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Aces, Warriors and Wingmen: Firsthand Accounts of Canada’s Fighter Pilots in the Second World War

by Wayne Ralph

Most of the surviving veterans of the Second World War are now in their eighties, making Aces, Warriors and Wingmen a timely and fitting tribute to one group of Canadians who sacrificed so much in that conflict. Wayne Ralph, pilot and author of Barker VC, toured Canada to research this book, interviewing more than 100 fighter pilots and crew who fought from France to Okinawa. The result is an anecdotal account of their experiences, a book “more about people than campaigns, about humanity rather than fighter aircraft.”

The stories in Aces, Warriors and Wingmen are divided into 13 sections that cover specific campaigns (such as the siege of Malta) or distinct operations (the work of Typhoon fighter bombers). This is an interesting approach that gets away from the monotony of chronology, although it does mean that several pilots’ stories are broken up over more than one section.

The stories range from less than 200 words to several pages, and from the mundane to the unusual (one pilot’s experiences as a prisoner of the Vichy French). Perhaps inevitably, the individual pilots’ backgrounds are sometimes repetitive – as Ralph points out, everyone remembers their pre-war childhood as idyllic. Occasionally, a little more detail would be useful. For example, the reader is told that pilots checked their fingernails for signs of oxygen deprivation, but what they were looking for and why is not explained.

In keeping with Ralph’s focus on humanity, most of the pictures are of people, and the numerous sidebars quote recollections, letters home, and squadron histories. All of us should know these stories, even if only veterans and military historians are likely to read Aces, Warriors and Wingmen in a single sitting. Ralph has done a sterling job of preserving the memories of the men who gave up so much for the world that we live in today.


Reviewer: John Wilson

Publisher: John Wiley & Sons Canada


Price: $34.99

Page Count: 260 pp

Format: Cloth

ISBN: 0-470-83590-7

Released: Apr.

Issue Date: 2005-6

Categories: History