Katherine MacAlister reviews No Ordinary Pilot

It’s not a new concept for a book; stumbling across your late father’s unknown war diaries and deciding to craft them into a novel of sorts.

Except that Suzanne Campbell-Jones is no amateur author, and the film director’s father Bob Allen was no ordinary pilot, hence the name for the resulting book.

His story is not only brilliantly and dispassionately written, but also well researched, meaning that the extraordinary tale of this daring, adventurous and ultimately lucky young man in the RAF from 1940, is given an intelligent and educational vessel in which to disclose his exploits.

Suzanne fleshes out his diaries with visits not only to British archives but the grass airfields of Normandy and the Sagan Museum in Poland, to give her book real context, accuracy and depth.

From training on Kidlington’s airfields to dogfights over the Channel, protecting the South Atlantic supply routes and joining the D-Day effort in Normandy, we are party to the most famous combat zones in history.

Suzanne’s book is also enormously informative and revelatory – I was stunned to learn that much of West Africa was run by the Vichy French who hosted the Nazi airfields, and were therefore the enemy.

When Bob’s plane was shot down in 1944 over enemy lines, he was declared missing presumed dead. Instead, captured by a German patrol and sent to a prison camp, as the allies advanced towards Berlin, he and his fellow inmates were pushed further back towards Russia.

Fans of Antony Beevor will be entranced by this fascinating memoir, and its valuable and alternate version of history, which enabled Bob to walk out of prison when liberated by the Russians, through the debris of the retreating Nazis and the increasingly victorious Soviets, to Allied safety; as its readers hold their breath.

No Ordinary Pilot by Suzanne Campbell-Jones, Osprey Publishing, £18.99