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In for a Penny, in for a Pound: The Adventures and Misadventures of a Wireless Operator in Bomber Command

by Howard Hewer

Howard Hewer is lucky to be alive. On more than one occasion he came close to becoming one of the 16,953 Canadian airmen who died in the Second World War. In for a Penny, In for a Pound is the story of his experiences.

As a keen 19-year-old, filled with dreams of becoming another Billy Bishop, Hewer joined the air force in June of 1940. He was rapidly brought down to earth and trained as a wireless operator and gunner on Wellington bombers. Throughout 1941 and 1942, he flew raids over Germany’s heavily defended Ruhr Valley, took part in precision bombing in the Mediterranean, and drove a truck on a mission behind the lines in the Libyan desert. He was unprepared for any of this, hence the title of the book, taken from the words that greeted him on arrival at his first operational squadron: “Well, chaps, your glamour period is over now. You got in for a penny, but now you’re in for the pound.”

Hewer’s story is simply told, but the experiences are interesting and entertaining: he killed a cow during gunnery training, fell out the open door of his aircraft, and participated in a minor mutiny in Egypt. Hewer also creates a strong sense of time and place, whether a pub in London during the blitz or a street in Cairo.

Footnotes provide necessary background, and maps and 40 photographs – many taken surreptitiously – nicely complement the text. The book offers little moralizing or retrospective philosophy, and much of its first half will be familiar to readers of previous Bomber Command memoirs. However, the time Hewer spent in Egypt and the desert covers less well-known territory, and this straightforward tale of a vanished time will be enjoyed both by those who participated and by those who wish to find out what it was like.