IF EVER there was a “boys’ own adventure” story for men of all ages, Heroes of the Skies by comedian, newspaper columnist ,TV host and aircraft enthusiast Michael Veitch is it.
Veitch’s compilation is the result of detailed and intimate interviews with 20 previously un-heralded airmen – gunners, wireless operators, navigators and pilots – who served with Australian, British and/or US forces during World War II.
This collection of potted biographies – distinct from Michael Ashcroft’s British book of the same name – draws together the highly personal reminiscences of veterans who are flattered yet bemused by the Australian public’s interest in their exploits 70 years after the fact. Many reveal they did not speak of their front-line experiences upon arriving home; for some, their face-to-face discussions with Veitch are their first ever frank and open retellings of events that occurred in Britain, Europe, the Middle East or Asia as the Allies fought a ferocious air war on two fronts simultaneously.
The achievements of Veitch’s “heroes” are astounding: completing 49 bombing runs over European cities when the odds of surviving even a dozen were daunting; hiking without water out of the German-held desert after being shot down in Egypt; landing on an aircraft carrier with a full complement of bombs still in place; being fired on by Japanese snipers concealed in the tops of coconut palms. Geographically the book spans operations across continental Europe, the Mediterranean rim and the Indian-Pacific region from the Andaman Islands and Sri Lanka to eastern New Guinea (with a particularly spine-tingling account of the battle for Milne Bay).
Veitch also includes little-known anecdotes on the development of Australia’s first homegrown fighter plane, the Boomerang, and the mutiny of sorts in which Australian trainees refused to fly locally built Beaufort bombers until a deadly fault was rectified.
Heroes of the Skies is the ideal gift for any father or grandfather who likes to read.