________________ CM . . . . Volume XIII Number 10 . . . . January 4, 2007


Canada’s World War II Aces: Heroic Pilots & Gunners of the Wartime Skies.

Larry Gray.
Edmonton, AB: Folklore Publishing, 2006.
222 pp., pbk., $18.95.
ISBN 1-894864-58-1.

Subject Headings:
Canada. Royal Canadian Air Force-Biography.
World War, 1939-1945-Aerial operations, Canadian.
Air pilots, Military-Canada-Biography.

Grades 9 and up / Ages 14 and up.

Review by Dave Jenkinson.

*** /4


On the afternoon of June 29, Yellow Section with Lindsay leading, was on an armed reconnaissance flight to the Bernay-Liagle-Argentan area. Radar control reported enemy aircraft in their area, and the section immediately climbed to 15,000 feet. Breaking through cloud, they saw at least 12 Focke-Wulf 190s in formation about eight miles away. The Canadians were maneuvering to get between the enemy and the sun (to attack with the light behind them) when their targets broke formation and dove for the protection of the clouds. The Canadians gave chase, and when they flew below the cloud. Lindsay saw a Focke-Wulf 190 shooting at a Spitfire. Doug dove on the enemy and opened up with all his guns blazing. He hit the German plane, and the Focke-Wulf began shedding pieces and exploded. (From “James Douglas ‘Doug’ Lindsay: Tiger Moth to Sabre Jet (1922-).)


In his “Introduction,” Gray, a retired member of the RCAF, explains the origin and meaning of “Ace.”

The French air force first used the term “Ace” in 1915 to describe an airman who had destroyed five or more enemy aircraft. Both the American and German air forces adopted the practice, and both kept official lists of airmen’s victories. The British and Commonwealth air forces did not adopt this practice, choosing not to give fighter pilots prominence over other airmen.

     Gray goes on to explain that this lack of official score keeping makes it challenging for contemporary writers in conducting their research as they must comb through individual and squadron records. In his “Afterword,” Gray cites the work of air historian Hugh Halliday who calculated that the RCAF had 154 pilots who were recognized as aces during World War II. In the book’s 13 chapters, Gray focuses on a dozen aces who were pilots, but in the sixth chapter, he does something most unusual by writing about two gunners, one a crew member of a Halifax bomber and the other on a Lancaster, who also acquired the status of ace by shooting down German fighter planes which had attacked their aircraft.

     Ranging in length from eight to 21 pages, each chapter, with the exception of the gunners’ chapter, focuses on a single pilot, and each follows the same general pattern, that being a bit about the subject’s growing up, his decision to join the air force and his training. The majority of each chapter’s text, however, is given over to the individual’s exploits in the air. As the book’s contents are constructed from secondary sources, Gray must write in the third person, a situation which diminishes somewhat the reader’s emotional engagement with the text. Most of the pilots and both gunners flew in the European theatre of operations, but Gray does include one fighter pilot from each of the North African and Pacific theatres of war. All but two of the pilots became aces while piloting Spitfires, the exceptions being a pilot who flew a twin engined Mosquito and another who piloted a Corsair. Only two of the book’s pilots did not survive the war, and for the rest, plus the gunners, Gray provides updates on their post-World War II lives. At the time of the book’s being published, five had died of natural causes.

     One or two black and white photographs are provided for each of the book’s 13 subjects, with most being reproductions of wartime photos. In addition to a four page glossary of air force jargon, Gray provides a four page “Notes on Sources.” The book concludes with a seven page index.

     While today’s aerial combats are someone like detached computer games in which a pilot’s onboard radar locks on a distant target and then air-to-air missiles take out the target, the dogfights of World War II were much more dependent upon the flying skills of the pilots, pilots who were not much older than the book’s high school audience.


Dave Jenkinson teaches courses in children’s and adolescent literature in the Faculty of Education, the University of Manitoba.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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ISSN 1201-9364
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