NO PARACHUTE – Review by Mark Barnes

Arthur Gould Lee
Grub Street
ISBN: 978 1 90916 604 2

Review by Mark Barnes for War History Online

Arthur Gould Lee had a distinguished career in the Royal Air Force and retired holding the rank of Air Vice Marshal in 1946. It wasn’t until the 1960s that he chose to put his Great War experiences on paper. It was a time when broadsides in the interpretation of the war were flying about from all sides of the argument and having people who were actually there telling their own stories were incredibly welcome. This excellent book remains a copper plated gem and has stood the test of time with gusto.

The author had a solid war and was never afraid to stand up for what he thought was right. He was a good pilot and a safe pair of hands. Like so many of his contemporaries he took no pleasure from killing Germans, especially watching them fall in flames. From a half century after events and thanks to a career in senior roles he was able to identify the shortcomings of RFC leadership and the supply of good quality aircraft. He had a particular thing about parachutes.

This is a very serious book. It takes the form of the letters the author wrote to his young wife and there are odd occasions when he leaves out descriptions of adventures away from flying that I would like to have seen included. It is annotated with details of comrades lost in combat which are very poignant in their own way. A brief account of the later careers of some of his surviving chums appears in the appendices. Make no mistake; what we have here is a classic which gives a genuinely warm and detailed look at the life of a pilot on a typical fighter squadron during the violent days following Bloody April and into the last year of the war. We meet many characters, some with short time on this Earth and others who went on to greatness in another war. It’s got the lot.

Thanks to recent comments from the education minister and others there have been increasingly angry mutterings about the value and accuracy of Blackadder Goes Forth. The oft presented (and perhaps misrepresented) notion that a satirical comedy drama could be interpreted as accurate history makes me spit but I’ve got to be honest, when I first started reading this book I had the daft idea it would make a great talking book narrated by Hugh Laurie’s character Lieutenant George. But as I progressed the incongruity of the idea became more and more apparent. If you get to know this book you might see how ever I got to this point. Silliness aside, once I got to grips with it, I was hooked.

~Mark Barnes

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.