26 March 2014

Memoirs of a Swordfish Man

This is a book of wartime memoirs telling the story of a typical young Fleet Air Arm pilot in the Second World War. It is also a sort of epitaph to an aircraft – the famous Fairey Swordfish or, as its adoring pilots called it, “The Stringbag” – one of the only two aircraft to begin and end the War on active service.

Naval pilots during the War were all officer cadets who held the rank of Naval Airman Second Class while training. As soon as they got their wings, they became commissioned officers as either - depending on their age – a Midshipman or a Sub-Lieutenant. This book follows the life of a very ordinary Naval Airman from the moment that he first applies to be a trainee pilot, through his preliminary training at the cadet school in Gosport and his flying training first in Detroit, Michigan, USA, then at Pensacola, Florida, USA, until he finally gets his wings at Kingston, Ontario, Canada.

Back in the UK for the completion of his training, our Swordfish Man learns how to drop torpedoes, and spends almost a year training Observers at Arbroath in Scotland, where he is voted “The pilot the trainee observers most like to fly with”. He then volunteers for a special night anti-submarine attacks training course, following which he is posted to a front line squadron operating under the direction of RAF Coastal Command from the Island of Benbecula in the Outer Hebrides. Thence his squadron goes to Thorney Island in the English Channel immediately following the Normandy landings and stays there until it disbands several months later. His colleagues go on leave but he replaces a pilot from another squadron killed on active duty and finds himself on HMS Nairana making attacks on Norway and escorting convoys to and from Murmansk.

Throughout the whole of this period, the author does his best to “tell it as it was”, including an essentially honest appraisal of his own feelings as far as he can judge them.

When this second squadron also disbands, our author becomes a Batsman for a further year teaching front line squadrons to land on the deck at night as he and his forty-odd colleagues had done throughout the Murmansk convoys.

About the Author
Leslie Paine was born in Bath in Somerset and educated at the City of Bath School.

After the War, he continued his education at Oxford, reading English Language and Literature at Pembroke College. He was then awarded a bursary by the King Edward’s Hospital Fund to train as a hospital administrator and served in a number of hospitals including Addenbrookes Hospital Cambridge and the Bethlem Royal and Maudsley Hospitals in London. He spent thirty years as a senior hospital administrator, was awarded the OBE in 1970, became a member of the King’s Fund Council and in 1976 was elected to the Garrick Club.

Sadly Leslie Paine died in December 2013. Read his obituary in The Telegraph

Available from:
Amazon (Kindle Edition only)

24 March 2014

Friendly Foe: The Letters of Leo Schnitter, a German POW in England

In 1993 Martin Parsons was given a file of letters that had been found in a desk bought by a colleague at an auction in Norwich. These letters had not seen the light of day for over 40 years. The letters, spanning a period of 1946 to 1950, were from a German ex-prisoner of war, Leo Schnitter, to the Reverend LHM Smith of South Creake in Norfolk, England.

The Reverend Smith had befriended Leo Schnitter while he was a POW at a camp at Shipdham in Norfolk. Leo was repatriated in 1946, before the British Government agreed to allow POWs to stay in the UK after release, as long as they had work. Leo's family had been forced out of Czechoslovakia, and were living in the Russian Zone of eastern Germany. He remained there until escaping to the British Zone in 1950, eventually settling in Mannheim.

The book consists of the letters written by Leo after he returned to Germany. In this, the title is rather misleading, as the letters are actually from a 'former German POW'. They detail the experiences of his family, and their daily struggle to survive in a devastated Germany, facing shortages of food, clothing, restricted travel, and few opportunities. Many of the letters are requesting help from the Reverend, to supply items lacking in Germany. While interesting, the contents are somewhat repetitive, as often letters were delayed or lost, and this meant that a second letter would be sent - all letters received from Leo are included.

The Reverend repeatedly tried to find a way for Leo to return to England, to escape from the Russian Zone and to give him opportunities unavailable in Germany. In this he was unsuccessful, and Leo's letters stopped when he succeeded in escaping himself. Leo built a new life, and never returned to England.

Available from: