The American author Philip Kaplan is right at home with the Battle of Britain and his writing appeals to me very much. He brings a warmth to it like many Anglophiles appear to do and he has become immersed in it. This latest work finds him retracing the life not of an Englishman, but of the South African Adolph Malan, one of the conflict’s greatest leaders and aces. Even as the battle unfolded, Malan exuded a power, a hold on others, through his no nonsense leadership, his will and his strength. He liked to shoot down and kill Germans, but just as much he liked to send their bombers home with crew members dead and the pilot shot to bits, his body oozing life so they would get the message loud and clear – DON’T COME BACK.
This is no rosy soft filter look at a brutal battle. People die and burn. They crash and break. Here today and gone tomorrow. It was gallant but it wasn’t pretty. What I really like is the bigger picture, the use of poetry and the words of the immortal Ernie Pyle to put us in a place as my home town burns. I can picture the spots I know so well in another time and here the stories my parents told of a London on fire. In many respects this is a very modern and slightly unconventional biography, not one just of dates and places – but a spirit of the times. It is immensely rewarding and goes deep into the age. There are bonuses – one chapter takes us to the making of the movie Battle of Britain where Robert Shaw was a virtual Sailor Malan in all but name. It all rings true, and I can see myself in my seat at the Dominion Tottenham Court Road being told off for talking through the first half with my primary school mate Chris Scoggins… whatever happened to him? I still have the souvenir programme.
But the biggest bonus is Sailor himself, the hero who went home to a country about to be at war with itself as his distant relative Daniel Malan set it on route to Apartheid, a step the fighter ace could not stomach. He had fought fascism abroad, he could and would not see it at home – or so he hoped. And so he joined the Torch Commando a political organisation seeking to halt the rise of Apartheid and maintain equality. It failed. The rest is history. Adolph Gysbert Malan DSO & Bar, DFC & Bar died of Parkinson’s disease on the 17th of September, 1963. With the world focused on the dignity of Nelson Mandela in these his twilight days, it is good to record the life of Sailor Malan, the farmer who went to sea and became a fighter ace. You could argue he spent his life fighting oppression and what a great man he was. I have no idea how strong his memory is held in the modern South Africa, but in the pantheon of the Royal Air Force he remains supreme. This wonderful book evokes the memory of him and many of his contemporaries. Philip Kaplan scores again.
Battle of Britain Legend: ADOLPH MALAN
By Philip Kaplan
Published by Pen & Sword Aviation £19.99