Richard Davenport-Hines

Rhyme Of The Flying Bomb

Bomber County

By

Hamish Hamilton 269pp £20 order from our bookshop

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.

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