I want to preface this review with a note. Towards the end of “Crew”, the son of one of the aircrew members mentions how people handled loss after WWII. “You just got on with your life and tried to lock out anything that hurt you….the pain was completely washed out of me.” It struck me how consistent this is. Despite it being 2018, this description of how military families deal with pain, loss, fear and unknowing is still as relevant as it was in WWII. That was my childhood. You just shoved all of those issues, all of that pain and fear, to the side and got on with life. I mention this as a preface because I wanted to clarify just how moving this book was. For a girl that grew up dampening emotions, refusing to cry…this book touched me in a way that is simply too hard to explain. I also think that a movie or miniseries adaptation would be well worth looking into.
“Crew”, by Mike Coleman, published by Allen & Unwin Publishers, is the story of the RAAF Lancaster Bomber J for Jig and her seven crew. Coleman begins the retelling by informing the reader that “they weren’t a special crew, a famous crew; they were as ordinary as can be. And that’s what makes them important. Because their stories are also stories of the 125,000 – who they were, what they did, whom they loved, and whom they left behind.” Of the 125,000 aircrews posted to Bomber Command, 55,573 were killed. With a death rate of 44%, it’s criminal that it took until the 2000’s for these teams to be recognised. This book is perhaps the greatest recognition of their service.
“Crew” follows the lives of the seven-man crew, from snippets about their childhood, families and friends to their enlistment, their training, their coming together as a team and the fatal night of February 24th 1944 when J for Jig was shot down over the skies of France. I feel speaking too much about the events and places in the book will act as spoilers, despite these being stories from World War II and separately published in various magazines and newspapers over time, so I will refrain from writing about them. They need to be experienced as Coleman intended. However, what I will speak about is the writing. Coleman’s retelling of these events had me incredibly invested in the crew. I feel I’ve learned much about their time and positions, but even more about who they were as people. It is not easy for a military brat like myself to make attachments, but that is what I ended up doing with these seven men and have since added a few sites mentioned in the novel to my must-visit list. By the end of the story, I felt as if I knew these men as if I had flown and walked beside them. I mourned with them and their families.
In his acknowledgements, Coleman writes “in telling the stories of the seven men who flew in J for Jig I have been well aware of the faith placed in me by their family members, many of whom I have never met face to face. I hope I have done them justice.” While I certainly cannot speak for the members of the crew’s families, I can state that I felt that “Crew” was a captivating, researched and well-written novel. It is a lasting testament to those who served in Bomber Command. This book was simply amazing. There are truly no other words to describe it. Never have I been so invested in a military story. Never have I read a novel and felt tears sliding down my cheeks. “Crew” comes with my full recommendation and a must read endorsement.
- Ashayla Webster
“Crew” is written by Mike Coleman and is published by Allen & Unwin Books.