Sigh for a Merlin  [0947554831]

Sigh for a Merlin
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Date Added: Tuesday 11. August, 2009
Book Review by Guy Warner

Spitfire – a Test Pilot’s Story by Jeffrey Quill, 335 pages SB, 44 B&W photographs, 18 line drawings, Crécy Classic £10.95, ISBN 978-0-947554-72-9

Sigh for a Merlin – Testing the Spitfire by Alex Henshaw, 240 pages SB, 52 B&W photographs, 3 maps & diagrams, Crécy Classic £10.95, ISBN 978-0-947554-83-5

A previous reviewer of Sigh for a Merlin advises, “If you only buy one Spitfire book, make this it.” I could not agree less – if your education and enjoyment is to be complete you must have both of these books. These are war stories and memoirs with a difference, far and away from the run of the mill. They dovetail beautifully, much as the roles of Quill and Henshaw also did. Quill, who had learned to fly in the “best flying club in the world” the pre-war RAF, was the dedicated professional and development test pilot supreme who contributed mightily in turning “a single-seater flying machine of extremely good performance, very sweet to fly with no vices, into a fighter supreme that was capable of the most astounding development from the Mk 1 to the Mk 47.” Henshaw was a pre-war amateur racing and record breaking aviator of almost breathtaking natural flying ability and volatile temperament, who knuckled down to become a highly organised production test pilot, ensuring that each Spitfire leaving the vast Castle Bromwich works was ready to fly and to fight. He tested personally more than 3000 Spitfires, while Quill flew every of the 52 marks, sub-types and variants from the prototype K5054 in 1936 to NN664, the first Spiteful, in 1945. It is obvious from the text that apart from a mutual liking and friendship, Quill respected Henshaw’s incredible piloting skills and that Henshaw looked up to Quill as a man and airman. It would have been marvellous to see Henshaw display a Spitfire – if he impressed Jeffrey Quill, that’s more than good enough for me. He even had time to found the Castle Bromwich Pig Club on the side and successfully rolled more than one Lancaster. Quill knew the Spitfire back to front but could still be surprised now and then – see page 106 for the mysterious knocking story!

So too do the styles of writing contrast and complement each other; Henshaw’s book is more lyrical, evocative and even poetic, conveying his sense of enjoyment but also of dedication to the task; while Quill treats the reader to the full story of the Spitfire set against its historic, military and technical context. His communication skills are first rate. He explains technical matters very well; for example, the aileron problem but does not insult the reader’s intelligence by dumbing it down. I enjoyed both books immensely; they were a privilege to read. Henshaw’s book also features excellent and insightful forewords from Quill and Air Marshal Sir John Allison, while Sir George Edwards does the honours for Quill.

The official recognition received by both was nothing short of derisory; Quill was awarded the OBE and Henshaw the MBE. A knighthood and a CBE would not have come amiss.

The publishers, Crécy, are to be highly congratulated for producing these re-issues to such a high standard of reproduction at such a reasonable price.

In summary, your aviation bookshelf will be sadly lacking if space is not found for both of these titles.
Rating: 5 of 5 Stars! [5 of 5 Stars!]
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