Book Review: Aviator Heroes

book coverBook Review: Ireland’s Aviator Heroes of World War 11

John C. Hewitt

This is John C. Hewitt’s second volume recording the history of Ireland’s Aviator Heroes of World War 11 and it got off to a flying start when it was launched in Waterstones bookshop in Belfast.

The most senior air officer in Northern Ireland, Air Vice Marshall David Niven CB, CBE, introduced the book and the writer to an audience of distinguished men and women in the world of aviation. He complimented John Hewitt on his meticulous research over 40 years and pointed out that the men featured were all volunteers as there was no conscription in the North of Ireland. As a result, many young men came from the Republic of Ireland to join up because they didn’t like what was happening on the world stage.

He concluded, “This is a remarkable record for future generations telling them of their forefathers brave service in World War Two.”

Entries are short in some cases because the subject didn’t survive the war, others did and were willing to sit down and confide their experiences.

This fine book features the youngest ever Wing Commander Brendan ‘Paddy” Finucane DSO.DFC. on the cover, and inside there are hundreds of profiles, each one a little piece of personal history.

Men like Squadron Leader Dudley Farquhar Allen born in Dublin, a commercial traveller before joining the RAF Volunteer Reserve. He was awarded three of the nation’s highest awards for bravery including the day in September 1940 when, despite his own injuries when his aircraft crashed, he scrambled free only to returned to the burning plane and pulled three unconscious crew from the wreckage. Sadly they later died from their injuries. Right Reverend Monsignor Group Captain Henry Beauchamp, educated in the Franciscan Brother’s school at Clara, was Royal Air Force Chaplain until 1948. Born in County Laois he saw service in both wars and in 1917 was awarded the Military Cross for bravery under fire. His story is full of determination and humour.

As John Hewitt pointed out, the greats are written about all the time, the men he researched and met were kind and unassuming, ‘ordinary’ modest pilots and crew from north and south.

“There was no doubt,” he said, “Operation Plan Green, the mastermind of Hitler to invade Ireland and so use it as a back door into the UK, was foiled thanks to the dedication to these young men who were little more than school boys.”

Volume One began it’s career in 1980 when this historian began making notes graduating from two fingers on a manual typewriter to computer and a devotion to continuing the stories with Volume Two and there are more to come.

It’s a passion going back many years.
As a nine year old John would mitch school to cycle to Nutts Corner just to watch the planes or take a bus to Sydenham to watch them roll out of the hangers at Shorts. He joined the Air Training Corp at 13 and set his heart on going the RAF but because of his mother’s ill health instead spent 32 years based at Aldergrove as a British Airways aircraft engineer working on hundreds of planes including Concorde. When he took redundancy to concentrate on his first book he was advised to take care of the legacy he was documenting: “These boys are sitting on your shoulder watching you.”

John C Hewitt is dedicated to his writing but he also has a story, loved dancing and can rhythm off all the ballrooms in Belfast in the 60s and 70s, he played snooker with Alex ‘Hurricane’ Higgins in the Jam Pot off Donegall Road when Higgins had to carry an old wooden Guinness box to stand on. “He’d challenge us for a shilling then he’d let you beat him. It would be double or quits and that would go on till about 10/- was in the pot and of course he won. But he was a lovely fella. He used a brush shaft tapered and chalked at the end.”

From Tipperary to Richhill, from Donaghadee to Islandmagee, photographs, unique log book entries and meticulous research, John Hewitt has made history in more ways than one.

By Anne Hailes

Ireland’s Aviator Heroes
Mercer Press £25

Post Author: Belfast Times

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