by Flight Lieutenant Jack Rae, DFC and Bar
Published by Grubb Street London (New Zealand distributor: Forrester Books), Price $59.95
Reviewed by Jack Wright.
Much has been written about the 1939-45 war in the air. This is a thrilling and entrancing account of his experience by Jack Rae. It’s timely, written some 60 years after the events recorded, his only aid to memory being his flying log book.
Jack Rae must rank high in any list of World War II New Zealand flying aces with 11 enemy aircraft shot down. This book is his personal narrative.
He begins in 1939 when the world was much simpler and with a real sense of adventure applied to join the RNZAF. After some delays he was accepted, trained in New Zealand graduating as a Sergeant Pilot. He travelled to the UK for further training and conversion to Spitfires, operational training, then operational flying in Europe and later on the beleaguered island of Malta. Returning to England to an Instructor’s Course until operations again before being shot down, captured and imprisoned in Stalag Luft III.
His first posting was to 485 (NZ) Squadron, RAF where he flew with many well-known Spitfire pilots. His sheer pleasure of flying a Spitfire is evident - the anticipation at briefing, the exhilaration at becoming airborne, the response to combat and the relief at returning are all recounted in a crisp anecdotal manner. "Into the cauldron" is how he explains the Malta experience - one shared with many well-known courageous fighter pilots.
Jack Rae’s recollections of being shot down, captured and being transferred to a prisoner of war camp are vividly remembered. He narrowly missed participating in the "Great Escape" about which much has been written. As the war entered its closing phase he was one of many thousands who endured the march across Europe, ahead of the advancing Russian Army, in the bitter winter weather - and survived.
This book will bring back memories to former aircrew - of training, squadron life and for some, a POW experience. Well told, without fuss or ‘line shooting’ this is one young man’s account, shared by many other young men - and sadly by many who did not return. A thoroughly enjoyable narrative, and a worthy addition to any air history library.