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Bill Lancaster: The Final Verdict (Hardback)

The Life and Death of an Aviation Pioneer


By Ralph Barker
Imprint: Pen & Sword Aviation
Pages: 244
ISBN: 9781473855830
Published: 10th December 2015



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Captain William Lancaster was the subject of public attention and controversy during his life as a record-breaking flyer, because of his love affair with Jessie ‘Chubbie’ Miller (dubbed “the Australian Aviatrix”) and as the defendant in one of the most sensational murder trials of the twentieth century. His disappearance, which occurred during an attempt to break the London to Cape Town record in 1933, less than a year after his acquittal, led to speculation that his ill-prepared last flight had been driven by desperation, perhaps even guilt.

Twenty nine years later, a French military patrol in the Sahara stumbled across the wreck of Bill’s plane and his body, along with his perfectly preserved log book. For eight days he had calmly recorded his thoughts, looking back over his life as he stoically faced death.

In Bill Lancaster: the Final Verdict, we are presented with the original story in full (first published in 1969 as Verdict on a Lost Flyer), complete with an additional postscript written by the late author's daughter. Meticulously researched by Ralph Barker and written with the full cooperation of Chubbie Miller and the Lancaster family, it includes a complete transcript and photographs of the moving account contained within Lancaster's final diary – a precious record that has since gone missing.

This remains an insightful and captivating account.

FlyPast, December 2016

The inter-war period was a time when
record-setting aviators were front-page celebrities. For each of the still
well-known ‘A-list’ aviators there were several more who didn’t make the front pages as often, or were not as lucky, or, arguably, as talented. Definitely unlucky was Bill Lancaster, who died on what proved to be his last record attempt in 1933, when he became lost in his Avro Avian over the Sahara and despite surviving a forced landing, his mummified body wasn’t found until 1962. The remains of the Avian, ‘Southern Cross Minor’, previously operated by Sir Charles Kingsford Smith were on display in the Queensland Museum, Brisbane, but are currently in store. Well known aviation author Ralph Barker’s story of Lancaster was first published in 1969. This revised edition, with an update by Barker’s daughter, Sarah Duncanson takes in the events, such as the recovery of the Avian in 1975, that occurred after the original edition.

Flightpath magazine, reviewed by James Kightly

As featured in

Over the Front, Summer 2016 – reviewed by Peter Kilduff

A fascinating account of an unusual life.

Aeroplane Monthly July 2016

Just I've never heard of Bill Lancaster or Chubbie Miller but found this murder mystery absolutely fascinating. This is a colourful tale involving larger-than-life characters, and it's not surprising that Hollywood is looking at turning the story into a movie! Superbly entertaining...

Books Monthly - Paul Norman

Author and former Bristol Beaufort crewman Ralph Baker, who passed away in 2011, was well known as an aviation historian. He wrote many books notable for his ability to weave accurate facts with a fine story-telling style. This one was originally published in 1969 and it is to be hoped that more of his titles will reappear.

Aviation Classic Aircraft - May 2016

Meticulously researched by Ralph Barker and written with the full cooperation of 'Chubbie' Miller and the Lancaster family, it includes a complete transcript and photographs of the moving last diary - which has since gone missing.

Antiques Diary, May - June

When I was first asked to have a look at this book I thought... hmmmm, not realy 'my thing'. The story of an aicraft found in the African desert, decades after it had disappeared. Nothing to do with World War 2. And not about a man I had ever heard of. But I was curious and got the book .... and lo and behold, it turned out to be a very interesting read !

The story has actually been written way back in 1969 already, after Bill Lancaster's old aircraft and his remains were found in 1962 by a French mnilitary patrol in the Sahara desert. But the interesting part is actually Bill's life BEFORE that fatal crash...

... So the book goes from telling about a young flyer's life in the aviation pioneer time of the 1920's and 30's, through an adventurous 'record flight' to Australia, to a romantic part filled with emotional issues and a less successful flying career and onto a murder trial, followed by yet another record flight and his disappearance in 1933 on that last flight. Ultimately it finishes 30 years later with the discovery of his plane wreck and his diary, which is printed in full at the end of the book.

Although this is not my regular genre of books, I can whole heaertedly recommend it and I guarantee that you'll read it from beginning to the very end!

FSAddon - François Dumas

The book is a fascinating read for all who are interested in both aviation history and true crime. It is written in finely crafted prose and the author is meticulous in giving a neutral and unbiased assessment of the man. Written with the cooperation of Chubbie Miller (d. 1972; it was she who had been given custody of the diary but it has been missing since the 1980s) and the Lancaster family and first published in 1969 as Verdict on a Lost Flyer, this updated reprint offers a new generation an opportunity to consider this complicated and unresolved story, not so much to render a verdict but to be reminded that things can get away from you!

speedreaders.info - Sabu Advani

As featured in

RAF News - February 26th

About Ralph Barker

Ralph Barker was a respected author and historian. After serving with the RAF in WW2 and later at the Air Historical Branch, he retired to write fulltime in 1961. Over more than fifty years he penned twenty eight volumes. Books such as Strike Hard, Strike Sure (1963, 1990), The Blockade Busters (1976, 2005) and Men of the Bombers (2005) established him as an outstanding narrator of tales of human courage. Bill Lancaster: The Final Verdict was first published in 1969(Harrap) as Verdict on a Lost Flyer.

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