"Welcome back. He didn't make it I'm afraid."
"As a matter of fact, you're the only one from your crew who did."
"Joe Rehm didn't have a mark on him..."
"Died of shock."
"Do you mean to... Am I the only survivor of the whole thing? Out of forty men?"
"Oh, I see where you're going. No. Your tail gunner's ammunition cooked off in the fire. The B-17 behind your own was badly hit, the bombardier was killed and both pilots blinded. But the rest got out okay. So if you're working on some kind of Jonah complex, you can forget it. Anyhow you got a little singed, and that cut on your head needed stitching up, but apart from that you're fine."
"And... then what?"
"They find you another crew, and another aircraft, I suppose. Then you get on with the war. So I'd advise you to rest as much as you can."
Phew, that was a tough first mission, and a very warm welcome to Great Britain for American flyer Leonard Wetmore considering his plane didn't even get off the ground. Well, I suppose technically it did, given how many pieces it exploded into when one of the bombs went off on the runway... A veritable baptism of fire therefore to Leonard's wartime flying career. But the lack of altitude means it doesn't even count towards his requisite tally of twenty-five missions before he's allowed to go home a hero.
An action packed return for Garth's brutally realistic tales of derring do and, well, also abominable suffering from conflict zones around the world. As always with this series, in both its WAR STORIES and BATTLEFIELDS incarnations, the tales are fictionalised retellings of true events, to a lesser or greater degree. And as before, he's included a recommended further reading list at the back.
The three told here: Castles In The Sky, Children Of Israel and The Last German Winter, are of completely different content and indeed tone. The opener, concerning the aeronautical adventures of young Leonard fielding the flack both up in the clouds, and from the young son of the British widow he's practically accidentally romancing, and the closer, featuring a German panzer crew, out of ammo and on foot deep behind enemy lines in their Russian occupied homeland, trying to escort a civilian family to safety in the depths of snowbound mid-winter, are clearly more of a conflation of general events and various peoples' stories. Indeed, the last one is a chilling story in more ways than one about the devastating horrors that wholly innocent civilians caught up in conflict can experience. Sometimes, there are no heroes in war.
And yet, sometimes there really are people who save the day: the absolute right person in the right place, in the very moment they are needed most. The middle story, broadly biographical in nature, recounts the desperate tank battle defence of the Golan Heights that made the career, and name, of Avigdor Ben-Gal, who commanded the 7th Armoured Brigade against the relentless Syrian attack during the 1973 Yom Kippur war.
As seemingly one of the very few who actually believed (or perhaps more precisely no else wanted to believe) that another war was imminent, his brigade was the only Israeli Defence Force unit on a full war-readiness footing. A fact that very possibly saved his country from a catastrophic defeat, perhaps even being wiped off the face of the map forever. You can argue the politics of Israel's very existence as much as you like (amongst yourselves, please), what can't be denied, however, is that to the Israeli people, General Ben-Gal as he eventually became, is a true war hero.
It is always fascinating to see what stories Ennis will turn to next, which conflicts, and the various protagonists involved. The sad fact is he that has no dearth of material to work with...