Fighters in the Blood

In this unique memoir, two fascinating stories unfold in parallel. One is of a World War II Spitfire ace whose brief flying career comes to a dramatic end. The other, longer tale is of his fighter pilot son who also retires early, albeit as an air marshal.

Two separate and distinct voices add authenticity to a vivid narrative. The author weaves his own reminiscences together with those his father recorded in the mid-80s, stories reinforced by extracts from hundreds of his wartime letters. The insights revealed go far beyond a shared love of flying, and indeed of life itself. They say much about attitudes, values, language and even society generations apart – about the changing nature of the RAF too.                                           

Intensely personal and revealing, controversial too at times, this memoir is above all about people. Alongside apparently ordinary individuals with extraordinary tales of their own to tell sit national figures and heroes of yesteryear. Notable amongst the latter are Cecil Lewis, a protégé of George Bernard Shaw, Battle of Britain veterans and Robbie’s closest friend, ‘George’ Malan. Brother of the more famous ‘Sailor’, George was killed by our own flak in North Africa; he’d been married just a few short months. It’s a book about other things too: music and memory, poetry and pathos, incidents and institutions – courage as well, both physical and moral.

But there’s a final irony. The son who spent a lifetime training for the ultimate examination – one his father passed with flying colours – was never tested under fire. Robbie was awarded the DFC and retired as a flight lieutenant after five years or so. He himself served for nearly 36 years, earned a Queen’s Commendation, the OBE and CBE. But after reaching almost the top of the RAF tree, Black Robertson retired with regrets. In what to him was the most important sense – professionally as an aviator – he was unfulfilled.