By Kristen Alexander
Published by New South Books http://www.newsouthbooks.com.au
RRP $49.99 in hard cover ISBN 9781742234151
It is no surprise to me that there is an extensive list of people and institutions mentioned in Kristen Alexander’s acknowledgements. This book, which tells the individual stories of eight Australian Spitfire and Hurricane pilots who took part in the Battle of Britain over the period July to September 1940, would have taken some very detailed and dedicated work. Of the eight young men, only one survived, but through Kristen’s work they are now much more than long forgotten names on a memorial or a fading and mis-remembered family story. In fact defining an ‘Australian’ was even difficult then, as she points out. Up until 1949, Australians were simply British subjects and the men were absorbed into RAF squadrons.
This book is by turns engaging and sad; so many fine young men, their lives wasted, their future promise snuffed out; their mothers, sisters, wives and girlfriends left to grieve. In Kristen’s book their spirit lives on. She tells their stories against the backdrop of the events of the time in such a way that we come to understand how the intimate everyday stories formed part of the whole and how they fitted into the broader context of momentous and historic events.
Forget the statistics and the grand strategic themes: this is what war is really about – individual courage and commitment and the grief and loss of those who remain.