English Electric built a lot of Halifax bombers. Jack Wetherly flew one to Berlin in 1943 and didn’t come back. It was his second tour. He was a Croydon boy, so I like him all the more for reasons you don’t need, and he’d been in the RAF since 1936 and was an exceptional pilot. He was a stocky little bloke who everyone liked. He was calm, a sound leader and a good trainer of men. He was a professional, and, as the author points out; if he had survived, the post war air force would have been a happy home for him. But it was not to be. His grave and those of his crew is in Kiel.

This is the latest incarnation of a book about an everyman of Bomber Command who breezed through the rooms and years of a family who knew and loved him; who continue to embrace him all their lives long after he was killed. Christopher Jary has written a minor classic in its own way because it is a memorial, not just to Jack Wetherly, whose chunky smiling face grins out from the latest artwork style fetched up by the Pen & Sword art department, but to all 55,000 men who have only recently been honoured at Green Park by a grateful nation. Better late than never? They are getting a Clasp, too, for their Aircrew Europe medals, but not one of their own like they should have had in 1945. Don’t get me started on that.

The author’s father was a Normandy veteran who fought through to the end in 1945 and he felt a strong bond with Jack Wetherly. He married the pilot’s widow and kept his memory alive and it was as if he remained forever in home and hearth like the author had two fathers. I can’t help feeling what an incredibly loving and generous man the author’s father is. In actual fact there is so much love in this book it lifts you up and gives you an enormous boost. There is nothing to dislike, the writing is gentle and calm – it all eases along without hurry, you know where you are going; there is time enough to get you to the fateful night. But in between there is rich detail a plenty about Jack, his wife Peggy and their married life cut short. The author has done his research well, because, and here comes that word again; this is a labour of love.

I am pleased this “timely re-release” is updated and includes a visit by Christopher Jary and his daughter to Jack’s grave. It all makes sense. Bomber crew graves have something about them and the “Elegy for a rear gunner” never sounded so true than on a cold day in some far away place when the mist is hanging and the aircrew graves are way out of place among a flurry of army headstones or set out on their own. I do find that sad.  This is a lovely book. Pen & Sword can re-issue it as often as they like.

Mark Barnes

By Christopher Jary
Published in softback by Pen & Sword Aviation £12.99
ISBN: 978 1 78159 057 7

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.