"Airman Abroad" by Hamish Brown is a fascinating book from an author better known for his writing about Scotland and/or walking and/or mountains. On 23 October 1953 the nineteen-year-old Hamish enlisted with the Royal Air Force as part of a generation that was required to join the armed forces under National Service. This book is an account of his time in the RAF. It draws extensively on letters he wrote to his family, with a supplementary commentary filling in gaps where letters have gone missing or adding background.
Anyone familiar with other books written by Hamish Brown will know that his writing is engaging, entertaining and accessible. Central to the reader's experience of this book is a simple question: how good was his writing as a nineteen year old? On the evidence of what lies between the covers of this book, Hamish Brown knew how to tell a story well even as a teenage letter writer. His letters have all the positive attributes of his later writing and as a result this is a book that draws you in and keeps you turning the page. It probably helps if you have an interest in the RAF during this era, but Hamish Brown's account does have a wider relevance for anyone wanting to know more about British society in the years after World War Two and the decline of the British Empire. This is a book we'd strongly recommend to the many fans of Hamish Brown - of course - but also to a wider audience interested in Britain, the Middle East and Africa in the early 1950s.
The publishers' description gives a good idea of the contents of the book: "A revealing picture of a time when Britain was losing its empire. It draws on letters written at the period by an airman, his vivid memories and experiences from the Canal Zone, Kenya during Mau Mau times, Cyprus and Jerusalem. His time encompassed conducting church services, being shipwrecked, numerous wildlife encounters and the formation of many lifelong friendships. The Canal Zone was no easy life and 50 years later a medal was awarded when the government was forced to admit it was deserved and to confess its own political chicanery in the events. Hamish paints a picture of the highs and lows of RAF life, a station being run down in Egypt, working in oppressive heat and now and then being shot at! He saw the Windrush a week before it exploded and sank in the Mediterranean; both the Windrush story and that of building the Suez Canal are detailed in an appendix. There is much to find in this story including background histories to events and the politics of the time. As a whole it provides a fascinating account of the era."