Life and Death in the Battle of Britain
Edited by Carl Warner
Imperial War Museum, London, 2018, 176 pages
Book Review published on: May 8, 2020
Guy Mayfield, assigned as the new station chaplain, arrived at the Royal Air Force’s (RAF) Duxford airbase on 2 February 1940. Editor Carl Warner’s Life and Death in the Battle of Britain features Mayfield’s diary entries from when he was a newly commissioned chaplain assigned to mentor and calm the air and ground crews assigned to the various squadrons that passed through Duxford in 1940 and 1941. Prior to his death in 1966, Mayfield began typing his handwritten diary entries with the intent to submit them to the Imperial War Museum (IWM). Unable to finish, he asked his wife, Thelma, to finish the laborious task. Eventually, his son, Piers, was able to finish typing the documents and submitted them to the IWM.
This book gives the reader a unique insight into the daily lives of the aircrews who fought and died over Europe and the United Kingdom to preserve their way of life. Mayfield details his personal relationships with pilots of many different squadrons, most notably those from No. 19 and 66 Squadrons. His struggle to come to terms with the loss of many young gentlemen who he considered friends is also very pronounced. This book also highlights the adventure of working with young men trained as aviators who knew they might not survive the summer. Mayfield often accompanied these young aviators on local flights, many of which were labeled as training flights but more often than not were opportunities to blow off stress. After combat missions, he would also partake in the festivities with the survivors, and some of those festivities would last until the early morning hours. These were the times the young flyers would tell Mayfield their innermost fears and hopes if they survived the war.
Not only is this a solid look into daily RAF life during the Battle of Britain, but it also provides a direct perspective for military chaplains to see the difficulties one might have when put into similar wartime situations. British airmen were not only lost during combat missions but also during local training flights. Mayfield conducted many of the same casualty duties we expect of our chaplains today, such as sending death notifications, presiding over funerals, and providing grief counseling. He shares detailed accounts of his struggle with depression and his ability to maintain positivity during the darkest days when the casualties were the worst.
The book includes several photos that accompany Mayfield’s details on his assignment at RAF Duxford. Maps and war timelines are not provided and will be necessary additions while reading this book in order to visualize the many locations and battles Mayfield describes. This book ultimately provides the reader with an understanding of the personal distresses war has on young aviators and those left behind when they do not return. Mayfield notes the intense pressure on these young men to defend their country and way of life. The insight provided by this first-hand account details the tremendous stress placed on all during the most pivotal point in Britain’s survival during World War II.
Book Review written by: Maj. David Rousseau, U.S. Army, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas