Down to Earth

Discussion in 'Books and Films' started by Nostalgair, Dec 13, 2007.

  1. Nostalgair

    Nostalgair New Member

    Hi All,

    Further to earlier posts, I thought I might take the opportunity to mention 'Down to Earth' again which details the extraordinary life and times of Squadron Leader Kenneth McGlashan AFC. He literally flew from Dunkirk to D-Day and beyond as a fighter pilot with the Royal Air Force. One of "The Few" in the Battle of Britain, he also participated in the early days of night-fighting, the Dieppe raid and the Normandy landings.

    There was a fair amount of interest, so I thought I'd start this thread in a more appropriate forum for anyone who may have questions about Kenneth or the book. I'll also post a couple of snaps along the way.



    View attachment 999

    Published by Grub Street Publishing, 'Down to Earth' (ISBN 1904943845) is available via the publisher or low prices in Electronics, Books, Music, DVDs & more.
  2. Kyt

    Kyt Άρης

    I really must get the book soon. I think that really fascinates me is his time with 536 Squadron flying Turbinlites. Did he ever use them operationally or were they trials? There seems to be limited info on this rather strange experiment.
  3. Nostalgair

    Nostalgair New Member

    Hi Kyt,

    Yes, Turbinlite was used operationally, though Kenneth recalled it as a dismal failure. This tends to be supported by the abandonment of the unit after a relatively short time. Initially the Havoc had two Hurricanes in company, but this was soon reduced to one, mainly due to the ever-present risk of collision.


  4. Antipodean Andy

    Antipodean Andy New Member

    I don't know what it is about Grub Street books, I just love them. McGlashan certainly was a survivor. I think I'm going to scrape some money together after Chrissy!
  5. Kyt

    Kyt Άρης

    I managed to read almost the entire book in one sitting, and I hope Owen doesn't mind me repeating what I sent by PM.

    From the first page the narrative really grabs you and keeps you interested. The opening chapter, with the details of the fateful Dunkirk mission and loss, is akin to Vigors' Life's Too Short To Cry opening chapter, detailing his battle with Japanese fighters and how he sustained his injuries. It's a great literary device that grabs the reader.

    I just can't get over the large number of aircraft Squadron Leader McGlashan flew, and how involved he was in some of the cutting edge technology of the time. I've been dippng in and out of the History of the Air Intercept Radar and the British Nightfighter 1935-1959, which is a very technical book (hence the dipping in and out) and it was nice to read about the first-person experiences of some of these experiments. I recently read Beaufighter Ace about Thomas Pike and I found it a rather dry book, and though that too talked about night flying and fighting, I wasn't as enthralled (or indeed informed) about the actual little details of night flying.

    I bet S/L McGlashan had a great sense of humour because that certainly comes through in the book. I was in stitches when he relates the story of the Defiant gunner being knocked out by his rescuer and then breaking his leg whilst drunk. And so many other one-line anecdotes.

    As is the case in many memoirs there is of course sadness, and the names of friends who didn't make it bring home the toll taken on such young people.

    There are some nice interludes in which Mrs McGlashan gives the reader her experiences/perspectives.

    There are a number of incidents or comments that I did note for further investigation. I am particularly interested in his time in Northern Ireland and the possibility of destroying the Irish Air Force in case of them joining the Axis.

    It is also interesting to read about the ups and downs of being an airline pilot during the war, and then post-war duty in the RAF. Again, there are some sad incidents, and some very funny anecdotes. My favourite, and I hope Owen doesn't mind me quoting it, is

    So 9.5/10 for the book. Would have been 10/10 but I'm greedy and would have loved even more details :becky:
  6. Kyt

    Kyt Άρης


    on page 117, a Dan Halifax is mentioned, who was killed in a flying accident. Though no exact date is given it appears to be 1947 or 1948. However, I cannot find him on either the CWGC or Home | Armed forces memorial I was hoping to find out more about him as he was shotdown during the war and sustained serious burns.

    Would you happen to have his full name or any other details Owen?

  7. Kyt

    Kyt Άρης

    Good old rafcommands (thanks John Larder) has lead me to the right man:

    Initials: N D
    Nationality: United Kingdom
    Rank: Squadron Leader
    Regiment/Service: Royal Air Force
    Age: 27
    Date of Death: 08/11/1946
    Service No: 33404
    Additional information: Son of Edwin Richard and Eveline Hallifax, of Mayfield, Sussex.
    Casualty Type: Commonwealth War Dead
    Grave/Memorial Reference: Sec. G. Row M. Grave 14.

    Initials: R E
    Nationality: United Kingdom
    Rank: Flying Officer (Nav.)
    Regiment/Service: Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve
    Age: 21
    Date of Death: 08/11/1946
    Service No: 194286
    Casualty Type: Commonwealth War Dead
    Grave/Memorial Reference: Panel 23.

    Aircraft Crashes on and around the North Yorkshire Moors

    P/O N.D. Hallifax was shot down on 15/5/1940 in Hurricane N2422 of 3 Squadron and made POW. Rather intriguingly there is a Dan Halifax listed on the Colditz site, but I haven't (yet) ascertained if he is the same man.

    EDIT: It does appear to be the same Hallifax who was in Colditz and a "Dan Hallifax" is mentioned in relation to repatriation of injured POWs in The Colditz Myth: British and Commonwealth Prisoners of War in Nazi Germany by MacKenzie. However, the Colditz site spells his name as Halifax but there is a picture of him:

    Colditz Castle - Colditz Oflag IVC - Definitive History and guide to visiting Colditz - RAF POW Photos
  8. Antipodean Andy

    Antipodean Andy New Member

    The next book on my "to read" list!
  9. spidge

    spidge Active Member

    You are a sleuth Kyt!
  10. Kyt

    Kyt Άρης

    Cheers Spidge, but John on rafcommands gave me the lead. Funny how a half page in a book can lead to all sorts of information.
  11. Nostalgair

    Nostalgair New Member

    Hi All,

    Firstly, Kyt I can't say how happy I am that you enjoyed the book and I really appreciate the feedback. I became so passionate about ensuring Kenneth's story was told that I became very close to the tale. Time and input such as yours allows me to sit back and enjoy a whole new second wave of enthusiasm.

    As for the research on Dan Halifax; you are all 'sleuths'. Your research is first class and keeps we authors on our toes no doubt!

    Thanks again and any questions or feedback, please fire away.


  12. Kyt

    Kyt Άρης

    It was a pleasurable read and I look forward to the next one.

    Checking on Dan was interesting and fun. When I get time I shall be going through the book again and shall post details of all the other names mentioned (if I can find them). An additional tribute to his friends I hope.
  13. Nostalgair

    Nostalgair New Member

    Thanks Kyt.

    As for the next book....:)


  14. Antipodean Andy

    Antipodean Andy New Member

    Owen, Mac has just recovered from his Mossie crash while with 264. The enthusiasm of getting on to Mossies is very evident as Mac's writing has really picked up. He seemed quite frustrated, but dedicated to the job at hand, with the cat's eyes and Turbinlite ops. Doreen's memories are most complementary.

    This would have to be one of the most personal and varied memoirs I have read...and I'm not even half way through yet!
  15. Nostalgair

    Nostalgair New Member

    Thanks Andy.

    I just received a message through my website that almost mirrors your comments. It all makes the effort of writing very worthwhile.

    From the outset my goal was to tell a tale, maintain a pace that reflected Mac's exciting career and keep the story tangible for a broad audience. Thanks for the feedback.


  16. Antipodean Andy

    Antipodean Andy New Member

    I usually rave and rave about wartime aviation memoirs because, to me, they are such a privilege to read. However, Down To Earth is more than that. Sure, it's great that Owen has shared this story with us but, at the end, you come away feeling like you know Mac and wishing you could shake his hand.

    Kenneth McGlashan flew over Dunkirk and, through self-admitted inexperience, walked its beaches after his Hurricane was shot down. He is young, 19, but mature. Further trips over Dunkirk follow and he evolves into an effective single-engined fighter pilot. The Battle of Britain follows during which Mac's squadron is posted for an intriguing interlude in Ireland chasing German Condors. Here, his desire to pass on his knowledge surfaces and his commitment and drive to better himself as a leader and pilot is evident. He returns to England and flies cats' eye night fighter ops where he has to rely on his skill, eyesight and a lot of luck. Over time, Mac finds himself working with searchlight-equipped Boston/Havocs, the next great idea in night fighting to prove unsuccessful but nevertheless exciting when flying close formation with a bomber at night. Finally, though, he finds himself posted to a Mosquito night fighter unit and, at last, an effective way to hunt at night. What follows is a love affair with the Mossie, a harsh lesson on single-engined flying that sees him in hospital and determined to learn and teach what he can about "assymetric" flight, continuing anecdotes of the great men he flew with, an amazing sojourn with BOAC in the Middle East, flying during the invasion of Europe, training, raising a family, the end of the war, successful command of a Mossie squadron, award of the Air Force Cross, transfers, time in Cyprus and living around the world. What a life!

    The writing is relaxed and so easy to follow. It is casual but evocative, regularly amusing but equally poignant. Mac certainly made the most of his scrapes over Dunkirk, his lucky escape over Dieppe and his serious crash in the Mossie. He learns from his mistakes and adventures as indicated by the fact he flew operationally for more than four years, more or less. His revisting the scene of his Dunkirk incident brought a lump to my throat as he relived the events of that day surprised he could remember such minute details. Mac's stories are supported by excellent memories from his wife, Doreen, adding a very personal aspect to the reading.

    Owen comments that the restoration of Mac's Hurri, R-for-Robert, is a fitting tribute to the man. I think it is fair to say, so is this book.
  17. Nostalgair

    Nostalgair New Member

    Hi Andy,

    Thanks for the very kind words. I am personally VERY happy that you enjoyed Kenneth's tale.

    That you feel that you got to know him through the book is particularly satisfying for me as I tried my very best to bring his wonderful character out beyond the pages. Based on the feedback, I think I may have just managed it.

    Feedback such as you and Kyt have provided is invaluable to me and spurs me on to undertake the next work.

    Thanks again,

  18. Antipodean Andy

    Antipodean Andy New Member

    Anytime, Owen. Full credit where credit is due.
  19. Pathfinder

    Pathfinder Guest

    Hi there Owen. Sounds like an interesting book. Is it for sale in New Zealand or do you have to order it in?
  20. Nostalgair

    Nostalgair New Member

    I'll PM you about "Down to Earth", Pathfinder.

    If the folks are interested, I'll post another excerpt to follow up the Dunkirk snippet some months back.



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