The House magazine – 25 October 2012
John Du Cane: The Cry of the Jets, Olympia Publishers,£9.99
Julian Lewis enjoys an unconventional new novel written by someone who may be more familiar than you think.
Within a few months of VE-Day in 1945, it was obvious that a new confrontation had arisen in Europe. This time there would be no American withdrawal: the USA was soon at the heart of an alliance of Western democracies, formalised as NATO in 1949, to hold the Soviet Union in check.
For the Royal Air Force, the first half of the Cold War saw Battle of Britain veterans and their successors adapting to the revolutionary development of fast-jet fighters. Then, as now, fighter-pilots were elite amongst airmen and, as the East-West stand-off developed, the bravest and the best aspired to join them.
They included the author of this book, whose nom de plume meant, at first, that I failed to realise who he was – a fearless parliamentarian who spoke his mind from the backbenches for almost thirty years. In the context of his Cold War background, it is easy to understand why.
This is an historical novel packed with period and technical detail which no-one but a Service flyer could possibly have provided. Instead of writing his autobiography of life in the RAF, ‘John Du Cane’ has created a rich fictional tapestry and woven into it a variety of colourful characters. The experiences of old warriors and young trainees, the joys and perils of flight and of relationships – some serious, some casual and some reckless – are vividly portrayed.
The most capable young officers could find their careers taking them from front-line flying, at home and on the Continent, into roles involving both diplomacy and the gathering of intelligence against the Warsaw Pact. This did not always work out happily in real life: nor does it do so for the main character in this story.
As well as the complexity of East-West confrontation and its impact on high-spirited young pilots, the narrative forcefully brings home the high price they paid in lives lost through accidents and misadventure. The Cold War containment policy was triumphantly vindicated with the fall of the Berlin Wall. Without NATO’s contribution, this would never have happened.
The Cry of the Jets spells out the debt we owe to those who took on the most hazardous front-line duties. Their sacrifice deserved wider recognition: thanks to this unusual and authentic novel, it can now be better appreciated.