Fitting tribute to young heroes
By Max Lambert
Harper Collins, $39.99
Reviewed by Roger Moroney
The thing that cuts into your mind when you read remarkable books like this is age.
The age of so many of the men who served their country during war.
Like a young Lancaster bomber pilot with 75 (NZ) Squadron by the name of Ron Clark who was just three weeks short of his 23rd birthday, and making his debut as second pilot before getting the nod to ﬂy with his own crew, who ended up scrambling for his life after the bomber was shot down by a German fighter.
But Clark was lucky.
He had been able to bale out as the aircraft began to come apart in ﬂames.
The aircraft’s bomb aimer, a lad by the name of Stephen Cook from Gore, was not so lucky and lost his life.
A young life . . . he was just 21.
It is a cruelly common and eventually familiar theme throughout this book which is the third in a series by writer and historian Max Lambert.
The earlier works, Night After Night (bombers) and Day After Day (fighters) were equally gripping and equally capable of making the reader stop to take stock of what they had just read.
Like the respect and honour accorded to a young man called Bob O’Kane who became good mates with a lad called Bruce Barton after they entered the RNZAF together.
They were in the same squadron and served on the same numerous operations.
And they died together after their Liberator bomber was shot down.
It crashed on O’Kane’s 23rd birthday and his body was the only one found – washed up on a beach near Brest in France.
Locals built a coffin and had him buried in the Poullan cemetery, and a little 5-year-old boy who witnessed the coffin being built and the burial never forgot it.
He wrote “In November every year, for many years, I went with my grandfather to the grave of this young airman who died for peace, far from his native country not even threatened by war. A small act to honour his sacrifice”.
This powerful and meticulously researched archive covers the final chapters of World War II.
The years of 1944 and 1945 as the allies edged toward victory.
A victory which took so many sacrifices, and which resulted in so many remarkable stories – which the author has captured.
The run-in to D-Day and the coastal squadrons which went in search of U-boats.
And the great airborne push into Arnhem which resulted in some terrible statistics.
Among the many names are a couple of Hawke’s Bay veterans – Noel Sutherland and Trevor Mullinder – with Mr Sutherland recalling the remarkable sights on D-Day.
“There were so many landing craft they churned up the sea, making it look like Cook Strait in a strong northwester.”
This was published to commemorate the 70th anniversary of D-Day on June 6 and it does that superbly.
The boys in the aircraft of war attained their victory, and Mr Lambert has attained his own victory in telling their stories so very well. And we are all the richer for it.
“This is a valuable book filled with valuable history about the deeds, and lives, of so many young men”
Photo caption – AIR MATES: Noel Sutherland (centre) at an aircrew reunion back in 1994. The others are (from left) Dave Bertram (Australia), Ian Nixon (Australia) and fellow Kiwis Colin Rouse and Reg Vincent. Mr Sutherland. now 93 is the only survivor.
Hawke’s Bay Today has a copy of Victory by Max Lambert to give away.
To be in to win, please e-mail competitions®hbtoday.co.nz with Victory in the subject line, or post your entries to:
Hawke’s Bay Today, PO Box 180, Hastings, with editorial and Victory on the back of the envelope.
Please include a daytime phone number. Entries close on June 9.
Close calls on raids recalled
By Roger Moroney
Noel Sutherland, who lives in Havelock North, has just started to read the book and said it captured the dramas, and challenges, of flying on bombing raids “very well”.
He said author Max Lambert called to see him about a year ago and was impressed that Mr Sutherland had his flight records and other valuable archive material in good shape. He also had a good memory of many events as he served flying Mitchells, Stirlings and Venturas.
There were a couple of “close calls” Mr Sutherland said, adding that he was lucky – “I had a little bird on my shoulder for luck and I’d talk to him … and he never answered me back,” he laughed.
On one occasion he was returning to base and there had been an air raid scare so all the landing lights were out.
“And one of the engines had half packed it in.”
So he lined up the best he could from what little he could make out below and then a series of lights went on.
He figured the base crew had turned on a strip of landing flares for him and aimed at them.
“I was just crossing the boundary line when I realised it was a line of aircraft being unloaded – their trip had been cancelled. “I had no time to think at all … I had to go left or right so I went left because that was the side the pilot sat on.”
He said he had no idea what lay below … grass or trees.
“Blow me down, I landed on a short runway and as soon as it hit I jammed the brakes on.”
He said he sat in the cockpit afterwards for about 10 minutes “just trying to get my wits together and my breath back”.
Mr Sutherland, who flew on D-Day, said he would join other Normandy Veterans Association members in Napier later this week to commemorate the 70th anniversary.