"FLIGHT OF YOUTH" is a well-written, poignant novel about a young man of humble origins from Northern England (Bill Proctor) who joins the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) during World War I, trains as an air mechanic, and by virtue of his proven mechanical skills, advances to become an observer/gunner in 2-seat aircraft in combat, and thus earns the opportunity to receive pilot training back in England. He returns to France as a pilot in an observation squadron during 1917 and 1918. The novel also shares with the reader various aspects of Bill's personal life away from the Front.
I picked up this novel in an airport after having seen on TV during the 1970s the movie adaptation of "The Blue Max", which impressed me a lot.
The novel is centered on Bruno Stachel, a young man of humble origins (his father worked in a modest hotel in the Black Forest), who had transferred from the infantry to the Imperial German Air Service. As a newly minted fighter pilot, he arrives at a Jasta (fighter squadron) situated not far from the Front. It is early 1918, several weeks before Germany would embark on a series of offensives to win the war before the Americans could arrive in strength and help ensure an Allied victory. Stachel is a bit ill-at-ease for he is the new guy at the Jasta, the greenhorn. So he puts up a brave front with his comrades. He wants so much to be the hero and join the pantheon of the great German aces (e.g., Boelcke, Immelmann, and Manfred von Richthofen aka The Red Baron) by earning Imperial Germany's highest award for bravery: the Order Pour le Mérite. Better known as the Blue Max.
But in order to earn the Blue Max -- not an easy feat --- a fighter pilot has to earn his mettle through the crucible of air combat by shooting down a significant number of enemy aircraft. Stachel is on a steep learning curve and has to prove himself. So, his commander, Hauptmann Heidemann (himself a holder of the Blue Max) assigns him a Pfalz DIII, which though graceful in appearance, is one of the unit's cast offs, a marked contrast to the standard Albatros and Fokker Triplane fighters with which the majority of the Jasta is equipped.
As the novel progresses, the reader experiences the ups and downs of life at the Front (with some views of life back in Germany), as well as Stachel's burning ambition to be the best fighter pilot in the Jasta. It is an ambition that alienates Stachel from many of his comrades, who resent his growing arrogance as he grows in experience and skill as a combat pilot.
This is a novel that I -- as a student of World War I air combat -- thoroughly enjoyed reading. It's packed with adventure, excitement, raw human emotions, and tragedy. And it's well-written. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
Ever since I started watching the modern Sherlock, the question has been bugging me for years: What is the name of the story where the guy gets tricked into copying the encyclopedia??
It was my first introduction to Mr. Holmes and Dr. Watson. Years and years ago when I was in college, we read the story and then also saw the episode it was based on. For a while now, I've been scanning the titles for Sherlock Holmes stories, and none of them struck a chord. I couldn't remember!
And then last night, I get the wonderful idea. Why don't I just Google it? But really, will I find the story/episode by simply typing, sherlock holmes copying encyclopedia?
Well I'll be damned. It worked. Sure enough, "The Red Headed League" came up. I even found the episode on Amazon Instant and watched it last night for the first time in I don't know how many years.
Moral of the story: Google is wicked scary at how accurate it can be...