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A Spitfire Named Connie (Hardback)

Letters from a North Africa Ace – A Tale of Triumph and Tragedy

WWII Aviation Aviation in WWII Spitfires & Hurricanes North Africa in WWII Royal Air Force

By Air Mshl ‘Black’ Robertson
Imprint: Air World
Pages: 304
Illustrations: 71 images in two plate sections
ISBN: 9781399099035
Published: 12th April 2022



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A Spitfire Named Connie is an exciting, rollercoaster of a story. A prequel to Fighters in the Blood, it tells how ‘Robbie’ Robertson begins his RAF training during the Battle of Britain and the Blitz. As he learns his trade, he is soon rubbing shoulders with Fighter Command heroes, amongst them Brian Kingcome, ‘Ginger’ Lacey and Bob Stanford Tuck.

Moving from 111 to 72 Squadron, he opens his account against the Luftwaffe in the spring of 1942. Six months later, as he adds further to his score, the action moves to the skies over North Africa. It is there that tragedy strikes. Wounded and shot down by one of the Luftwaffe’s most celebrated Experten, his Spitfire crashes to the ground.

Found lying near the wreckage by an army patrol, Robbie is moved from casualty clearing stations to hospitals across Tunisia and Algeria as doctors try desperately to save his sight. Finally, unable to stand the pain any longer, he reluctantly agrees to the removal of his right eye. A slow recovery and eventual return to the UK is no compensation for the end of his flying career.

Desk-bound for the remainder of the war, the second and more poignant period of his RAF life begins. The young schoolgirl, Connie Freeman, with whom he has been in regular correspondence since her evacuation, becomes his wife.

It is literally hundreds of Robbie’s letters that form the basis of this powerful, moving and emotional story. Together with his own and Connie’s diaries, correspondence from RAF colleagues and his flying logbook, they bring a unique authenticity to this highly-charged tale.

A Spitfire Named Connie reads like a novel, filled with excitement, pathos and compassion. Yet, incredible as it may seem, almost every word is true.

Air Marshal Black Robertson’s second book entitled A Spitfire Named Connie, is more than just a collection of letters it is the embodiment of wartime and lasting love seen through the eyes of a young aspiring fighter pilot and a beautiful and athletic young girl, named Connie. It is a story of hardship, combat flying, recuperation, and hope that a war that engulfed the world would end soon so that they can live life to the fullest and raise a family. Black’s first book, Fighters in the Blood was an outstanding tribute not only to Black’s father but also to Black’s own eventful and very successful RAF career. This book focuses on his father’s experiences from flying training through to his shoot down, his medical rehabilitation, and his subsequent ground tours till the end of the war.

There are 31 chapters to this book which is not atypical of memoirs especially when composed of hundreds of letters and background information. The chapters are based on the dates of these letters or significant events in Robbie’s life. The book is organised in a back and forth format with an alternating format beginning with a chapter on his shoot down which led to subsequent long period of recovery and then back to the past describing his training and experiences up to his fateful day in North Africa on 72 Sqn. Incidentally, it appears that Robbie was the 47th victory for a legendary German ace named Erich Rudorffer in a Me 109G. Before that there are amazing and vivid accounts of his flying training and his initial posting to 111 Sqn. The legendary Brian Kingcombe features prominently as well leading missions over occupied France and Robbie flying on these missions with him. The competing desires of flying a Spitfire and serving the nation against any opportunity to meet with Connie and spend time away from the war feature prominently in the letters. After Robbie’s downing which necessitated the removal of his right eye he is posted to a series of ground assignments for example to inspect local Air Training Corps events such as glider training and inspections. After the war he returns to the same sector of business he was in before the war and spends the next 56 years with Connie.

Most of the chapters begin with a narrative and then go into the actual letters between ‘Robbie’ Robertson and Connie. It is a unique and intriguing format that you don’t see often in military history books. There are two photo sections with well produced black and white photos from the period. And they really enhance the story through the connection of names to faces. There are extracts of Robbie’s logbook at the end along with a short list of acronym explanations and a useful index. And even more touching is a beautifully composed epilogue that only a son who loved his father could write. The last line of the book really sums up the emotions I felt as I read this book while thinking of my own father and the love I still have for him even 17 years after his passing, “To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die.” This is a book that I cannot recommend more highly to anyone with an interest in Spitfire operations over the Western Desert, wartime romance, and above all, a story of devotion to one’s nation and to one’s love.

Todd Shugart - Aviation News

A fabulous account of wartime romance and service
5.0 out of 5 stars

In presenting this highly personal account of his parents’ blossoming relationship set against the backdrop of the Second World War, Air Marshal ‘Black’ Robertson has curated an astonishing collection of primary source material to which his expert fighter pilot eye has added professional accuracy and, as their son, filial colour to the narrative.

The principal source material contained in this absorbing account of a fledgling romance between the young RAF pilot Robbie Robertson and his girlfriend Connie (not to mention the Spitfire which bore her name) is the collection of hundreds of letters Robbie sent to Connie during the course of the War, and which she carefully preserved. Connie’s letters have been lost to history, but it is possible to infer her thoughts by the responses Robbie provides in his own correspondence.

‘A Spitfire Named Connie’ charts the odyssey navigated by the aspirant pilot waiting frustratedly for his call-up as the phoney war gave way to the full, awful reality in 1940, through his pilot training and into combat – first in the skies of Northwest Europe and later over North Africa. To the modern reader’s eye, the correspondence may seem rather reserved, but only slightly below the surface-level upbeat tenor of Robbie’s letters is an increasing level of anxiety as excitement gives way to the realities of war and his exposure to all of human nature’s triumphs and failings – including those exhibited by his various leaders. For Robbie, it is a passage from civilian innocence to one of hardened warrior, a journey on which Connie spiritually accompanies him despite, for much of the War, being physically separated. The catastrophic context of conflict in which their courtship blossomed must surely have been the catalyst for building the granite-like relationship they would share for the remainder of their lives. But such an outcome did not seem a foregone conclusion at first – in their early exchanges, Robbie seems to have taken a degree of delight in regaling Connie with tales of his flirtations with an impressive cast of young ladies. It isn’t absolutely clear whether this was a tactic designed to strengthen Connie’s enthusiasm, or simply plain old-fashioned showing off. Either way, Connie and Robbie clearly hit it off and the tone of the correspondence changes as Robbie, himself not young for a fighter pilot when judged against his peers, matures as the reality of combat and the loss of cherished colleagues hits home.

The boyish enthusiasm which is the hallmark of Robbie’s early wartime correspondence gives way to something more profound as his experiences force his psyche to adapt. His ultimate fate as a fighter pilot, sealed in the desert skies of North Africa leaves him severely wounded. All that he had sought to be – a fighter pilot – had come to brutal end, but one that had at least spared his life. Blinded in one eye, his war was at an end as an active participant, and although he clearly mourned the loss of his erstwhile comrades who met a worse fate than his, he was thankful and pragmatic enough to grasp with both hands the precious second major mission of his life – that of being a husband to Connie and father to his two sons.

This book is more than a collection of wartime correspondence between two young people caught in the maelstrom. Owing to the meticulous research conducted by the author, the threads of the story are tightly woven together, unearthing both British and German official records that substantiate and explain many of the stories related therein. Within those tales, we meet a cast a wartime household names, including the likes of Group Captain Brian Kingcome DSO DFC*, Wing Commander Bob Stanford-Tuck DSO DFC** AFC and Group Captain ‘Sailor’ Malan DSO* DFC* (whose younger brother, George, flew with Robbie on 72 Squadron and was ultimately to lose his life in early 1943, not long after Robbie’s own shooting down).

‘A Spitfire Names Connie’ is an intensely personal tale, but it adds vital first-hand evidence from those like Robbie who were at the vanguard of that generational fight against tyranny. Robbie’s and Connie’s contributions to that struggle may have been relatively minor in the context of the wider conflagration, but the relationship they forged can be considered to be a major private success and a genuine positive to emerge from the War. Despite his injuries, in later life Robbie seemed to be a contented man, free from some of the worst mental effects that so many struggled with for decades. Doubtless, he had taken solace in the fact that his elder son followed in his footsteps as a Royal Air Force fighter pilot, ultimately ascending the ranks to Air Marshal.

This book complements Black Robertson‘s earlier account of his and his father’s parallel careers, ‘Fighters in the Blood’, providing the personal hinterland that completes the outline jigsaw provided by the earlier account. It is a must read for all who seek to understand the unique pressures and commitment needed to form a lasting relationship in the crucible of the Second World War. It will long serve as a testament to that extraordinary generation of young men and women who gave everything to their country with little thought for themselves, except, perhaps to wish occasionally that they could somehow love each other for a lifetime, however long or short that might turn out to be.

Amazon UK Review

An incredible but true story about Robbie Robertson, a real-life BIggles (who flew Spitfires, of course) and his Spitfire, which he called Connie. HIs adventures during WWII and beyond, and how he met his future wife, Connie, are the sort of things you might read in a novel, but it's all true, and absolutely terrific.

Books Monthly

An eagerly awaited follow up to Fighters in the Blood

Another compelling true story of a Spitfire pilot, who’s flying career was tragically cut short.
Through his many very personal letters, It tells of his passion for flying and his endearing love of his sweetheart Connie.
From young friend, to fiancé and wife, an unquestionable love that lasted a lifetime.

This, like the authors previous book, it is much more than a book for aviation, or Spitfire enthusiasts.
It is a moving insight into the life of one of many, who courageously volunteered to serve their Country.
What it takes to pursue the ambition of being a fighter pilot.
The sacrifices made and the high price they paid for their service.

It is an enjoyable and compelling story, that will not leave you disappointed.
Their are few, if any of these great men left, their story needs to be told.
Enjoy !

5.0 out of 5 stars

Amazon UK Review

A compelling account of war revealed through deeply personal correspondence

I was recommended this book by a friend and am very grateful for it.

This could have been a novel but is all the more engrossing for it being true. The story of a young man starting out in life with a job in the City and half an eye on an attractive young girl who is then then consumed by duty, and even the excitement, of WW2.

The maturing of the young pilot in terms of both his flying and his relationship with Connie, the young lady, is vividly realised by the actual correspondence between them and the narrative supplied by their son, the author. It brought home the tensions between living for the day and having a desire to plan a future.

I laughed out loud at some points where the experience of young people in love was shown to be no different in wartime to any other time and I genuinely felt the frustrations of them both in separation, their relief at survival and the simple pleasure of having a true life happy ending!

The detail of the correspondence from the humdrum details to the quiet passion gives a genuine insight into the nature of 2 lives at war and, I as I finished the book, I found I had grown rather fond of both Robbie and Connie.
A profoundly good read

5.0 out of 5 stars

Amazon UK Review

Fascinating and moving read!

An absolutely wonderful book recounting the experiences of a genuine Spitfire ace in WWII by his son, Black, based on the many letters home to his girlfriend and future wife Connie. A captivating read that gives a unique insight into the war in the air.

5.0 out of 5 stars

Amazon UK Review

A fascinating story of love and heroism

Following his earlier book 'Fighters in the Blood' , the author has captured a remarkable story of his father's wartime heroism, together with extracts from letters to his sweetheart and then wife Connie. Whilst the first book portrayed elements of his father's wartime experiences, this much more detailed account of the air war following the Battle of Britain is a remarkable account of the lives (and, unfortunately, deaths) of our fighter pilots. From boring days spent waiting for something to happen, to moments of high adrenaline action, the author takes the brief and somewhat laconic entries in his father's logbook and, following what must have been significant research, provides the background and vivid detail that make this story compelling. On top of this we have the developing love story between the author's parents, the strength of which survives the rigours of war and continues into old age.

I strongly recommend that you read this book.

5.0 out of 5 stars

Amazon UK Review

Great addition to the history of 72 Sqn

I found this a very interesting book detailing the operational life of pilot Ron 'Robbie' Robertson, who served with 111 and 72 Squadrons. The juxtaposition of operational flying and 'normal' life related through his many letters to his girlfriend and later wife give a different perspective to the usual run of wartime stories. My only gripe was the chapter layout which jumped from early war to late war then mid war numerous times making me want to get past the, for me, less interesting late war period which I found somewhat repetitive in its daily routine and get back to Robertsons experiences with 72 Sqn. Notwithstanding my little gripe I recommend this book to those with an interest in 111 and 72 Sqns and RAF operations over France in 1941-42 and North Africa in 1943

4.0 out of 5 stars

Amazon UK Review

This second book by Black Robertson about his fighter pilot father during World War II is an absolute masterpiece, providing a unique and very close insight into the personal life and the very strong emotions of a young man fighting for his country. The author has skilfully woven his father’s remarkable story around his being shot down and seriously wounded in North Africa, through a series of highly poignant letters written by him to the young woman who would later become his wife. The result, with an expert commentary by Black - himself a skilled modern day fighter pilot - is an exceptionally good read, full of emotion and excitement, which is almost impossible to put down. Never before have I read or witnessed so much remarkable detail of day to day wartime life and flying operations, and this outstanding book is an absolutely “must have” for the bookshelf.

Customer Review

Another great book from Black Robertson.

What a wonderful insight to a gentleman who fought for his Country. Such a personal account of his time in the Royal Air Force through his letters home to his 'beloved Connie' The author is able to give detailed accounts of his fathers war-time history, which keeps the reader engaged. Another fantastic book from the author, Black Robertson.

5 Stars

Amazon UK Review

This book is a long series of letters around the life of Robbie Robertson a young pilot who has just qualified to fly in the RAF, as told by his son Air Marshall ‘Black’ Robertson. Through these letters, we learn about the life and happy life of Robbie Robertson as a young spitfire pilot that earned him a promotion to the North Africa theatre of war in the Second World War. This happiness was until he was shot down by the Luftwaffe, thrown from his plane he is found but found seriously wounded and ended up having to lose his right eye. To which he then has to return to England and take up office work, but meets his wife, a young woman he had corresponded with and they then strike up a close relationship and then marriage.

I’m sure I reviewed the author’s previous book, as the writing style reminded me of a book I read last year. The book is very good and I enjoyed the book as it is very much written as a story. An excellent book based upon the letters of a pilot in the RAF, and the book helps that it receives the input of the author son too which adds to the narrative.

Read the full review here

The History Fella

Competition as featured in

RAF News

FEATURE: 'Love that conquered all for Spitfire ace who lost an eye'

Daily Express

A delightful read that avoids the pitfalls of a simple chronology of letters by dividing the story into two parts, presenting the interwoven parts in a manner that highlights a sudden change of fortunes plus the accompanying emotions, and supporting the whole with periodic brief explanatory commentary. The author's summing up in the epilogue skillfully draws the reader's attention to the change in mood of the key character, his Father, as matters progress. It also strips away the perpetual instant communication we now take for granted and leaves bare the anxiety of waiting to hear from someone close.

Very well written and presented, and highly recommended.

Graham Miller

About Air Mshl ‘Black’ Robertson

Air Marshal GRAEME ‘BLACK’ ROBERTSON CBE, BA, FRAeS, FRSA was born in Woodford, Essex in 1945. After three years at the RAF College, Cranwell, in 1968 he joined his first operational unit, 8 Squadron, flying Hawker Hunters in Bahrain. He then began a long association with the Phantom that included tours on 6 Squadron, command of both 92 Squadron in Germany (by his own account, the pinnacle of his career) and 23 Squadron in the Falkands. In 1985 he took over RAF Wattisham until he returned to Germany as the Deputy Commander in 1991 and subsequently as Air Officer Commanding No. 2 Group. His final appointment was as Chief of Staff and Deputy Commander-in-Chief RAF Strike Command in 1996. He retired from the RAF in 1998.

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