RAF FIGHTER PILOTS OVER BURMA – Review by Mark Barnes

We are back, after a brief intermission, with a book from the Images of War series.

This one comes courtesy of the highly respected Norman Franks, who is as safe a pair of hands as I can think of.  We start in the disastrous days of the Japanese assault on Britain’s Far East colonies with a brief look at the wholly inadequate Brewster Buffalo which was both outclassed and outnumbered, exposing the abject failure of British defence policy in the region. We move on to Hurricanes which, surely, were the true workhorse of British air power in the Far East even with the coming of the tropical Spitfire, which adds glamour to later proceedings.

Aeroplanes can be just a combination of tin and bits if you don’t find them attractive. The cut and thrust of this book is to show the men who flew them and with an equal billing I find most welcome, the others who kept them flying. Their faces look out at us on hot sweaty days. We see how they lived and fought and meet some of the men who won the war for us. There are a few names I recognise here, but that is far from important, because they all count and seeing them together in this collection is really very pleasing.

I went to school in East London in the 1970s. My English teacher was a formidable presence by the name of Mr Prosser. He is the first and probably only person who told me I could write.  Don’t get the wrong image of the place; it wasn’t the scene of verdant lawns and lots of cricket. There was a day when dealing with a particularly unpleasant individual that Mr Prosser punched a hole in a partition wall narrowly missing the little scroat’s head.  He was one tough bastard! One day in an assembly he pulled a wings brevet out of his wallet and told us of his time flying Spitfires against the Japanese. His world was falling in around him. There were outwardly socialist teachers on the staff who appeared to loath him for who he was. He was surrounded by pupils who had no respect or care for his position. No one offered a hint of gratitude for his service and there he was teaching the likes of me. I can’t ever forget him. He described seeing films of captured pilots beheaded and gave us an impression of what it was like to come home to an ungrateful country absorbed with the European war and the race to rebuild after the Labour election landslide. He isn’t in this book in a literal sense, but he is in spirit.

This is an excellent photo album of some of the men who beat the Japanese. They did it in terrible conditions, were often outnumbered and outgunned; but they got on with it. There is no hint of a complicated concept here. What we have is a straightforward gallery of giants. The images were gathered over several decades, revealing a diverse and fascinating collection. The book gives you a great sense of pride in the men who fought this horrible war in the Far East. Like Mr Prosser they are not forgotten.

Review by Mark Barnes for War History Online

RAF FIGHTER PILOTS OVER BURMA
By Norman Franks
Pen & Sword Aviation
ISBN: 978 1 78337 614 8