By Iain Hime
I am ashamed to say that I had never heard of Kink Kinkead until invited to review this book, and yet here is a man who won two DSCs with the Royal Naval Air Service, two DFCs with the fledgling RAF and the DSO fighting for the White Russians in the Russian Civil War.
The author, Julian Lewis (JL) is a sometime MP and Shadow Armed Forces Minister. More significantly, he served as a seaman in the RNR and earned a Doctorate in Strategic Studies at Oxford. No doubt these disparate elements of his life contribute to his refreshingly different style of writing. His research has been impeccable and amazingly comprehensive. I dread to think how much time he must have spent poring over the minutiae of Squadron records and extracting the rare nuggets from reports written by and on each pilot after each sorties. JL takes this information and weaves it together with contemporary debates on strategy and policy at the highest level. The result immerses the reader in the events and gives him a feel for life in the early flying services.
The same holds true for the postwar tales of pioneering long-range and high-speed flight where the Squadron records are largely replaced by superb journalistic extracts. And how much better were journalists in those early days. They could not rely on multi-media to paint a picture and fill in the detail. Their written word is all they had to convey the excitement of the Schneider Trophy (say) and what a splendid job they did. And our author has most effectively incorporated their writings into the story.
So, what is the story? Briefly: it is the story of an eighteen year-old South African who joined the RNAS in September 1915 and in December was appointed to 2 Wing RNAS for service in the Dardanelles. The much quieter opposition in the Dardanelles [in 1916] allowed Kink to hone his skills so that, when he was sent to the Western Front in September 1917, he was an experienced fighter pilot. He joined what was essentially No.1 Squadron which, in due course, transmogrified into 201 Squadron RAF; but Kink’s war changed not and, by its end, he was a much-respected Ace with at least 30 ‘kills’.
From the ‘static horror of the trenches, he made the transition to the fast-moving brutality of the Russian Civil War’, where he was awarded a DSO for bravery in the field against the Russian cavalry. Ordered to ‘render forthwith a report in triplicate’ on his actions, Kink wrote: ‘For gallant action in leading the Camel attack on Dumenko’s cavalry in the region of Kotluban on 12 October 1919 after the latter had enveloped the left wing of the Caucasian Army. This action saved Tsaritsyn and caused aeroplanes to drive off the field 4,000 determined cavalry with such heavy loss that they have since been withdrawn from the fighting line.’
By 1925, he had fought long, hard and unrewarded in Iraq before being posted to Cairo as part of the team opening up the air route from Cairo to the Cape. This successful expedition was a way of asserting British prestige in the air with a minimum of controversy: not so the parallel issue of high-speed flight. Trenchard was unimpressed with high-speed flight per se and, in particular, the Schneider Trophy which he hoped the US would win for a third time and thus end the contest! In the end, the Air Ministry had its way and Britain entered the 1927 Schneider air race at Venice. In true Boy’s Own style, they overcame extraordinary odds and won. Kink was a key member of this victorious team, and the story is scarcely credible.
The British public reacted with tremendous enthusiasm to this display of technical skill and bravery; and, before long, a growing desire to attempt the world speed record emerged. Once again, Kink was selected to ‘have a crack at it’. The final chapters of this book are remarkably poignant and revealing of the man. The reporting is often beautiful and the author is clearly moved by the events. As the book’s cover observes, with accuracy, this ‘is a gripping tale of dauntless courage and derring-do – Biggles with a sad ending’.
Read it! You won’t be disappointed.