On 12 June 1943 Daniel Swift’s grandfather, Acting Squadron Leader Eric Swift, DFC, was the pilot of a Lancaster bomber that crashed after a bombing raid on Münster. His body washed onto a Dutch beach and now lies in a military cemetery at Bergen op Zoom. Bomber County opens with a pilgrimage by Daniel Swift and his father Jeremy to the war graves of the Netherlands. ‘The rows of headstones in their ordered ranks carry on the military idea, giving the appearance as of a battalion on parade,’ explained the Imperial (now Commonwealth) War Graves Commission in 1918, justifying the cemeteries’ design. As to gravestone inscriptions, ‘it is clearly undesirable to allow free scope for the effusions of the mortuary mason, the sentimental versifier, or the crank’. Swift, though, chafed at such regimentation when it came to an act of family remembrance. He has written an original, meditative and arresting memorial to his grandfather – and something both finer and deeper than a family memoir.
Bomber County reads like a discreetly expressed but intensely felt act of filial love: Swift’s gift to his father, who was a small boy when his own father died in the North Sea. Eric Swift’s widow soon remarried and the family talked scantly and conventionally of the dead