Book Reviews: Extraordinary tales of Ireland's Aviator Heroes of World War II

John C Hewitt at the launch of his book Ireland’s Aviator Heroes of World War II, Volume II in Belfast last week Picture by Matt Bohill


Ireland’s Aviator Heroes of World War II, Volume II, by John C Hewitt, published by Mercier Press

THIS is John C Hewitt’s second volume recording the history of Ireland’s Aviator Heroes of the Second World War and it got off to a flying start when it was launched in Waterstone's bookshop in Belfast recently.

The most senior air officer in Northern Ireland, Air Vice Marshall David Niven CB, CBE, introduced the book and the writer to an audience of distinguished men and women in the world of aviation. He complimented John Hewitt on his meticulous research over 40 years and pointed out that the men featured were all volunteers as there was no conscription in the north of Ireland.

As a result, many young men came from the Republic to join up because they didn’t like what was happening on the world stage.

Entries are short in some cases because the subject didn’t survive the war; others did and were willing to sit down and relate their experiences.

This fine book features the youngest ever wing commander Brendan ‘Paddy' Finucane DSO, DFC on the cover, and inside there are hundreds of profiles, each one a little piece of personal history.

Men like Squadron Leader Dudley Farquhar Allen, born in Dublin, a commercial traveller before joining the RAF Volunteer Reserve. He was awarded three of UK’s highest awards for bravery including for the day in September 1940 when, after his aircraft crashed, he scrambled free and pulled three unconscious crew from the burning wreckage, despite his own injuries. Sadly his comrades later died from their wounds.

The Right Reverend Monsignor Group Captain Henry Beauchamp, educated in the Franciscan Brother’s school at Clara, Co Offaly, was a Royal Air Force Chaplain until 1948. Born in Co Laois, he saw service in both wars and in 1917 was awarded the Military Cross for bravery under fire. His story is full of determination and humour.

As John Hewitt pointed out, the greats are written about all the time; the men he researched and met were kind and unassuming, ‘ordinary’ modest pilots and crew from north and south.

“There was no doubt,” he said, “Operation Plan Green, the mastermind of Hitler to invade Ireland and so use it as a back door into the UK, was foiled thanks to the dedication to these young men who were little more than schoolboys.”

Volume One began its career in 1980 when this historian began making notes, graduating from two fingers on a manual typewriter to a computer and a devotion to continuing the stories with Volume Two – and there are more to come.

It’s a passion going back many years. As a nine-year-old John would mitch school to cycle to Nutts Corner just to watch the planes or take a bus to Sydenham to watch them roll out of the hangers at Shorts. He joined the Air Training Corp at 13 and set his heart on going the RAF but because of his mother’s ill health instead spent 32 years based at Aldergrove as a British Airways aircraft engineer working on hundreds of planes, including Concorde.

When he took redundancy to concentrate on his first book he was advised to take care of the legacy he was documenting: “These boys are sitting on your shoulder watching you.”

John C Hewitt is dedicated to his writing but he also has a story, loved dancing and can rhyme off all the ballrooms in Belfast in the 60s and 70s. He played snooker with Alex ‘Hurricane’ Higgins in the Jam Pot off Donegall Road when Higgins had to carry an old wooden Guinness box to stand on.

“He’d challenge us for a shilling then he’d let you beat him. It would be double or quits and that would go on till about 10/- was in the pot and of course he won. But he was a lovely fella. He used a brush shaft tapered and chalked at the end.”

From Tipperary to Richhill, from Donaghadee to Islandmagee, photographs, unique log book entries and meticulous research, John Hewitt has made history in more ways than one.

Anne Hailes


We'll Always Have Paris: A Memoir – Trying And Failing To Be French by Emma Beddington, published in hardback by Macmillan

WE'LL Always Have Paris is a memoir from journalist and award-winning blogger Emma Beddington. Obsessed with everything French since stumbling upon a copy of French Elle as a teenager, Beddington sets about doing all she can to leave her humble Yorkshire roots behind and embrace the French philosophy and way of life.

She even eventually fulfils her lifelong dream of living in Paris – but can the reality live up to her expectations? Can it ever?

Beddington's memoir is a sumptuous ode to Gallic philosophy, Parisian patisserie and French joie de vivre. But it is also a candid and poignant account of grief, loss, relationships and identity. A must-read for anyone who's ever lived, or thought about living, abroad, Francophile or otherwise.

Zahra Saeed


The Cauliflower by Nicola Barker, published in hardback by William Heinemann

ONLY one thing is for certain when reading Nicola Barker's latest and totally brilliant, yet unclassifiable novel – you have absolutely no idea which direction the story is heading in.

Barker's writing is exuberant, chaotic and magical, but sometimes a little hard to follow. The Cauliflower is not for those who give up on books easily, but hold tight, you're in for an epic ride. The novel concerns itself with Sri Ramakrishna, a 19th century Indian mystic. The narrative jumps around, though is often told from the point of view of Ramakrishna's nephew. The story unfolds in fragments as the reader gleans half-told tales of magical India.

Barker's writing is completely original and insightful and bursting full of spirituality. The novel is thoroughly enjoyable; however it gets slightly messy at times as Barker runs away with herself.

Heather Doughty



Freddie Mole, Lion Tamer by Alexander McCall Smith, illustrated by Kate Hindley, published in hardback by Bloomsbury Children's Books

THE author who brought us the cosy tales of The No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency has written another story for children, which plays on the childhood fantasy of running away to the circus.

In the grand tradition of Roald Dahl's Charlie Bucket, Freddie Mole comes from a penniless family. His father mends washing machines and the only job his mum can get is cleaning on cruise ships.

When Freddie tags along with his dad to fix a machine at the Big Top, he finds himself offering to fill the ringmaster's vacancy for a 'hard-working youngster'. Little does he know that his duties will involve death-defying trapeze acts and standing in for the lion tamer at the last minute in this joyful celebration of the circus.

Kate Whiting

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