Monday, 20 May 2013
Damned Good Show - Derek Robinson
Title: Damned Good Show
Publisher: Whistle Books, 2009
Robinson has presented us with another work in his World War 2 British aviation series. Each of his books may stand alone but are also interwoven with the others; characters are found overlapping between the novels. All are outstandingly readable, educating and entertaining.
In the case of Damned Good Show, Robinson focuses upon 409 Squadron, a bomber unit flying Hampdens (an early war period two engine long range bomber). The period in question runs from the early days of the war in 1939 through to early 1942. The unit is highly motivated and full of characters that, as with all of his books, grow as the book progresses. The author knows his subject extremely well both from a technical and psychological perspective. Thus, as the hardships and horrors of war gradually emerge from the early halcyon days of what the Germans called Sitzkrieg (sitting war), the reader can follow as the characters begin to experience the shortfalls of their equipment, doctrine and preparation.
Unique amongst the authors of books of this nature that I have read, Robinson is able to pass onto the reader a sense of the impact that war had upon the tightknit community that was a pre-war bomber squadron in the RAF. Without giving away the plot, the reader experiences the wrenching and sudden confusion and loss as characters disappear from the narrative. One becomes reluctant to form an association, however transient, with a character as you do not realize how long they will be a part of the text. It is unusual and dislocating for the reader which is exactly the impact that Robinson wished to convey.
All is not gloom and doom. Robinson skillfully weaves into the storyline the efforts of the British propaganda machine to maintain morale during the dark days of the Blitz and the fall of France. Thus the reader is carried along as the challenge of what constitutes truth in war is debated and argued from the perspective of idealistic film makers and “reale politique” government agencies who realize that truth is perception and not necessarily reality. Caught in between is the 409 Sqn; representative of the only arm of the British military to be carrying the fight to the enemy during this period. Film makers, imbedded within the unit struggle trying to capture a true sense of what happens during an operation while, at the same time, creating a film that will meet the needs of the audience.
Robinson engages the reader and makes them think. His caustic, black humour and the cynical outlook of his characters capture the essence of those trying to make sense out of the insanity around them. Of course, finding that they cannot, they find solace and comfort where they can, when they can and with whom they can. It is the nature of war.
Robinson is a master of his trade and his work holds lessons for all who are astute enough to see them. He entertains and he educates and one cannot ask for more than that. Well done.