Tuesday, 15 October 2013

How quickly a year goes by!

October 15th is the first anniversary of the publication of I Think I Prefer the Tinned Variety: The Diary of a Petty Officer in the Fleet Air Arm during World War II. I published the book exactly one year ago on the exact same date as my dad, Norman Buckle, joined the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy in 1942.

Seventy one years ago, World War II uprooted my father from a coal mining village in South Yorkshire and transported him thousands of miles to Sierra Leone in West Africa and later to a tropical island in the Pacific Ocean via Sydney, Australia. I Think I Prefer the Tinned Variety: The Diary of a Petty Officer in the Fleet Air Arm during World War II is a short, annotated diary which records Norman's experiences and the on-going banalities of everyday life on a naval air-base far away from home.

Since publication there have been over one thousand downloads of I Think I Prefer the Tinned Variety and I've been overwhelmed by the interest the book has generated amongst family, friends and many complete strangers. Thank you all very much for your support. The book has even acquired a few reviews on its Amazon UK book page. It's true to say that not everyone who took the trouble to post a review was wildly enthusiastic but I hope that there were some parts of the book that even they enjoyed. If anyone reading this blog post is one of the reviewers, thanks very much for all your comments and interest.

Norman was a working class lad who was born in 1924 and brought up in the village of Royston, near Barnsley, in South Yorkshire. He was fortunate, having passed his eleven plus, to have enough family support to go to the local grammar school at Normanton. He was studious, worked hard and passed his School Certificate. At the age of sixteen he was offered employment as a clerk at the salary of £1 - 0s - 0d per week (about £30 in to-day's money) in the Public Health Department of the West Riding County Council in Wakefield thus breaking three generations of the family's tradition of going down the pit. His father, grandfather and great grandfather all worked at the local colliery and his paternal grandfather had been an under-manager at the pit. War had already been declared when Norman started his new job in October 1940. In August 1942 he volunteered to join the Royal Navy opting for the Fleet Air Arm. Folded up in his diary is a page torn out of the weekly edition of "The Times," dated 11th December 1940, entitled "On Board An Aircraft Carrier" which includes photographs of a "Walrus" type aircraft being prepared for action. The text explains that the activities of the Fleet Air Arm in the Mediterranean were outstanding. I like to think it was this article that inspired Norman to try for the Fleet Air Arm.

Norman was signed up as a war-time volunteer on 15th October 1942 and his official registration papers show that he had volunteered "until the end of the period of the present emergency". He is described as 6 ft and ⅜ inch tall, 34 inch chest, light brown hair, blue eyes, mid-pale complexion with a mole in the right dorsal and lumber regions. He was allocated to the Fleet Air Arm. He was 18 years and 6 months old when along with so many other young men he went to H.M.S. Royal Arthur for induction training into the Royal Navy. Norman was then transferred for seven months to shore bases H.M.S. Shrapnel and H.M.S. Ariel to train as a Radio Mechanic. Once qualified he spent three months at another shore base, H.M.S. Condor, before being sent on 9th October 1943 to H.M.S. Waxwing to await his first posting overseas. It was while waiting for his first posting abroad that Norman began to write his diary.

Norman's diary is a record of the mundane and the extraordinary. It gives insights into the colonial attitudes of ordinary people. Before World War II, Britain was a maritime super-power with an empire of thirteen million square miles and a population of five hundred and thirty million people. Yet as the war went on, Britain's survival depended increasingly on support from the United States of America and British imperial superiority was fading fast. Nevertheless the service personnel sent out to Africa and other colonial areas continued to act out the role of imperial masters; they travelled to many countries and experienced a variety of climates, conditions, customs and cultures that the majority had hardly imagined and certainly never expected to experience. The language used in some parts of Norman's diary is not what we would use to-day. It epitomises the colonial attitudes of the era and I have left it in the diary un-edited because it is of its time and a true reflection of how things were then, even though in places it is quite shocking. Norman was interested in the people, the history and the geography of the places he visited. He was curious and inquiring and this can be seen in some of the entries in his diary. But he was nevertheless only a young man and he sometimes found the behaviours and actions of his fellow naval colleagues as alien and challenging as those of the indigenous peoples of the places he visited.

I hope that my annotations enhance the diary and make it even more interesting without interfering with the snapshot of an era that the diary embodies. I learned such a lot while I was undertaking the research for my annotations about, amongst other things, the history of the Fleet Air Arm and its role in World War II, the development of radar, the history of Sierra Leone and the role of the British Pacific Fleet in the war against Japan. There are some photographs associated with the book here on The Tinned Variety Blog in the October 2012 folder of the archives.

If you would like to read the book it is available at the Amazon Kindle Store. There is a free sample on the Amazon book page and also on Spurwing ebooks website. If you don't have a Kindle you can get a free app which works on phone, tablet, P.C. etc. and download the book onto that instead. Thanks for reading and hope you come back to visit the Blog again.