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& Bullets

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


With reviews of books that cover these topics


Shot Down

The secret diary of one POW’s long march to freedom


Alex Kerr                                Pen & Sword, 2016

(Published by Big Sky Publishing, Australia,  2015)

An aviation memoir with a very truncated flying section. Young  Alex Kerr was shot down  on only his fourth mission! As he points out more than once, spending the bulk of the war in a prisoner of war camp was the best key to survival for a member of Bomber Command.


The first three chapters relate his childhood in Australia and first jobs at the bottom of the country’s newspaper food chain. The writing style immediately impresses as better than average for this genre, and his love of music adds texture to the narrative throughout the book. Interesting for a British reader to learn of RAAF training , and the relaxed sea passage to Canada enroute to the European theatre of war. Kerr then arrives in the UK, and being dropped into a wartime environment (at Liverpool) is clearly a slight shock. He becomes a second pilot in a Wellington crew, and in an early mission has a pop at the Gneisenau in Brest harbour.


The description of his last mission is laconic, and the reader is left in no doubt that Kerr was lucky to be able to bail out of his stricken Wellington in his injured state. Like most ‘kriegies’ he had the pleasure of assessing the comforts of a variety of camps as the Germans fine-tuned their network to cope with the growing casualties of Bomber Command. The book is aided by the very thorough diary he kept throughout, and which miraculously survived. So we are taken through the minutiae of camp life. He does his best to alleviate its boredom.


Of interest to historians is the reaction to both warders and inmates of his Stalag when the news is related by the Germans of 50 inmates being shot (whist ‘trying to escape’) from another camp, in what came to be known as the Great Escape. Kerr had several of his own attempts, and enjoyed some days of freedom. He conveys well the strange mixture of emotions in late 1944 and 1945 as the PoWs knew the Russians were approaching, and the Axis losing. During part of the Long March (Westwards), he describes an appalling blue-on-blue incident that will make any Typhoon veteran wince.


Overall a well-crafted account that is quite atmospheric in parts.


PS he has an unnerving affection for the word “commencement”. As in “At the commencement of the day”. Alex – stop it!



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