Wings of Destiny by Charles Page

Discussion in 'Books and Films' started by Antipodean Andy, Sep 18, 2008.

  1. Antipodean Andy

    Antipodean Andy New Member

    Providing a big hint to its content with its subtitle, Wing Commander Charles Learmonth, DFC and Bar and the Air War in New Guinea, this book by historian Charles Page looks the part on the shelf and in the hand. Delve into the pages and you’re confronted by an remarkably readable and detailed biography of an immensely likeable character and one of Australia’s great wartime leaders.

    Charles Learmonth grew up in country Victoria to the west of Melbourne and joined the RAAF before the war. He was eventually posted to 14 Squadron and its Ansons in Western Australia. Flying convoy patrols (including escorting his brother’s unit as it headed to the UK for service in North Africa, Greece and Crete – John Learmonth was eventually captured and spent the rest of the war as a POW) Charles began to build his experience that would see him emerge as an expert bomber pilot. Converting to Hudsons, the squadron was heavily involved in the search for survivors of the cruiser HMAS Sydney off the Western Australian coast with Charles playing a key part. Never without a date on a night out, Charles eventually falls in love with Marjorie who, happily, is still alive and living in Perth, Western Australia. An eventual transfer east and Melbourne wedding sees Charles join 22 Squadron and convert to Bostons. Now his career as a flyer really builds momentum. In the thick of the action soon after the squadron’s arrival in New Guinea, Charles develops into an inspirational leader loved by all. He shares his adventures with well-known RAAF characters such as Black Jack Walker, Bill Newton VC and Bull Garing. Garing’s inclusion gives an indication to Charles’ involvement in The Battle of the Bismarck Sea and Walker and Newton ensure amusing stories abound and, in the case of Newton (and others), the grief of losing close friends is evident. Eventual command of the squadron and then a posting back to 14 Squadron as its CO sees Charles’ service come full circle and, sadly, end. The squadron was then equipped with Australian-built Beauforts and the coverage of the problems this aircraft encountered and the subsequent investigations is handled expertly and with extensive detail.

    The author has used his unprecedented access to the letters written by Charles and Marjorie to wonderful effect. Both were prolific letter writers and the insight they provide is remarakble. Excellent contextual research exists throughout and the feel of the era is very well conveyed to the reader. Family members, friends and acquaintances were interviewed or their correspondence used and this level of detail really adds to the picture of our hero. From the first chapter you know how things will end but as the book progresses, you’ll find a friend you’ll never meet in Charles Learmonth.

    This book fills a big hole in the understanding of what the Boston Boys did in New Guinea but it also provides a door into the life of a remarkable man who lived, loved, partied (often) and died before many of us were born. Very hard to put down and excellently illustrated, and ignoring a couple of small typographical and factual errors, this book is simply brilliant.

    On a personal note, I found Charles' adventures growing up in Victoria and the postings to Western Australia particularly interesting as I am very familiar with both areas. I could very easily picture the places he frequented in Perth as I know them well! Wings of Destiny: Wing Commander Charles Learmonth DFC and Bar, and the Air War in New Guinea: Charles Page: Books
  2. Kyt

    Kyt Άρης

    Having acquired a copy, at Andy's prompting, it is now sitting on 'to read' pile. I look forward to reading it, especially after the above review. Will probably be my next book after I have finished the one of the RFC.

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