Flight path by David Hill
Penguin Random House, 2017. ISBN 9780143770527
(Age: 14+) Recommended. Towards the end of World War II, in the weeks prior to the Allied invasion of Europe, a crew assembles to fly a mighty Lancaster bomber over Germany.
Eighteen year old Jack and some fellow New Zealanders are crewed with an Australian, a Pole and an English pilot and the reader is taken on their fearful journey from being assigned to a squadron to flying their first operations.
This is a first rate story comprising genuine characters behaving realistically under trying circumstances within a narrative framework based on excellent research. The military service of New Zealanders is seldom encountered in Australian literature beyond the World War I ANZAC experience and it is refreshing to read this historically accurate presentation.
Crews serving in the Royal Air Force's Bomber Command suffered appallingly with a 44 percent death rate from falling to enemy fighters, flak and flying accidents. Jack and his mates understand the importance of their service, especially in terms of destroying the launching pads for the V1 and V2 unmanned rockets or flying bombs which caused massive and indiscriminate casualties and destruction in British cities.
This is not a simplistic war story depicting heroes defeating an evil enemy however. The Allied crew members reveal complex perspectives concerning their role in the war. Stefan, the Polish co-pilot harbours a deep hatred for all Germans after his sisters were brutalised and his family murdered. Other airmen acknowledge that decent German people suffer similarly for opposing the regime. Jack, as the bomb aimer, is tormented in the knowledge that the bombs he drops will possibly kill innocent civilians including women and children. The author avoids allowing both the crew and the reader to have parochial blinkers by creating an unavoidable situation. Manning one of the Lancaster's machine guns, Jack defends the aircraft against an enemy fighter and must reconcile having personally killed the pilot beyond doubt. Other incidents in the book also carefully prompt consideration of the value of human life on a level which surpasses mere identification of which nation's uniform is worn.
Off duty moments are portrayed realistically with the crews being exhausted, anxious and bored and a romantic interest helps maintain an optimistic faith that life will return to normal in the near future.
This author is to be commended for writing a worthy story which understands and respects the heroic airmen who showed immense courage and fortitude flying in operations over Germany. Sadly their service was not acknowledged by the British Military to the degree that it ought to have been after the war.