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Australia's Few and the Battle of Britain (Hardback)

WWII Aviation Battle of Britain World War Two Aviation

By Kristen Alexander
Imprint: Pen & Sword Aviation
Pages: 409
ISBN: 9781473833791
Published: 29th April 2015

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£25.00


2015 ACT Writing and Publishing Awards winner!

Australia's Few and the Battle of Britain has won the nonfiction category of the 2015 ACT Writing and Publishing Award.

... also selected for the official Chief of Australian Air Force Reading List 2015.

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During the summer and autumn of 1940, the Germans launched their Luftwaffe campaign to gain superiority over the RAF, especially Fighter Command. They were not successful, and this defeat marked a turning point in the Allies' favour. This is the story of eight Australian fighter pilots engaged in the Battle of Britain, the first major battle of World War II (or any war) fought entirely in the air. Jack Kennedy, Stuart Walch, Dick Glyde, Ken Holland, Pat Hughes, Bill Millington, John Crossman and Des Sheen – only one of them came home.

A story we take for granted, here told afresh with insight and empathy.
Professor Peter Stanley, UNSW Canberra

In telling the stories of some of the Australians who flew in the Battle of Britain, Kristen Alexander has combined academic rigour with compelling personal detail. She has demonstrated that the “unknowns” of the Battle are as fascinating as those who gained celebrity status. This is a book for those who know much about what happened in 1940 and those who don't.... Geoff Simpson, Trustee, Battle of Britain Memorial Trust

The lives of eight Australian fighter pilots, from backyard to cockpit and beyond, lovingly and expertly told.... Andy Wright, Aircrew Book Review

During the summer and autumn of 1940 the enemy Luftwaffe took on the RAF in an attempt to gain superiority in the sky. They failed and in Kristen Alexander's Australia's Few and the Battle of Britain you can read the story of eight Australian pilots who took part, only one of whom survived.

Evergreen - Summer 2016

In telling the stories of some of the Australians who flew in the Battle of Britain, Kristen Alexander has combined academic rigour with compelling personal detail. She has demonstrated that the ‘unknowns’ of the Battle are as fascinating as those who gained celebrity status. This is a book for those who know much about what happened in 1940 and those who don’t.

Geoff Simpson, Trustee, Battle of Britain Memorial Trust

Very highly recommended as an informative and very read-able book.

Aviation Historical Society of Australia: AHSA Newsletter

Alexander’s research is to her usual high standards and the book tells the stories of the eight from go to whoa, with as much emphasis on their lives away from the cockpit as in it. It draws on family documents and records, interviews and reminiscences and the result is a very different approach.

This isn’t to say the operational side of things is ignored—it is also covered in detail and there is considerable historical perspective, something I always like to see. The eight stories are not dealt with in separate ‘blocks’ but instead intertwined within a basically chronological structure. Again, this approach works very well.

The eight Australians covered are John Crossman, Jack Kennedy, Dick Glyde, Stuart Walch, Ken Holland, Pat Hughes, Bill Millington and Des Sheen, the latter the only one to survive.

I like the different approach Kristen Alexander has taken with this book. Perhaps it reflects—dare I say it without being shot down in flames by the ‘thought police’—more of a woman’s perspective. If so, that can’t be a bad thing because the result is excellent.

Aero Australia Issue 45 January/March 2015

Kristen Alexander deserves great fame, huge respect and—most importantly—a huge following of devotees and sales figures to rival Rowling. Why? Well, we aviation readers all think we know everything there is to know about the Battle of Britain, that touch-and-go critical moment in World War Two. Surely there is nothing left to dig up, no approach we have not considered, and no heroes left unspaded?

Armed with primary documents, family permissions, experience and determination, Kristen tells the stories of a representative eight (of the thirty or more) Australians who fought in the Battle of Britain. Seven of these eight ‘bought it’. Kristen lets the men and the surviving documents tell their story, moving through the War, each hoping or believing they would get through. The degree of intimacy Kristen evokes is surprising and rewarding. Of over 2360 men involved in the Battle, over 440 died—almost a fifth. This figure doesn’t include accidents, later death in battle, nor injuries, and the percentage killed was much higher for ‘colonials’.

Kristen tells us eight parallel crackling tales in a matter-of-fact style. By the end of the book we want to know more, more about the men, more about the Battle - because we realise that for all our knowledge we just don’t know enough. Australia’s Few and the Battle of Britain is an important, approachable book. History really is what happened only yesterday, as Kristen demonstrates with masterly skill. Put this one on your Christmas list (geezers as well as children) and tell your MP to add this to student reading lists.

Robert Brokenmouth, Sabretache, Journal of the Military Historical Society of Australia, Volume LV, Number 4, December 2014

A perfect blend of military and personal biography......What is expertly woven into the narrative, is exquisite detail of the personal lives of the men.
This is the set-up for the final chapters as the stories do not end as seven men are shot down. They leave behind families and friends who struggle to accept their shining light has gone. This is where the author’s writing really comes to the fore. While the entire book is written with emotion and caring, the final chapters are moving as each family unit comes to terms, more or less, with their loss. It is a delicately and expertly assembled section of the book that deserves to remind us that these men were never truly forgotten or ‘unknown’.
Such sublime content deserves and equally well-crafted package to be presented in. As much as this is the author’s coming of age as an aviation history writer, the publisher has gone above and beyond in ensuring this book is well presented. Indeed, the sheer presence of this beautiful hardback demands attention on the shelf. The hardcovers replicate the dust cover artwork and prove there is more to life than dark cloth and gold-embossed text. The pages are clean and crisp, the text is (justified!) the perfect size for reading and the photo section, cut down from a large number of images the author had collected, happily focuses on personal and intimate images of the men rather than stock photos of Spitfires and Hurricanes etc. The effort put into the design and layout is evident. Add the professional notes and index and we have an example from the very pinnacle of book design.

So, in this world of a seemingly inexhaustible supply of Battle of Britain books, and with the 75th anniversary just around the corner, why would you buy this book over the others? The question really should be ‘why wouldn’t you?’. From cover to cover it is the perfect tribute to these eight Australian pilots. It can be a bit tricky at times, as the narrative changes to another ‘character’, to keep abreast with who’s who but this is really only experienced early on before the reader gets to ‘know’ each budding pilot. The timelines of all eight are well managed and I hate to think of the headaches weaving them all together must have caused. At a little over 360 pages of text, you’d thing this would be a longish read but it flows so nicely, and there is always something to discover on the next page, that progress is swift.

Eight men have finally had their stories told. It couldn’t have been done better. I am bloody glad to have this on my shelf.

Andy Wright, Rag and Tube, the Magazine of the Antique Aeroplane Association of Australia. Issue No 160, December 2014

The Battle of Britain was a vital milestone in WWII, and the author has captured its spirit in this book. It creates an authentic background for the exploits of the selected pilots who were some of The Few.

Extract from JG Cornish, Reveille. Magazine of the Returned and Services League of Australia (New South Wales Branch). Volume 88, No. 1, January-February 2015

Epic battles must, of necessity, focus primarily on the bigger picture—the strategic balance and the forces contending, the rival commanders and their battle plans, the weaponry utilised by the opposing sides and, sometimes, almost as an afterthought, the individual combatants who fight, and, all too often, die in the subsequent struggle.

The author, in this extremely well-researched book, has skilfully reversed the focus without the reader losing this valuable larger perspective. The eight Australian pilots featured were carefully selected by the author to represent a wide cross-section of young pilots-to-be: state/private school education, Catholic/Protestant upbringing, RAAF/short service commission/RAF Volunteer Reserve-trained, married/about to marry/single during the struggle and finally, the ‘natural’ pilot/others about whom the training officers had doubts. In a period of just 11 weeks in the summer of 1940, seven were to perish during the Battle of Britain—all young men in their twenties. The sole survivor died more than 60 years later, aged 83, in 2001. Hail the fallen warrior.

The author has gone far beyond the normally brief outline of the subjects’ family background. Using diaries, letters, newspaper articles and interviews with family members, she provides a detailed background of not only each of the eight but, where she considered it relevant, their parents. This almost forensic analysis assists the reader to better understand the men, their view of the world and some of their subsequent actions. As the author takes the reader through the early flying experiences of each of the individuals and then the various stages of their subsequent flying career, initially it takes some effort to disentangle their stories but as their stories unfold, you soon develop the feeling that you ‘know’ and understand each of these men.

Kristen Alexander’s respect and admiration for the eight Australian pilots is evident in every page of this excellent book. It is a testament to both her writing and research skills and their lives and devotion to duty.

Australian Defence Force Journal Issue No. 197, July-August 2015

A great read about 8 very brave Australian airman. You can feel the love and admiration that Kristen has for these men. They were a diverse group of pilots with varying skill sets and back grounds but they came together in The Battle of Britain.
Kristen explores the individuals and you get to know and start to understand their personalities and motivation as she weaves their story together in the context of the Battle of Britain.
They were 'ordinary' men rising to meet extraordinary demands in an extremely courageous manner; such is the manner of heroes.
Well done Kristen, as usual, wonderfully descriptive and empathetic towards the individuals who are the heroes of this book. this is a must read!

Amazon Customer Review

This is a very well-researched, well-documented, well-structured and well-written book. It looks at the role of the ’30 or so’ Australians who took part in the Battle of Britain through the lens of the lives of eight young fighter pilots. Each man’s story is brought to life using letters, diary entries, official correspondence, public records and family reminiscence. The eight stories are interwoven and, taken together, give readers a detailed perspective of how this historical battle unfolded. The use of family photos reinforces the ‘everyman’ nature of the pilots and brings home the real cost of war at many levels: individual, family, community and national. It is a book that can be read both for its engaging and sympathetic portrayal of the individual men and for its consideration of a pivotal time in the history of World War II. The writing is always fluid and engages the reader intimately with emotion and pathos. The need to convey accurate information never hinders the flow of the narrative. The author has an exceptional ability to set specific material, such as quotations from original documents, into a broader familial, social and political context, and in this way inform the reader at several levels at once. In addition to the incomparable writing style, this book stood out because of its very high production value, with excellent use of subheadings, maps, photographs, notes, bibliography, contents pages, author’s notes and index.

Capital Letters - ACT Writing and Publishing Award

A well-researched and written work...A worthy contribution.

Australian Air Force - Chief of Air Force Reading List 2015

Of the many books covering the subject that were published across the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain this is certainly one of the most readable and engaging titles of the genre and Kristen Alexander is to be highly commended on this valuable addition to the literature dealing with the history of the 1940.

In this volume, the author has not only used exciting academic rigour to compile what is a fascinating and worthy account of those Australians who participated in the Battle of Britain but she has also produced what is a most readable and engaging book.

To the reviewer, immersed in the history of 1940, the names of all the men Kristen has covered were more than familiar - although not their individual stories. In this respect, she had the reviewer's rapt attention from page one and it is fair to say that this particular reviewer is sometimes hard to please when it comes to books on Battle of Britain related topics! Not so with Australia's Few...

In her assembly of the facts, Kristen has also produced a book which is full of genuine empathy for her subjects and she has managed to construct a piece of work that stands not only as testament to the Australian 'Few' but also a most useful reference source. Additionally, and importantly, it is also a truly excellent read. It is certainly a masterful piece of work and is one which is sure to be well-thumbed on this reviewer's book shelf over the coming years.

Nicely produced, and with a selection of evocative accompanying photographs, this book stands head and shoulders above many published in the Battle of Britain 'genre' across recent months and stands very firmly as this reviewer's favourite. Britain at War magazine has no hesitation in recommending most highly this lovely book.

Britain at War Magazine, April 2016 - Andy Saunders

A book of such depth and character... Which does not disappoint with its meticulous academic research and down-to-earth story-telling.

Australian Pilot

Using detailed and wide ranging research, Kristen Alexander combines eight stories of young lives with enough tales of the RAF of three quarters of a century ago, on the ground and in the bullet filled air, to satisfy any aviation buff... An outstanding book.

Friends of the Few 1940

Australia's Few and the Battle of Britain takes the reader on a journey of discovery that produces outstanding access to the personal papers and records of eight men who flew in the Battle. The book is a perfect result of military and personal biography combined... I am glad to have it on my shelf.

Air Crew Book Review
 Kristen Alexander
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