'To you all - to whom we owe so much, and who are so soon forgotten - I dedicate with a full heart these pages which you have lived...'

» Pierre Clostermann
dedication, the Big Show, 1951

 
short biographies of pilots
Pierre Clostermann
 

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Douglas Bader
Pierre Clostermann
Roald Dahl
Amelia Earhart
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Anthony Fokker
Cecil Lewis
A. & C. Lindbergh
Beryl Markham
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Manfred von Richthofen
A. de Saint-Exupéry
Nevil Shute
Ernst Udet

 
Listed with the author are relevant books and links on the Web;
please mail Hanneke Hoogstrate with comments and suggestions!

 

   Pierre Clostermann
Pierre Clostermann was educated in Paris and then studied aeronautical engineering in France and America. He was only seventeen when he aquired his pilot's licence. In 1941 he joined the Free French Forces (341 'Alsace' Squadron) as a fighter pilot. First in Scotland but later from Biggin Hill, he flew with Mouchotte, who was his commanding officer. The following year he was transferred to the RAF. He served in Spitfire and Tempest squadrons where he flew no less than 420 operational sorties, was credited with the destruction of 33 enemy planes and was awarded the DSO and DFC and Bar in addition to French, Belgian and American decorations.

After the war he went into politics; he was a strong supporter of the European Union. He flew again in the French-Algerian war in 1956-57.

books:
le Grand Cirque (1948); the Big Show (1951) fighter pilot during WW II
Feu au ciel; Flames in the sky (1952): war stories of assorted pilots
Appui-Feu Sur L'Oued Hallail (1956): combat service in Algeria
Leo 25 airborne (1962): fictional characters set in factual occurrences during the French-Algerian war

on the web:
a commercial and illustrated version of the Big Show

pilots' biographies back to contents

 

   Roald Dahl, 1916 - 1990
Roald Dahl's parents were Norwegians that had emigrated to England around 1900. He was born in Wales in 1916. In 1938 he went to Africa as employee of the Shell Oil Company but when war broke out soon afterwards he enlisted and learned to fly in Tiger Moths with the RAF in Nairobi. After joining an operational fighter squadron in Habanniya (Iraq), he was assigned to fly a Gloster Gladiator, an unknown type to him, to some inaccurately given coordinates in the Lybian desert.
the Saturday Evening Post, 1942

He ran out of daylight and fuel at the same time, and crashed and burned in no-man's- land. The story he later wrote about this was first published as 'Shot Down Over Lybia', which is part fiction, part fact, but sold as a true tale. He re-wrote it to be 'a Piece of Cake', trying to stay closer to what really happened, in which he only suggests the shooting down as 'trouble, lots and lots of trouble'.

With a fractured skull and a bashed in nose, he was blind for some days, but he pulled through, and six months later he joined 80 Squadron at Elevsis near Athens, Greece, that flew Hurricanes now instead of Gladiators. With a whopping seven hours training on Hurricanes, he managed to shoot down two enemy bombers. This squadron and 33 Squadron of famous ace Pat Pattle (the whole RAF force in Greece, 'all twelve of us') fought against great odds but had to pull out of Greece with heavy losses. He gives a very unglamourous insider view of the 'Battle of Athens' in which Pattle was killed.
80 Squadron was reassembled in Haifa, Palestine. From here, Dahl flew missions every day for a period of four weeks, but then he began to get blinding headaches that gave him black-outs in the air, and he was invalided home to Britain.

In 1942 he went to Washington as Assistant Air Attaché; there he met C.S. Forester (of the Captain Hornblower series) who prompted him to start writing a story based on his experiences. Forester would then being a proper writer turn it into a real story. However, Dahl wrote later that Forester was 'bowled over' by the story, and insisted that it be published as is, as Dahl's own story.

In 1943 he wrote 'The Gremlins' to be part of a Walt Disney cartoon project. Alledgedly, it was also part of a British Secret Service plan to gain America's public sympathy and support for the British war effort (hmmm - nice yarn).
Gremlins weren't quite Dahl's invention though: the name 'gremlin' was first coined somewhere around the 1920's: RAF insider jokes blamed gremlins for all the technical malfunctions in airplanes.Flight Lieutenant Dahl's first book, 1943 Douglas Bader tells of a German Lager-Offizier nicknamed 'Gremlin George' in early 1942. Gremlin jokes were widely used by the RAF during the World War II and so got into popular culture as well.

'It's a story about the dealings of Gremlins, little creatures who wreak havoc on fighter planes during the Battle of Britain. Very few copies of 'the Gremlins' were published. It was originally planned to be the companion to a Walt Disney film, but the entire project was scrapped. Some say the film was never made because of the difficult task of making loveable creatures who exist solely to destroy Allied airplanes.' Disney actively tried to stop others from making Gremlin cartoons. (see sites listed below)

In 1945, Roald Dahl returned to England and began to work on a novel. 'Sometime Never' was published in 1948 but the book was a dismal failure. In 1953 Dahl married actress Patricia Neal, whom he had first met at a party in 1951. They had five children together and he attributes his success as a writer of children's books to them. 'Had I not had children of my own, I would have never written books for children, nor would I have been capable of doing so.' Only in 1986 he tells the probably real Lybian story in 'Going Solo'. Roald Dahl died in 1990, a greatly loved story teller.

books:
Going Solo (1986): autobiography

- aviation fiction:
The Gremlins, A Royal Air Force Story by Flight Lieutenant Roald Dahl (1943) for Walt Disney
Over to you (1946): ten stories of war in the air, loosely based on his own experiences, that were published in the Saturday Evening Post, Harpers, Ladies' Home Journal and Town and Country magazines (1942 - 1946).

- selection of other fiction:
Someone like you
Kiss kiss
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
My Uncle Oswald
The Witches
Boy - tales of childhood

for a full list, please see: bibliography at Kristine Howard's site

on the web:
wonderful site at RoaldDahl.com of Jeff Meaney with lots of good info
     full 'Shot down over Lybia' story at RoaldDahl.com
     page about The Gremlins at RoaldDahl.com
more about Dahl's wartime Gremlins from Keith LaRue
info on early 'non-Dahl' Gremlins in wartime Bugs Bunny cartoons

the well documented Roald Dahl home page of Kristine Howard, with extended bio, books, photo's etc.

pilots' biographies back to contents

 

   Anthony Fokker, 1890 - 1939
Anton Fokker was born in 1890 on Java, in the (then) Dutch colonies. The family moved back to Holland for his education when he was 11, but he was not a very ardent student, and he only made it through his high school exams by means of a self invented crabbing-machine. He went to Germany to train in a car manufacturing school but decided on the spot that he preferred a newly started course in aviation. The one plane he and his class built was crashed by a pilot that couldn't fly and the course crashed with it. Instead of going back he built his own plane with money his father sent him. In 1910 he flew it for the first time; in 1911 he was giving demonstrations and joy-rides in it to make a living.

He became an aeroplane manufacturer and show pilot, constantly worried by financial difficulties. Then war broke out and Fokker came into his own. Fokker planes became loved and feared. After the war the Dutch government still hesitated to buy aircraft from Fokker, so he sold the salvaged (German) surplus war production to Russia. A second main Fokker factory opened in America and Fokker became the largest civil aircraft manufacturer of the twenties. He wrote his autobiography 'the Flying Dutchman' in 1931. The all-metal Douglas DC1 of 1933 meant an end to the Fokker supremacy. A last brilliant stroke was the beautiful twin-tailed G-1 fighter of 1936, nicknamed the Reaper. Fokker died in America in 1939. The company went bankrupt in 1996.

books:
de Vliegende Hollander; the Flying Dutchman (1931): autobiography

on the web:
a pre-war history of the Dutch Air Force with lots of pictures of Fokker planes
rules for the war game Fokker Fodder from the Humberside Wargames Society

Plane Writing special feature:
the Flying Dutchman

pilots' biographies back to contents

 

   Beryl Markham, 1902 - 1986

Beryl Clutterbuck was born in England in 1902 and lived in Africa from the age of four. Her father was a horse-breeder, scolar and adventurer. She spent her childhood playing with local Murani children, hunting in the African bush, and learnt to speak Swahili, Nandi, Masai. Early on she worked for her father as a trainer and breeder of racehorses - at eighteen the first woman in Africa to be granted a racehorse trainer's license.
Beryl Markham
She married three times: first in 1919 to Jock Purves, later to Mansfield Markham in 1927 (shortly after the birth of her son, Gervase (1929 - 1973), they separated, after Mansfield found some love letters from Prince Henry addressed to Beryl), then to Raoul Schumacher in 1942.
In 1931 she learned to fly with Tom Campbell Black, 'the love of my life'. She scouted elephant and general big game for Denys Finch Hatton (with whom she had an affair as well) and 'Blix', Bror von Blixen, the husband of Karen Blixen. In September 1936 she made headlines by becoming the first pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic from east to west - crash-landing in Nova Scotia and thinking of it as a failure.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, whom she met in 1932 and again in 1940, encouraged her to start writing a book, and he probably helped her to form her style.
She met Raoul Schumacher, a frustrated fiction writer, in 1941, when she had already finished the early chapters. He acted as editor on her manuscript and later claimed to be the actual author.

'West with the night', her only book, was published in 1942 - not the best time for a book to gain recognition - there were no reprints and it soon faded from sight. She and Raoul wrote a few short magazine stories during the war while living in New Mexico. Eventually they broke up; she returned to Kenya in 1950. After a while she started to train horses again, to become 'the most brilliant professional horse trainer Kenya has ever known'. Said a Nairobi acquaintance: 'In mechanical terms she was born with a super-charger and no governor on the accelerator'.

Ernest Hemingway wrote of the book in a letter to his editor:
'Did you read Beryl Markham's book, West with the night? I knew her fairly well in Africa and never would have suspected that she could and would put pen to paper except to write in her flyer's logbook. As it is she has written so well, and so marvellously well, that I was simply ashamed of myself as a writer. (...) But this girl, who is to my knowledge very unpleasant and we might even say a high-grade bitch, can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves writers. She omits some very fantastic stuff which would destroy much of the character of the heroine; but what is that anyhow in writing?'

Intelligent, cultured and glamourous, she had become the object of gossip and reverence in Nairobi. 'She had an affair with the Prince of Wales' - 'Prince Henry fathered her son' - 'She drinks like a fish' - 'She could never have written the book, she's totally illiterate' One of the many rumours which abound says that Beryl spurned Hemingway's sexual advances. She did omit amazing stuff: there is nothing about her son nor her lovers in her book. Hemingway's letter resurfaced, the book was rediscovered, and subsequently republished in 1983.

books:
West with the night (1942): autobiography
     - Mary S. Lovell: Straight on till morning (1987)
     - Catherine Gourley: Beryl Markham: Never Turn Back (1997)

on the web:
another bio of Beryl Markham, but one that questions her authorship of 'West with the night', on a server that claims to "celebrate women's history"! (gale.com)

pilots' biographies back to contents

 

   Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, 1900 - 1944
Born in Lyon in 1900 into a wealthy French family, he was educated first by Jesuits until his unruly behavior proved too much for them. In 1922, after having been an art student and an actor, he went to Strasbourg for a formal military course in flying. Demobilised in 1923, he worked for a time at a roof tile factory, and later sold trucks.

Naturally, in 1926, he jumped at the chance to fly as a commercial pilot making regular trips on the dangerous Toulouse - Dakar run, with monsieur Didier Daurat as his superior (Rivière in 'Night Flight'). Here, he met the veteran mail flyer Guillaumet and they became friends. Two years later, Saint-Ex, Guillaumet and Mermoz were flying the first airmail routes in South America from Brazil to Patagonia.

When the company got into financial difficulties, he went back to Europe where he had a hard time finding work. He flew in the 1932 King's Cup air races, at which event he met Beryl Markam. From 1932 to 1935 he flew airmail from France to the Sahara. He and his mechanic Prévost nearly died of thirst on a desperate record breaking trip that ended in a crash landing in the desert. After that, he went to Spain and wrote newspaper articles about the Spanish Civil War. Back to South America again, where he crashed, this time so severely that he needed a full year to recover. He used this time to finish Terre des Hommes.

At the outbreak of war he enlisted in the French Air Corps Reserve and when France fell, he disappeared after being captured by the Germans. It was feared that he had been executed, but he turned up again in Portugal, after escaping from his captors despite having his aeroplane shot from under him. He spent the early 1940s in America as an established writer. 43 years old, he returned on active service to North Africa, and was killed in 1944 under mysterious circumstances on a wartime flying mission over the Mediterranean.

His books are simply about passion for life. 'Saint-Ex clearly understood that flying - especially the type of long and dangerous kind that he was engaged in - was both a metaphor and a brilliant illumination of human nature. Like flying into uncharted territory, our journey through life is fraught with perils, faced mostly alone and with few witnesses to our acts of courage or cowardice.'

books:
Courrier-Sud; Southern Mail (1928): Toulouse - Dakar
Vol de Nuit; Night Flight (1931): South America
Terre des Hommes; Wind, Sand and Stars (1939): Northern Africa and Spain
Pilote de Guerre; Flight to Arras (1942): flying in Europe at war
Lettre à un Otage; Letter to a Hostage (1943)
Le petit Prince; the Little Prince (1943)
Citadelle; Wisdom of the Sands (1948): unfinished

on the web:
the official Exupery site in French
a page with links and quotes in English

pilots' biographies back to contents

 

   Nevil Shute, 1899 - 1960

Nevil Norway was born January 17, 1899 in London. His father was a minor writer of travel books and had a job with the British Post Office. In 1916, at the time of the Easter Rising, his office was in the Dublin Post Office building; he was unharmed. Nevil was an ambulance driver with the St John's Brigade and was close to some of the fighting.

He tried but did not fight in the War; in 1918 he began civil life as an aeronautical engineer. His first real job was with the Vickers company where he was involved in the design of the airship R-100. He was initially hired on as a stress calculator but five years later, by the time the project ended, he had become chief engineer. They flew R-100 non-stop to Canada in 1930, and flew back again, something no aeroplane could do at that time.

After the end of the airship project, jobs were hard to come by due to the depression so he started his own aircraft manufacturing company, Airspeed Ltd, building civil aircraft. He was bought out in 1938 after many disputes with his conservative Board of Directors. He was not sorry to leave: 'Ahead of the managing director of Airspeed Ltd (himself) stretched an unknown number of years to be spent in restraining men from spending too much time in the lavatories'. He was 'a starter and there was nothing left to start'. The de Havilland Company took over two years later, producing aircraft for the war.

Mr Norway was one of the leading aeronautical engineers in Britain during the thirties and a fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society. When he began writing in the twenties, he feared that a reputation as a writer of fiction might harm his engineering career. For this reason he published under his two Christian names, Nevil Shute, and engineered under his 'real' name, Nevil Norway.

He spent the war in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve working on special weapons projects. A fictionalized account of one of these projects appears in 'Most Secret'. His autobiography 'Slide Rule: the Autobiography of an Engineer' was published in 1954. There's a lengthy discussion of the R-100/R-101 airship competition, the stupidity of the bureaucrats involved in it, and his flight in R-100 to Canada. It's also about starting a business in the aircraft industry in the bleak grey England of the thirties. 'No Highway' is interesting as it is about metal fatigue in aircraft, which was a hot and mysterious item in the early fifties. After the war he moved to Australia. Seven of his postwar novels are set in Australia and, for this, he gained a reputation as an 'Australian' writer. Nevil Shute died in 1960.

books:
Slide Rule (1954): 'the autobiography of an engeneer'

- fiction:
Marazan (1926): WWI ace in detective role
So Disdained (The Mysterious Aviator); (1928): WWI veteran meets spying pilot
Lonely Road (1932): gun smuggling and political plots
Ruined City (Kindling); (1938): adventures around starting a company
What Happened to the Corbetts (Ordeal); (1940): prophesies effect of air bombing on a modern city
An Old Captivity (1940): air expedition to Greenland (Vinland the Good)
Landfall, a Channel Story (1940): love story around figher pilot in WWII
Pied Piper (1942): refugee children trying to escape occupied France
Pastoral (1944): love story around bomber pilot in WWII
Most Secret (1945): commando raid on French coast with secret weapon
Vinland the Good (1946): film script about history of Viking settlement
The Chequer Board (1947): three stories, one about pilot marrying a Burmese girl
No Highway (1948): plot around metal fatigue and aircraft development
A Town Like Alice (The Legacy); (1950): girl helps isolated outback town to grow pleasant
Round the Bend (1951): story around cargo planes for the Middle East and Asia
The Far Country (1952): love story in Australia
In the Wet (1953): Australian dying man dreams he is pilot, flying the Royal plane
Requiem for a Wren (The Breaking Wave); (1955): Australian ex-RAF pilot discovers diary of Wren
Beyond the Black Stump (1956): love, oil and Australia
On the Beach (1957): people in Australia wait for death by radioactive clouds after atomic war
The Rainbow and the Rose (1958): dreams about life of a pilot
Trustee from the Toolroom (1960): penniless engineer goes to Pacific atoll

Stephen Morris / Pilotage (1961): Shute's earliest works (1923-24), published after he died; about a young engineer in love, aircraft building and navigating the Atlantic.

- manuscript titles (?): 'Airship vulture', 'Air circus', 'Overture'

on the web:
Very informative and complete Nevil Shute site with bio and reviews of his books.
Short descriptions of all Nevil Shute books with a rating.
Papers of Nevil Shute Norway at the National Library of Australia, some with titles unknown to me.

pilots' biographies back to contents

 


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