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& Bullets

Musings on the worlds of aviation, military and international affairs.


With reviews of books that cover these topics


Shackleton Boys  (Volume 2)

Steve Bond                                   Grub Street, 2 September 2019

After the success of Shack Boys 1, Grub Street has issued volume 2 which deals with Shack reminiscences from those operating the old girl in foreign-based squadrons.  It is therefore a reminder of that halcyon era when Britain had an Empire, and the RAF had global reach. The buzz of a mosquito, the gentle whooshing of a fan, emanate from most pages. It is clear however that  some foreign postings were more sought after than others. El Adem  (or should that be “Marham with Sand”? ) clearly comes very low down the rankings, succeeding in beating to the bottom Aden (ungrateful locals, searing heat), and Ballykelly (ungrateful locals, numbing cold, no R&R).


The book starts with an excellent foreword (by Wg Cdr Jerry Evans). The introduction, however, claims that 2019 is “the Shackleton’s centenary year” – we know it’s an ancient beast, but surely not that ancient! The dinosaur of an aircraft, whilst destroying the hearing of most of its aircrew (although the Mk 3 was less bad than the Mk 2), is clearly held in much affection. The other vein running through this volume is the professional satisfaction that most contributors gained from working in a well-functioning crew.


There is a good tale of the winding-down of RAF Changi (Singapore); another of a ‘tourist’ trip to the Vietnam War; an insight into the inhospitality of the managers of Heathrow; and plenty of close shaves. Although the Shack could operate comfortably without one or two of its Griffons, trundling along, particularly in the Middle East, on 2 or less  made for some grey hairs. The efforts of ground crew effecting engine changes down route are well recognised. Another close shave is narrated in the tale of an airmiss – if you can hear another aircraft from inside a Shack, you know they are close.


It is evident that bachelors at Akrotiri could have a great time if they sorted out their social life properly; whilst 205 Sqn seems to have been a particularly happy bunch. The quality of tales and banter is as high as one has come to expect from the Boys series, and Steve Bond is to be congratulated in bringing them together now, as most of the contributors must be well past their prime and approaching their final flight.


One or two accounts are written in a needlessly abbreviated style, which makes for unrelaxed reading. Other tales are told from more than one perspective, which means some repetition. But minor niggles aside, another entertaining volume.



PS look very carefully at the cover photo!

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