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Steve Buster Johnson Reviews - Trade

Crew of a Royal Aircraft Factory RE8 about to leave on a mission

For God, England & Ethel


"They also serve who only repair equipment, in this absorbing World War 1 saga. When his sweetheart Ethel puts off marrying him because of the uncertain times, young British watchmaker Fred Johnstone signs up for the Royal Flying Corps rather than wait to be drafted into the infantry and consigned to the trenches. He's assigned to a squadron of artillery observation aircraft in Belgium, a seemingly humdrum unit that sees more than its share of danger and drama. Flying low over the German lines in their cumbersome two-seaters to assess the accuracy of British artillery fire, the airmen confront death in many guises, including enemy anti-aircraft guns, errant British shells, mid-air collisions with comrades and fearsome German fighter planes. In one dogfight, an observer who doesn't know how to fly clambers into the front seat over the bullet-riddled corpse of the pilot and tries to pull the plane out of its death spiral, all while firing his machine gun at a pursuing German ace. Fred has a relatively cushy spot on the ground crew repairing radios, but he also experiences his quota of anguish when buddies are lost and he faces real peril from German bombing raids and crash landings by British planes.  Basing his account on his grandfather's diaries and his meticulous historical research, Johnson immerses readers in period detail. He captures the material trappings and the subjective feel of one of the more genteel corners of Army life, with its barracks camaraderie, picnics and music-hall outings, and delicate tensions between military rank and civilian social status. Anyone who loves ancient biplanes will be entranced by the author's Proustian recreation of their looks and idiosyncrasies and the fiendish complexities of flying them. In his nerve-wracking combat scenes, it seems miraculous when these wood-and-cloth contraptions stand up to the shock of battle. A richly textured, nail-biting evocation of the Western Front." -  KIRKUS DISCOVERIES - New York (April 16, 2010)



"This book is something rather different. Cross & Cockade member Steve Johnson, now living in Australia, has written a 'novelised' account of his grandfather's service as a wireless mechanic in 6 Squadron RFC, the 'forgotten heroes' of the title being the personnel of the Corps Squadrons. It is not a transformation of biography in the manner of Winged Victory, but a closely fact-based account, using the characters' real names, incorporating extensive research and having the historian's apparatus of notes, diagrams and photographic illustrations as well as the novelist's imaginative dialogue and scene-setting. It is aimed at a general readership rather than specialists - but see the Readers' Feedback section on the book website for evidence of its wide appeal.  Steve's grandfather was Fred Johnstone (no mistake in the names - Steve is the son of Fred's only daughter), a wonderfully representative man of his times, with his technical skills, patriotism, Christian faith and devotion to family - attributes that could equally well describe, for instance, Thomas Mottershead, recipient of a posthumous VC. But fate was somewhat kinder to Fred Johnstone, who kept a careful diary, the foundation of this book, during the two years or so of service in France before he got a real 'plane in the neck' - a damaged RE8 which landed on him when returning to Abeele in the dark. He was given a piece of the propeller as a souvenir when he recovered from his injuries and returned home to marry his 'Starlight', the Ethel of the title.  Another part of the inspiration for the book was the collection of documents and souvenirs that Fred also preserved, photographs of which can be seen on the very well made website which the author has created to publicise and accompany his book. The site also has a Readers' Feedback section, where the comments from a 78-year old former member of 6 Squadron, who professes never to have read a 'story book' before in his life, give this story an approval that has to be respected." -  CROSS & COCKADE INTERNATIONAL - Winter Journal 2009 Vol 40/4 (London)   


"A very well-researched and properly edited historical novel based on the diaries of a man who served in the Royal Air Corps in WWI. This book could definitely appeal to readers interested in a good fictional story packed with factual, historical detail." -  Sarah Moore (TRAFFORD PUBLISHING - Canada)


"I have now had a chance to sit down and read my advanced copy of this book. I'm not normally a book reader, in fact I have to admit it's worse than that - I have never read a book in all my seventy eight years! I never seem to get the time. Nevertheless I can highly recommend that you get hold of a copy and find a couple of hours a day to read it. I polished it off on my latest caravan holiday. If you know anything at all about 6 Squadron in WW1 you will be thrilled with the amazing detail that Steve has grabbed from his grandfather's diary. If your knowledge is sketchy, this will put you right. Steve has also undertaken much research over several years to be sure of the factual details of this period. Life in the Western Front; not in the trenches but over them. Find out what 'Army Cooperation' was all about as well as spotting for the 'Big Guns'. All this plus the human story of the mechanics and aircrew at a WW1 aerodrome just a few miles from the front line at Abeele and Poperinghe. Life for those billeted on the camp and those billeted in the nearby villages. The more I read, the more I felt I was there."  - Ken Hopper, No 6 Squadron (RAF) Association Newsletter - December 2009


"I just wanted you to know I finished your very readable and informative book - really well done - and would recommend it to anyone who is interested not only in the work of the RFC but in the human side of dealing with being young and being at war.  It definitely placed some new slants about the actual experience of war flying in my mind -  it is your own experience as a pilot that comes to the fore here. With my historian's cap on, and if you asked me, I would probably find two or maybe three things you mention in the background as something you and I could discuss!  But they're very minor.  The whole thing has such a feeling of truth about it that it really does come off as a story." - Trevor Henshaw (WW1 Aviation Historian and Author, London UK)

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