But for all the power of Nichol’s prose, I found this an unsatisfactory, unbalanced book. It is more a collection of personal reminiscences than a coherent narrative about the plane. Having written my own history of the Lancaster a decade ago, I am naturally wary of making such a judgment. But there are too many holes to be ignored. Nichol has hardly anything to say about Roy Chadwick, the visionary Avro designer of the bomber. Similarly, he skates over the fascinating story of how the prototype evolved from the twin-engined Avro Manchester, which had a requirement to carry torpedoes, hence the Lancaster’s gigantic bomb bay.
John Nichol’s book is not so much about the aeroplane that delivered bombload after bombload to the enemy, and the drone of whose engines one occasionally still hears from the sky if one lives in the vicinity of an air show, as about the people who flew in it. Nichol managed to interview several, in their 90s and, sadly, most of them dead by the time his book appeared, and – rather movingly – the daughter of a man killed over Germany in 1943, whom he accompanied when she went to visit the wreck of what is believed to have been her father’s aircraft. Their testimony, faithfully recorded by Nichol, a fellow ex-RAF man (he was shot down over Iraq in the first Gulf War), forms the bulk of this book.
The Lancaster was, and is, more than just an aircraft. She is ‘a symbol of British freedom, a monument to all those who gave their lives in the war’.
John Nichol’s book is a fitting tribute to her and to all those who flew in her.