Flying Through the Ranks
Publication 31 July 2024 - Grub Street
With nearly 40 contributors from a marshal of the RAF to a J/T, this is genuine five-star stuff! Their stories run the gamut of risk-taking during the Cold War – a Lightning first-tourist succumbs to the ‘press-on’ spirit – to the Gulf. In the Falklands, calculated gambles put tanker and helicopter crews in danger. A Hunter pilot comes up with a brilliant, almost equally risky, piece of improvisation to avert a potential disaster, while for a split-second a Harrier aviator stares death in the face. A Typhoon pilot meets aggressive Russians and a Phantom flyer who tries the Navy for size rather likes it; he eventually transfers allegiance - unlike the Buccaneer navigator who happily returns to the fold after his own carrier experiences. And from Kosovo there's a tale of a narrow helicopter escape. There are engineer stories too - in fact, a Phantom engineer becomes the first woman to fly operationally in the RAF. On the ground, there are accounts of unlikely escapades in Cyprus, fighting in the Dhofar War and a UK base apparently prone to serious accidents. Last but by no means least in this brief preview of some extraordinary stories, a seemingly inconsequential incident during the Suez crisis exemplifies the bond between those who fly and those who support them on the ground – a professional relationship central to so many of these riveting tales.
HARDBACK, GRUB STREET - 2023
From Spitfires to Vampires and Beyond
A Kiwi Ace's RAF Journey
Wg Cdr Owen Hardy DFC* AFC
World War Two Spitfire pilot Owen Hardy was probably the last New Zealand ace to tell his story. He left home at 18 bent on joining the RAF and by 1942, aged only 20, he was at Biggin Hill with 72 Squadron under Brian Kingcome. D-Day found him flying over the Normandy beaches with 485 (New Zealand) Squadron. That he survived the war unharmed owed as much to luck as it did to his ability as a fighter pilot. Unable to settle in civilian life afterwards in New Zealand, he returned to the RAF for the second phase of a remarkable career.
Converting to jets, Hardy went on to command 71 Squadron, leading a Vampire aerobatic team with considerable success across Europe – dodging MiGs at the same time! But adapting to peacetime service wasn’t easy. Previously stimulated by the wartime environment and still passionate about flying, he was less enamoured with staff jobs; and this despite working on the introduction of a new, state-of-the-art missile system, Bloodhound. Then a fateful decision, to turn down command of a Javelin squadron and follow his mentor, led finally to disillusionment.
Hardy pulls no punches in this forthright and refreshingly honest autobiography. In retelling his eye-opening story, editor Black Robertson shines a light on what it was like not just to fly in combat, but also on the changing face of a post-war RAF which arguably undervalued some of its heroes. From the heat of North Africa to the uncertainties of the Cold War, it’s a unique and enthralling tale.
‘Illuminating and evocative in equal measure, From Spitfires to Vampires and Beyond tells the remarkable story of the seasoned New Zealand fighter pilot Owen Hardy in his own words. Pride and disquietude, exaltation and alienation – Hardy unflinchingly recounts the mixed emotions he experienced during his diverse career within the RNZAF and RAF. Deftly ushered by ‘Black’ Robertson, this book constitutes a bold and refreshingly candid departure from the swashbuckling accounts that have long dominated the genre.’
Dr Victoria Taylor, Associated of the Freeman Air & Space Institute
Spitfire pilot Owen From Hardy might just be the last New Zealand ace to have his story told. The late pilot’s memoirs are brilliantly curated by Air Marshal G A ‘Black’ Robertson and notably depict Hardy’s difficulties settling into post-war civilian life. The one thing that didn’t suit him was not flying – staff jobs brought disillusionment – so the second phase of his extraordinary career found him commanding 71 Squadron and leading a Vampire aerobatic team. This refreshingly honest autobiography is no swashbuckling account but rather a candid reflection on the perils, joys and pitfalls of military service and the challenges faced in ‘civvie’ life by those who had become accustomed to risk and drama.
Flypast, December 2023
Owen [Hardy]’s memoir was never intended for publication, in its original form at least . . . There was however a desire by Owen’s daughter and the author for an updated published version, which required a good deal of work. This has resulted in the excellent read we have here . . . [Hardy’s] story isn’t one of aerial battles per se, but a reflection on events and emotions typical of those experienced by most fighter pilots during the war and the exciting but uncertain years that followed. A unique and enthralling tale.
Classic Wings New Zealand, Issue 126
HARDBACK, PEN & SWORD - 2022
A Spitfire Named Connie
Letters from a North Africa Ace - a Tale of Triumph and Tragedy
The poignant story of ‘Robbie’ Robertson’s two wartime love affairs – with flying and with the schoolgirl he eventually marries. Told mainly in his own words, through hundreds of his original letters, it has the excitement of a novel. This prequel to Fighters in the Blood paints an intimate and authentic picture of life, love and loss in a bygone era. In many ways it was an age of innocence. A time when language was restrained, when emotions were understated – and when all too many relationships ended in tragedy.
‘A really good read and highly recommended’
Royal Air Force Historical Society Journal
‘This is a book that I cannot recommend more highly to anyone interested in Spitfire operations . . . wartime romance, and above all, a story of devotion to one’s nation and to one’s love.’
‘An incredible but true story about Robbie Robertson, a real-life Biggles . . . and how he met his future wife, Connie, are the sort of things you might read in a novel but it’s all true and absolutely terrific.’
‘Many will recognise the pain and longing in the letters in this very readable book.’
‘An excellent book . . . [it] helps that it receives the input of the son too which adds much to the narrative.’
The History Fella
HARDBACK, PEN & SWORD - 2020
Fighters in the Blood
The Story of a Spitfire Pilot & the Son who Followed in his Footsteps
The uncovering of a treasure trove of wartime memorabilia was the catalyst for this unique memoir. Two separate and distinct voices bring vividly to life the contrasting experiences of the author and those of his father, a decorated Spitfire ace. The latter’s career was cut short by the loss of an eye when he was shot down in North Africa. Amongst the fascinating parallels a generation apart two stand out. The astonishing role that Lady Luck played in both their lives, and a deep and abiding love of flying. The result is not only a unique testament to character, it’s also a tribute to those who made the RAF what it is today.
‘Precise elegant and fun . . . Entertaining and in places poignant, Fighters in the Blood adds a unique twist to the standard autobiographical form . . . A rich testimony that sheds an important light on the RAF’s wartime culture.’
Air and Space Power Review
‘I have to commend the writing style and the articulate manner in which Black writes. It is amusing and intense at times and will keep any reader enthralled. The way the author describes the people in this story comes across in the most honest and sincere way that this reviewer has read in a long time. It is truly a unique and intriguing story.’
‘For those interested in gaining a different perspective on the changing human experience of RAF service over several decades, Fighters in the Blood is a standout source . . . as a single narrative spanning the lived experience of almost every rank and flying position which RAF aircrew aspired to during the Cold War [it] delivers something unique.’