finding a device to cover what could easily be deemed well-worn ground is not an easy one.

This excellent book by David Price threads the career of a single bomber crew through the dramatic events they witnessed.

Go to Green Park in London and look at the magnificent memorial to Bomber Command. The statue of seven crew members are grouped together in a state of collective relief after another long sortie over the Reich.

Old beyond their years, they stand as totems for the fifty-five thousand who died and the thousands more who have passed away since. Ken Cook, the principal figure in this book was there for the unveiling.

I can’t put thoughts in his head, but I like to think he might have experienced a degree of vindication. Glorious as it is, the memorial was built decades too late for far too many of them and I have never considered this anything less than insulting.

The politicians who washed their hands of the bomber crews after they had done their bidding are beneath contempt in my eyes.

We have to thank the late Robin Gibb and others for all their efforts to have the memorial built.

Lancaster bomber
Lancaster over Hamburg.

David Price deals with the unsatisfactory present at the end of his book but the meat and drink of it takes us back to the endless procession of bombing raids carried out by Ken Cook and his comrades flying in Lancasters captained by Jim Comans, a somewhat aloof Australian who brought a calmness to an otherwise crazy existence.

We follow the Comans crew from their first tentative steps towards forging a unit right up until their final combat mission. By then they had become elite pathfinders who achieved a strong degree of precision in what they were doing.

Comans wanted to do thing properly and would not flinch from the tasks presented to him and his crew. He does not come across as likeable, but he was there to get the job done and in this he was most successful.

Our man Ken Cook seems much more affable, but this book offers little in the way of light relief as casualties mount.

A graphic line-up of all the personnel required to keep one Avro Lancaster of RAF Bomber Command flying on operations, taken at Scampton, Lincolnshire.
A graphic line-up of all the personnel required to keep one Avro Lancaster of RAF Bomber Command flying on operations, taken at Scampton, Lincolnshire.

The author takes us through the grinding tension of the bomber crew’s tour of operations. Raids are described in detail, punctuated by the brief appearances of men and machines that did not survive the war.

We gain some idea of just how frightening the experience could be as the heavies lumbered across the skies of Germany and occupied Europe.

I’ve read a fair number of bomber books but still don’t know how I’d react to seeing comrades’ aircraft blowing up or going down in flames. I don’t know what I’d feel about unleashing untold destruction on the cities below.

I have a strong admiration for the German nightfighter crews who took on the bombers and it is right to do so, because they had a courage of their own which shouldn’t be ignored. But the Bomber Boys, for me, retain something special I find it difficult to define.

Cpl Phil Major ABIPP/MOD
Cpl Phil Major ABIPP/MOD

They fought a largely thankless war of attrition. We cannot dress up the job they had to do, but I won’t be drawn into handwringing over it. Dresden is in the news at the time of writing and arguments against the morality of the bomber war will linger on and I get a lot of them and admire the dissenting voices of the time.

But; here is my but: launching a war of genocidal conquest on your neighbours has to have consequences. While that doesn’t give the bomber strategists a free pass, I won’t beat them with a stick for what they achieved.

My ire is towards the politicians who turned their backs on the bomber men afterwards, and yet we continue to venerate some of them.

Lancaster pilot at the controls, left, flight engineer at right
Lancaster pilot at the controls, left, flight engineer at right

This is book is an excellent read written with knowledge and passion. The story of the Comans crew is enthralling.

Somewhat curiously, I did not find myself becoming attached to the men involved, although admiration and total respect were far easier to conjure.

Perhaps this is because the bonds between our chosen crew of seven were based more on professionalism rather than them being best buds. They flew and fought together but did not hang out together.

This tends to fly in the face of war film derived imagery of trouser-less chaps in the mess careering down flights of stairs riding on silver trays while balancing pints of beer on their heads.

Hi jinx and bonhomie were a big part of things, especially as a type of stress relief, but there was a job to do and it was all very serious stuff. David Price reveals the grim reality of a here today, gone tomorrow nightly war of fortitude.

Stug III – Review by Mark Barnes

Sometimes funny, perennially tragic and often terrifying, it will make you wonder if you could have done what those men had to do. I’m not sure I could and, thankfully, I won’t ever have to try.

Reviewed by Mark Barnes for War History Online

Book cover
Book cover

The Story of a Lancaster Bomber Crew
By David Price
Head of Zeuss
ISBN: 9781789542707

Mark Barnes

Mark Barnes is a longstanding friend of WHO, providing features, photography and reviews. He has contributed to The Times of London and other publications. He is the author of The Liberation of Europe (pub 2016) and If War Should Come due later in 2020.