Never did I ever believe I would be labelled an author, let alone for a book about my dad and his adventures during WWII. I mean, I didn’t even like reading and as for school and academic achievement well… let’s just say I was hardly university material.
I was a young boy in the late 50’s, early 60’s, sharing a bedroom with my brother 10 years my senior. He was in the Air Cadets and loved aeroplanes. I remember we would build Airfix models of WWII planes and paint them in camouflage colours. We had Spitfires, Hurricanes, a Lancaster bomber and even enemy planes. It was kind of inevitable that I would also join the Air Cadets and my interest in aircraft grew ever stronger.
Around this time I’d pester dad to tell me about when he was in the RAF in the war. It wasn’t easy, it was clear he was uncomfortable about opening up old wounds but gradually I’d coax stuff out of him. He told me about how he flew in a big plane. He said his pilot was a man from Australia with a handlebar moustache and very rich and good looking. He always said “Henry” when he talked about him. Dad gave the impression that Henry was his hero. He told me about how they crashed in Holland and Henry wanted to fight the Germans and how the Dutch villagers managed to sneak them away and hide them. As an adult I eventually went back to working with the old man and he opened up a little more when we were out on the road. I never tired of his tales even when he told me the same story and I always had more questions than you could shake a bloody stick at! He said his crew nicknamed him Sherlock, simply because of his surname Holmes, and it stuck.
Even as a young man I thought that what dad was telling me would make a fantastic book but of course there was no internet back then and yours truly had no time, what with work and my own young family.
Dad was my best mate. When he died in 1985 I was devastated. Ten years later I happened to be watching a programme on TV about a Spitfire called ‘Blue Peter’ and how they found the wreckage. This inspired me and I thought ‘what else can I find out about Dad and his squadron’ – Sherlock’s Squadron, as I had now named it. I contacted the RAF records office and obtained his service records. It was as simple as that. And so began 15 years of obsessive research during which I even managed to contact the sons and daughters of the crew my dad flew with. It was an astonishing journey for me, all put down on paper and meticulously recorded. What next? I wanted to tell this story, my dad’s story, the story of Sherlock’s Squadron. Where would I start? How would I know how to construct a bloody book!
Well, fate took a twist in 2009 when I was introduced to the author Ken Scott. The meeting was fascinating. I told him my story and we sat for hours over several glasses of beer. It was as if I’d known Scotty all my life. The next day he rang me and said “I’m going to teach you how to write a book.”
The rest, as they say, is history and here I am blogging about the book published by John Blake on the 1st of July. Yes, Sherlock’s Squadron is finally published, nearly 20 years after my initial research began. It’s a great story of great men, an untold story of unsung heroes with some humour and warmth thrown in for good measure.
My only regret is that my dad will never read it, and nor will my lovely brother who built and painted my planes when I was a kid. Or will they? I believe they were both with me during my long journey… who knows? Perhaps there’s a place where they both sit and look down on me – perhaps they have access to a library or a kindle? I’m laughing now, but something deep down inside me tells me they know all about the book, Sherlock’s Squadron, that magical but true tale of a Lancaster lad who shouldn’t have even been in the RAF. He was told on many an occasion that “lads like you don’t join the RAF.”
Well Sherlock proved them all wrong didn’t he?