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Eyewitness RAF (Hardback)

The Experience of War, 1939–1945

WWII Aviation Aviation in WWII Royal Air Force

By James Goulty
Imprint: Pen & Sword Aviation
Pages: 264
Illustrations: 20 black and white illustrations
ISBN: 9781526752376
Published: 4th November 2020

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Much has been written about the Royal Air Force during the Second World War – memoirs, biographies, histories of Fighter and Bomber commands, technical studies of the aircraft, accounts of individual operations and exploits – but few books have attempted to take the reader on a journey through basic training and active service as air or ground crew and eventual demobilization at the end of the war. That is the aim of James Goulty’s Eyewitness RAF. Using a vivid selection of testimony from men and women, he offers a direct insight into every aspect of wartime life in the service.

Throughout the book the emphasis is on the individual’s experience of the RAF – the preparations for flying, flying itself, the daily routines of an air base, time on leave, and the issues of discipline, morale and motivation. A particularly graphic section describes, in the words of the men themselves, what it felt like to go on operations and the impact of casualties – airmen who were killed, injured or taken prisoner.

A fascinating varied inside view of the RAF emerges which is perhaps less heroic and glamorous than the image created by some post-war accounts, but it gives readers today a much more realistic appreciation of the whole gamut of life in the RAF seventy years ago.

What a fantastic book to read, about the RAF during world war two, this book takes a look at recollections, accounts and stories of the men and women who served in the RAF at that time. The book covers everything really from training to working in different roles, casualties and finally being demobbed. You can tell the author James Goulty writes from a university background, not because the book is very formal but because of the way it is structured. I loved the writing enormously, very well-paced and the right balance was struck between who was written about and the amount each section was covered. But the best was the real telling of the stories and the humour emphasis of the author, a man who has and shares the good dry wit that was similar to the people he was talking about. It was nice to read about the role and voice of women, as many of these books about the forces are male-centric. The notes section was good and informative, I’ve taken a few titles down to do further reading. (lookout my local library). The glossary was also informative and handy, it is good to have a book that supports all the acronyms and abbreviations it uses. I really enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone interested in the RAF and its role in WW2, one of the best books I have read in a while.

Read the full review here

UK Historian

Featured in

Everyone's War, The Journal of the Second World War Experience Centre, No.42, 2021

An insightful tale

While this review barely scratches the surface, the book provides a true, yet often heart-wrenching narrative, detailing a force facing seemingly insurmountable odds.

FlyPast, March 2021

This is a good introduction to Britain's war in the air, an introduction by those who were there, whether in training, serving with bombers, or in fighters, with coastal command, shot down and captured, returning home...

The chapters are logically organised, there are extensive notes, a bibliography, an index. Such conventions should be deemed as essential, and would have been twenty years ago. The first-hand accounts are skilfully inter-woven with the author's narrative and the maps and photos are added bonuses. By this and read Dilip Sarkar's 'Letters from the Few' alongside it.

Paul Nixon

James Goulty, who holds a masters degree and a doctorate in military history from the University of Leeds, has used a wide variety of sources to put together a work which has much historical value, while offering hours of interesting relaxation for anyone with an interest in the workings of the RAF of those days.

Air Transport Group of the Railway and Canal Historical Society

"The words of those who were there".

This is a good introduction to Britain's war in the air, an introduction by those who were there, whether in training, serving with bombers, or in fighters, with coastal command, shot down and captured, returning home...

The chapters are logically organised, there are extensive notes, a bibliography, an index. Such conventions should be deemed as essential, and would have been twenty years ago. The first-hand accounts are skilfully inter-woven with the author's narrative and the maps and photos are added bonuses. By this and read Dilip Sarkar's 'Letters from the Few' alongside it.

4 Stars

Amazon UK Review

"Well researched & good use of personal testimonies".

I received a review copy of this book direct from the publisher.
This latest book by James Goulty makes good use of the personal testimony of those who served, giving a vivid description of all aspects of the RAF from recruitment and training to morale and motivation - and he leaves no stone unturned, covering the 'chair polishing' experience of admin, groundcrew, Coastal Command, plus WWAFs, POWs, repatriation and demobilisation.
It is apparent from the introduction alone that Goulty is a gifted writer with the ability to seamlessly marry a multitude of memoir with official works. What contributes to the readability of this book is his eye for the (very British) sense of humour and irony in personal testimonies. For example, on the subject of the character of the RAF, one chap states: '...insouciance and understatement were the form.' Coming from an RAF family myself, I can relate! On the motivation to join: '...looked good in his blue uniform and all the girls fancied him.' NAAFI: 'heavy cups of newspaper-grey tea.' The little gems such as these will raise a knowing smile from those who served, past and present.
That aside, there is also the educational and enlightening, such as tactics outlined in chapter 2 The Experience of Bombing Operations and chapter 3 Flying with Fighter Squadrons. The stark reality of war is also uncovered: flying fatigue, coping with fear and one's own mortality, the Polish pilot flying his Spitfire to the limits, the POWs who found home-coming a challenging time (chapters 7-8).
You will find that is not a book you will just dip in and out of; prepare for being fully engrossed as you are are caught up in the experience. That, indeed, is surely the mark of a good book.

5 Stars

Amazon UK Review

James has an excellent personal touch... it's so well written I found it a real inspiration.

Watch the full video review here

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About James Goulty

James Goulty holds a masters degree and doctorate in military history from the University of Leeds, and he has a special interest in the training and combat experience of ordinary soldiers during the world wars and Korean War. His previous publications include Second World War Lives: A Guide for Family Historians, The Second World War through Soldiers’ Eyes: British Army Life 1939-45 and Eyewitness Korea: The Experience of British and American Soldiers in the Korean War 1950-1953.

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