John French had a long RAF career. He learnt to fly just before the Second World War and was called into the RAF voluntary reserve within a few days of the outbreak of the fighting. He remained on active operations well into 1944 before being promoted into an office role, initially in Coastal Command training and then in the accident prevention branch. Most of his wartime flying was in seaplanes, operating over northern seas from bases in Shetland, and he spent some time in northern Russia as well as visiting Spitsbergen. He was involved in the long campaign against the Tirpitz and sank U601. After the war he served as an air attaché in Poland, so we see the early years of the Cold War from the other side of the Iron Curtain.
This book had a somewhat lengthy genesis. French produced extensive notes with publication in mind, even writing an introduction in 1980. The book wasn't published in his lifetime, and it was his grandson Anthony Dyer who completed the process, doing some minor editing and adding photographs from his grandfather's collection. Dyer has done an excellent job and the result is a very readable autobiography.
Early on French talks about his enthusiasm for photography, and we do get some interesting and previously unseen photographs from his collection, including some pre-war photos of seaplanes taken from the author's boat.
This is a fascinating read, looking at one of the longest and hardest campaigns of the Second World War, fought over icy oceans in the far north. We also get a look at the pre-war RAF, the early wartime expansion when the author was used as an instructor, the post-war RAF and the early stages of the Cold War.
1 - How it all started
2 - Learning to Fly - Northolt
3 - Hullavington - Jurby - Upavon (CFS)
4 - Instructing - Little Rissington and South Cerney
5 - Aerobatics, small fields, low flying and more South Cerney
6 - Squires Gate, Gibraltar and Invergordon
7 - Shetland - anti-submarine patrols
8 - Spitsbergen and North Russia
9 - Winter 1943-44
10 - Operations in 1944
11 - Flying a desk
12 - Paris and Poland
13 - Poland - Some reminders of the War and Faith
14 - Poland - The Air Force Scene
15 - USSR Revisited 1955-1956
16 - Off to Norway - Svalbard revisited - RAF (Retired)
17 - Civil Servant - The World of Customs and Beyond
Author: John French OBE DFC AFC AE
Editor: Anthony Dyer
Publisher: Pen & Sword Aviation