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Winged Victory

A late friend, Michael Potts, gave this novel to me a couple of years ago and I finally got around to reading it. "Winged Victory" is a brilliant read - both as a gripping account of a Sopwith Camel pilot in 1918 over the Western Front, but more importantly as a powerful piece of antiwar fiction. Although critically acclaimed, V.E Yeates never got to enjoy commercial success as he died in 1934 of tuberculosis. Five years later RAF pilots were shelling out a fortune for second hand copies as the novel's accounts of dog fighting were so compellingly accurate they used them to prepare for the Luftwaffe.

The flying sequences are some of the best I've ever read. Consider this account of 'playing' in thick cloud:

“He throttled down and glided into the wind along the cloud surface, pulling the stick back to hold off and get his tail down. He settled on the surface that looked solid enough to support him, but it engulfed him as he stalled, and the nose dropped with a lurch into the darkness and almost at once he was looking at a collied world of fields and trees and roads”

The evocation of flight and combat is masterfully done, but it is the psychological impact and philosophical conclusions that you are left with.

"For millions of years had summer heat burdened the skies with this empty grandeur, nature's dream-world, only significant by its utter non-significance. At length human purpose had penetrated these eagle-baffling heights, the purpose of murder. Dominant, triumphant, intelligent murderousness had driven man to scale these airy precipices and rend grandeur's garment of silence with the terrible staccato voices of his machine guns and the idiot bark of exploding shells."

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