“British Aviation—The Adventuring Years” by Harald Penrose. 727 pp. 8t in. x 5 in. (Putnam & Co. Ltd., 9 Bow Street, London, 1D-C2E 74L. £10.00).
This is the third of Harald Penrose’s splendid history books and, dealing as it does with those formative and adventurous years from 1920 to 1929 inclusive, must be of unfailing interest to many of our readers. Certainly for this reviewer it is enthralling reading, recalling as it does so much that is remembered, dimly and not so dimly, about this exciting period of aviation development. Penrose was in it himself, as schoolboyenthusiast, pilot, engineer and senior aircraft executive, and while he writes straight history, with a great deal of technical description of current aeroplanes, this is enlivened by his personal knowledge of those encountered at Westland’s. Moreover, although this is straight history, a few pen pictures here and there bring the background to life. Naturally, there must be repetition but I found that in taking us chronologically through the period he is reviewing, the author gives a much clearer picture of how things shaped than can be easily obtained from any number of onemake and events-histories and other kinds of aviation books. I le paints a sober but very realistic description of the significant happen
ings of the 1920s—the air races, Cobham’s pioneering surveys, the light-plane contests, the slow growth of the Industry, and the political issues. From this book I was able to obtain a clearer understanding of how it all happened—the beginnings of metal construction, the helicopter, the long-distance air routes and the part played in such by all the firms in the empirical Aircraft Industry.
Nostalgic it certainly is, apart from its greater purpose as an accurate record of aviation progress. Penrose takes us to Croydon when the machines taxied over Plough Lane and I think I recognise the display (or was it that impromptu race ?) which I happened-on when I went there with my Mother as a very keen small boy—on a day when an Officer took us across the aforesaid Plough Lane to see a derelict Handley Page V/1500, either because my mother passed for an attractive war-widow, or more likely because pity was taken on the only two occupants of the public enclosure! (No-one has ever explained to me what the derelict “Berlin bomber” was doing at this civil aerodrome!).
I am askance at the labour Penrose must have expended on this amazing book and delighted that he has dedicated it to the memory of C. G. Grey, unforgettable Editor of The Aeroplane pre-war, whom I was able to applaud recently in Blackwood’s Magazine, and whose quotations Penrose uses throughout the book. However, the author is not above correcting C.G.G. when not to do so would, as he points out, perpetuate error. In this connection I would take him to task for saying “Tiny” Scholefield was “an enthusiastic Brooklands driver at week-ends”. He drove Alastair Miller’s Buick once or twice but was scarcely a regular competitor.
This is a work to be read carefully, not hurriedly, and after it has been finished to be kept as an invaluable reference work, and a tonic for those who realise that much of the fun and adventure hate vanished from flying. I await the next volume impatiently, meanwhile thanking the painstaking author sincerely for the enjoyment of the three already completed. There are over 600 pictures and drawings to look at as you read him, many of them published for the first time, and including constructional details of famous machines. Putnam’s can be especially proud of this one. There are some motoring references, too, and perhaps someone will tell me the make of the Continental Air Express motorcycle combination depicted on page 12 and whether the Huck’s starter on page 264 is, as I think, on a Siddeley-Deasy chassis ? The cars at the 1920 Hendon display and the Chevrolet used to transport Fokker’s glider at Itford in 1922 (it fell later from the plank across the car and was wrecked) will I am sure also not pass unnoticed.—W.B.