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First Light by Geoffrey Wellum

First Light (original 2002; edition 2003)

by Geoffrey Wellum

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265842,770 (4.07)7
Title:First Light
Authors:Geoffrey Wellum
Info:Penguin Books Ltd (2003), Edition: New Ed, Paperback, 352 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:Biography. WW 2.

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First Light by Geoffrey Wellum (2002)


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Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
Humbling! Simply humbling to recognise I and millions more in Britain, Europe, the World owe our lives to this 18/19 year old and so FEW of his sort: July 1940 - June 1941 - When Britain really did STAND ALONE against the military might of Nazi Germany (Stalin's USSR was Hitler's ally at the time) only the selfless, unswerving, unrepeatable nerve, courage and skills of Geoffrey Wellum and less than 1,500 like him in the BATTLE OF BRITAIN and the BLITZ saved us all.
His story of wartime as a RAF Spitfire Pilot has no equal for the unassuming heroics on a daily basis over the skies of the British Isles and western Europe... Humbling. ( )
  tommi180744 | Jan 10, 2016 |
I thought I had read every first-hand account of the Battle of Britain. For some mysterious reason family, extended family, friends and enemies think I like them and fill my bookshelves.
This one came as a surprise. Written maybe fifty years after, the author wrote at a time the culture of the UK had changed and it was quite acceptable to talk about feelings, thoughts and emotions. The stiff upper lip had relaxed.
That makes this book unique – and important.
Yes, not many people understand the incredible inner battle that goes on inside you when forced to go by instruments alone: when every instinct tells you they are incorrect. Listen to your instincts as they scream at you that the horizon can’t possibly be there, ‘up’ has to be the other way – and you’re dead.
Written from old notes and memories Geoffrey ‘Boy’ Wellum takes the reader through the height of the battle and out the other side – both you and he emerging in one piece though shaken, exhausted and with no little need for a pint of beer and a quiet stream to walk beside.
He is breathtakingly good at taking you into the nightmare realm of emotions he experienced while in combat, learning to fly or flying in appalling conditions.
Thank you, Geoffrey, for not only an outstanding read but also for the best account of the battle I’ve ever read. ( )
1 vote Gary-Bonn | Oct 13, 2015 |
Autobiographical memoir of the author's life as a Spitfire pilot during ww2. Contains surprisingly well written, punctuated, brief sentences that are hard as nails and remind us of a different kind of English – jolly. Like when he takes his first training flight in a Tiger Moth and reflects rather matter of fact on his anxiety – ‘I’ve made one hell of a mistake joining this lot.’ Geoff, or ‘boy’ his nickname, takes us through his training, first posting as a fighter pilot on a Spitfire (without ever having flown a Spit) and the Battle of Britain. After the Battle attrition starts with sweeps and bomber escort flying across Northern France throughout 1941. At some stage Boy gets retired from active service on a fighter squadron, much to his regret. He does some time as an instructor but then gets called back on active service for a special assignment, which takes him on an aircraft carrier towards Malta, being part of a mission to fly in 38 Spitfires and other supplies to the island under siege. Once on the island he does some sweeps and escort flying across Sicily, but then gets retired on medical grounds with sore eyes. He is repatriated and after 6 months leave takes on a job as test pilot for the Bristol Aircraft company, flying a Typhoon. What’s really impressive about this memoir is that Wellum uses a sparse, slightly subdued style of writing engaging a language that is long gone. His style is also immediate, as he writes certain scenes in extensive detail it is as if the reader is with him, or even is him. Particularly impressive are the scene where he describes how he is sent out with a mate on a convoy escort in heavy rain over wild seas. At some stage he thinks he notices a Ju 88, takes a pot shot and follows him into the low hanging clouds. From then on it becomes questionable whether he will ever find base again (Manston). He talks us through his ordeal. ( )
  alexbolding | Jul 27, 2015 |
This a truly remarkable book. Wellum kept notes during his time training to fly Spitfires in the period before and during the Battle of Britain. In the 1990's he took those notes and wrote this book. He is very open about the stress of day after day of facing death and how it changed him and other pilots from optimistic young men to men who feared each day was their last. He eventually was relieved of combat flying because of stress.
This is also a very different view of the Battle of Britain when compared to those written by other famous pilots such as Bader, Johnson and Lucas. This is possibly because Wellum was so young when he started flying combat missions. For that reason alone, it is well worth reading. ( )
1 vote lamour | Nov 20, 2011 |
Geoffrey Wellum's stories of his days as a very young fighter pilot sat percolating somewhere on a back burner of his mind for over fifty years before the publication of this book, FIRST LIGHT. And yet somehow he managed to make these memories as real and immediate as if they were only yesterday. Wellum was not quite eighteen when he matriculated directly from his prep school into the RAF. In less than two years he was a Spitfire fighter pilot engaged in some of the most intense aerial combat and dogfights of the war, dodging German fighters over London in the Battle of Britain. At age 20, the victim of stress and fatigue of nearly constant sorties, bomber escorts and other combat flights, he was removed from operational duties, much to his chagrin and distress. After a stint as a flight instructor, however, he was detailed to the secret Operation Pedestal which was instrumental in lifting the Axis siege of Malta.

There is something about the stream-of-consciousness narrative that Wellum employs here that just grabs you and makes you feel like you're right there in the cockpit with him as he dodges, feints, and rolls through the skies over England in some of the most furious dogfighting scenes every told from the WWII European theater. Here's a sample -

"All over the sky 110s are being chased by Spitfires. My particular Hun takes violent evasive action and I follow. I fling the Spit all over the sky in order to stay with him. This chap is no fool. I'm on to a good one here, he's like an eel, blast him. I manage one quick burst and I'm sure I see strikes on the fuselage ... Think I've got this one. His dive steepens and he starts to turn on his back. I take a quick look round before finishing him off in a nice tidy manner and am just in time to see a 110 diving down on me, opening fire as he does so. Jesus, I've seen him just in time, another fraction of a second ..."

This goes on and on, as Wellum recalls how he attacked and dodged, in perhaps some of the most intense scenes of air combat ever written. As I read some of these passages I was reminded of James Salter's riveting novel of the air war in Korea, THE HUNTERS. But it's not all smoke and explosions in Wellum's story. You also feel his fear and see him questioning the powers that be, and wondering how does God decide which side is 'right'.

"In any case, why does He allow this sort of thing to happen? Whatever He decides, many thousands of people, 'His children' we are all taught to believe, are going to be slaughtered before it is all over."

Wellum was near 80 years old when his story was finally published, but it leapt to the top of the bestseller lists in Britain immediately. This is not surprising, since his storytelling skills are as superb as his piloting was back in 1940. The perspective of the intervening decades has lent a kind of precious wisdom to this story though. And Wellum's humility and plain-spokenness about those days brought to mind another young pilot's story, that of Samuel Hynes, a US pilot from Minnesota who flew scores of combat missions in the Pacific, all before he turned 21 too. Hynes's book was called Flights of Passage. It would make an interesting companion piece fo Wellum's book for any WWII air war buffs. I've already praised and touted the Hynes book. Now I'm doing the same for Wellum's. This is one hell of a good story, filled with action, but also with the kind of introspection that makes it a great memoir. I will recommend it highly. ( )
1 vote TimBazzett | Nov 14, 2010 |
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The time will come, when thou shalt lift thine eyes
To watch a long-drawn battle in the skies.
While aged peasants, too amazed for words,
Stare at the flying fleets of wondrous birds.
England, so long mistress of the sea,
Where winds and waves confess her sovereignty,
Her ancient triumphs yet on high shall bear
And reign the sovereign of the conquered air.
Stanzas composed in the style of Thomas Gray, Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard
This book is dedicated to all fighter pilots
First words
The co-pilot of the Catalina flying boat came aft to the crew's rest room where I, a worn-out Spitfire pilot, reclined on one of the let-down bunks, feeling cold and miserable.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0141008148, Paperback)

'An extraordinary, deeply moving and astonishingly evocative story. Reading it, you feel you are in the Spitfire with him, at 20,000 feet, chased by a German Heinkel, with your ammunition gone' - "Independent". Two months before the outbreak of WWII, seventeen year old Geoffrey Wellum left school to become a fighter pilot with the RAF. He made it through basic training to become the youngest Spitfire pilot in the prestigious 92 Squadron. Thrust into combat almost immediately, Wellum found himself flying several sorties a day, caught up in terrifying dogfights with German Me 109s. Published more than fifty years afterwards, "First Light" is Geoffrey Wellum's gripping memoir of his experiences as a fighter pilot during WWII.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:12 -0400)

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Two months before the outbreak of WWII, seventeen-year-old Geoffrey Wellum becomes a fighter pilot with the RAF. Desperate to get in the air, he makes it through basic training to become the youngest Spitfire pilot in the prestigious 92 Squadron. Thrust into combat almost immediately, Wellum finds himself flying several sorties a day, caught up in terrifying dogfights with German Me 109s. Over the coming months he and his fellow pilots play a crucial role in the Battle of Britain. But of the friends that take to the air alongside Wellum many never return. 'One of the best memoirs for years about the experience of flying in war' Max Hastings, Sunday Telegraph… (more)

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