Through Footless Halls of Air: The Stories of a Few of the Many
Who Failed to Return.
Review by Thomas F. Chambers.
This book chronicles the lives of six airmen from Atlantic Canada based in Britain who died during the war against Nazi Germany. Well illustrated, it provides a glimpse of war from a different perspective.
War is a sorry business. It is the opposite of civilized behaviour. It is an experience that no soldier, sailor, or airmen, who, having once been there, would wish on anyone. This is certainly the opinion of author Floyd Williston as he recreates for us the last days on earth of six brave men from Atlantic Canada who died tragically in one of mankind's most gruesome wars. Books on war frequently deal with the major decisions taken by political and military leaders. Through Footless Halls of Air deals instead with the ordinary, insignificant men who usually die as unsung heroes. It is a splendid book, well written and very interesting.
In order to flesh out the personalities of the men featured in his book, Williston provides many details of their personal lives and includes many quotations by the men and their acquaintances as they awaited their fate. This approach does indeed show us that these men were more than just cogs in a military machine - by showing the hopes and tears of the six men, Williston brings out the human side of war.
The inclusion of many photos of the airmen and the aircraft they died in also helps to make the story come alive. So too do the drawings of some of the bombers mentioned, with their specifications, bomb capacity, and crew size. We can easily imagine, with Williston's help, just what these men went through as they set off again and again on hazardous, often futile missions. War in Williston's hands becomes cruel and horrible and the ordinary men who gave their lives so willingly become larger than life. As we read about their moments of death, we are left wondering just what they might have accomplished had they not been plucked away in the prime of life.
Five of Williston's heroes (David Albert Romans, Albert Williston, Earle K. Reid, Fred Mifflin, and James Tuplin) flew with bomber command. The trials and tribulations they had to endure are remarkable. Foremost among these trials was the raid on Nuremberg on March 30-31, 1944, when everything that could go wrong did and one hundred and eleven Canadian airmen died. This raid, according to Williston, should never have taken place because of weather conditions. In his hands, it sounds just as futile as the infamous "Charge of the Light Brigade" during the Crimean War.
Chapter Five is about Squadron Leader, Norman Fowlow who flew a Spitfire. What made his final flight so remarkable was that his plane acted as a dive-bomber carrying a five-hundred-pound bomb. As Williston says, "such Spitfire dive-bombing sorties were almost always suicidal. The bomb, which was strapped to the plane's belly section, was unprotected and totally exposed to German anti-aircraft flak." This was how Fowlow died.
In Through Footless Halls of Air we even learn details about some of the German fighter pilots and crew who defended against the incoming allied bombers. The one we learn the most about is Major Prinz Wittgenstein, a German air ace who may have shot down Williston's brother, Albert. Williston does not hate this man, as well he might, but realizes that he too was a hero who died just as needlessly as his Canadian foes.
Through Footless Halls of Air is a story that deserves to be told. It gives war a human face and will be enjoyed by a wide audience, not just former service men.
Thomas F. Chambers is a professor of politics, economics, and history at Canadore College of Applied Arts and Technology in North Bay, Ontario.
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Copyright © 1997 the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
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