Wednesday, April 21, 2021

21. The Dam Busters by Paul Brickhill

When I found this book in the bookbox in Little Italy, the back cover was missing and the front cover was almost ripped off.  Normally, that is too damaged for me to take, but this was a beautiful 1954 Pan edition with a really nice illustrated cover.  I'm glad I read it but I don't know if I will keep it.  Ethical and archival considerations come into play.I believe it is something of a classic, at least was quite popular when it was released not long after the war ended.  It's the straight-ahead story of the pilots and leaders of the 617 Squadron, a specialized super-heavy and accurate bomber team.  It has the best portrayal of British humble pluck and some pretty exciting bombing runs.  It is told in a documentary style, but the action scenes are none the less thrilling.  I have to admit that I didn't quite understand how the targetting was done by the lead planes, as there was some jargon and terms that were perhaps more widely used right after the war.  It is always crazy to me the men who flew in WWII.  They would fly a plane 10 hours just to get to a bombing run!  Think how hard that would be.

The cast of characters get a bit confusing but the ones that are highlighted are quite compelling.   He pays particular attention to Wing Commander Cheshire, a true eccentric of the British income-less landed gentry.  Brickhill seems to have known and talked with many of the people in the story and he fills it out with many little anecdotes and asides about their characters. 

There is one disturbing element in this book.  It smacks you in the face a few chapters in.  The squad leader's dog is named the n-word!  Just seeing it once is really shocking, bringing the entire good guy narrative into perspective.  You suddenly see that these personable lads are also the elites of a destructive, rapacious empire whose racism is so deep that they would name their dog the perjorative term for a peoplel they had subjugated.  There is a whole little sub-plot with the dog and the name comes up several times.  And spoiler alert, the dog is hit by a car and is killed just before the first big flight.  Reading that chapter created a real conflicting mix of emotions in me.  Imagine being a nerd of colour and reading this book and stumbling onto that word.  

So I'm left conflicted.  The book is too beat up for my library and I don't think I want it in there anyhow.  Do I repair the front cover and pass it on or should it be removed from circulation because of the use of that word and maybe it is just at the end of its life?


Nelson Sauvin said...

Pass it on. Knowing about the dog's name is necessary for understanding one of the scenes in the original BBC The Office and the movie of The Dam Busters was one of the templates for Star Wars.

OlmanFeelyus said...

Great to know! I vaguely remember the joke about the dog, but going to have to research to find the specifics. I haven't seen the movie but that makes a lot of sense.