- Publisher: VIKING
- Format: Hardback | 352 pages
- Dimensions: 144mm x 233mm x 36mm | 577g
- Publication date: 25 April 2002
- Publication City/Country: London
- ISBN 10: 0670912484
- ISBN 13: 9780670912483
- Illustrations note: 16pp illustrations
An account of "Boy" Wellum, one of the youngest fighter pilots in the Battle of Britain. Enlisting in the RAF weeks before the outbreak of World War II, Geoffrey Wellum found himself fighting the Germans over the English Channel, a Spitfire pilot at just 18 years of age. This memoir follows Geoffrey through early (disastrous) training sessions, his first solo flights, his first battle and a harrowing account of being lost at sea. He describes the unique, exhilarating experience of flying a Spitfire and, also, the terrible toll that it takes on the young mind and body. At the age of 21 he is worn out physically and mentally. His war is at an end.
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When he was just 17, Geoffrey Wellum joined the RAF in August 1939 and served with 92 Squadron throughout the Battle of Britain. In 1942 he went to 65 Squadron at Debden as a Flight Commander & from there to Malta later that year. He led 8 Spitfires off HMS Furious to Luqa during Operation Pedestal. He now lives in Mullion in Cornwall and has three children.
This may turn out to be the last great undiscovered memoir of the Second World War. Ex-Spitfire pilot Geoffrey Wellum wrote the book with no intention of ever seeing it published. Penguin picked it up, and since its appearance such luminaries as Max Hastings have been full of praise. First Light tells the story of Wellum's time as a pilot during the war. In the Battle of Britain, he and his comrades began to live each day with a fierce intensity. The thrill of flying a Spitfire was coupled with the sheer terror of combat, and when the day was over, the Squadron drank and played as hard as they could. One by one his friends stopped returning home. By the age of 21, Wellum was drained, mentally and physically. A harrowing book, but also a celebration of life.
Early in the spring of 1939, Geoffrey Wellum applied to join the RAF. He was a sixth-former at a boarding school in the home counties, oddly unaware that war was only a few months away, and as keen as mustard to fly fighter planes. This book is his diary, the record of a teenager hastily trained and then hurled into the most devastating war in the air that the world has ever seen. Flying school is quickly dealt with, and early in 1940 the 18-year-old finds himself posted to a squadron on active service. Once he wins his coveted 'wings' he becomes part of a peripatetic outfit, 92 Squadron, and soon the squadron is in the thick of things. Wellum's enthralling memoir appears to be stitched together from notes written in the dispersal hut while edgily waiting for the order to 'scramble' and take off in a Spitfire after marauding enemy bombers and their vicious fighter support. You never, he wrote at the age of 19 (and a virgin), lose the feeling of fear, but you do become reconciled to it. 'Ops' could happen up to three times a day, and the stress on the young men was terrible, increased by the regular flow of pilots who failed to make it back to base. Once the Battle of Britain was won (and hard won, at that), Wellum went on to escort bombing squadrons into mainland Europe, with more narrow escapes that are deeply harrowing to read. When, as an old hand, he was retired from front-line service as a Flight Commander, he was just 20 years old. This is a wonderful and moving memoir: 'I feel so grateful for being one of this band of fighter pilots in this hour of our country's history,' he writes. And so should we. (Kirkus UK)