by: Fay Baker [ ]
The following introduction is taken from the Pen and Sword website.
In 1936 Charles Gardner joined the BBC as a sub-editor in its news department. Shortly afterwards, he was joined by Richard Dimbleby and together they became the very first BBC news correspondents. They covered everything from shipwrecks to fires, floods to air raid precautions and, in Garner’s’ case, new aircraft. Their exploits became legendary and they laid down the first principles of news broadcasting – of integrity and impartiality – still followed today.
With the outbreak of war Charles Gardner became one of the first BBC war correspondents and was posted to France to cover the RAF’s AASF (Advanced Air Strike Force). He made numerous broadcasts interviewing many fighter pilots after engagements with the Germans and recalling stories of raids, bomb attacks and eventually the Blitzkrieg when they all were evacuated from France. When he got home he wrote a book AASF which was one of the first books on the Second World War to be published.
In late 1940 he was commissioned in the RAF as a pilot and flew Catalina flying boats of Coastal Command. After support missions over the Atlantic protecting supply convoys from America, his squadron was deployed to Ceylon which was under threat from the Japanese navy. Gardner was at the controls when he was the first to sight the Japanese fleet and report back its position.
Gardner was later recruited by Lord Mountbatten, to help report the exploits of the British 14th Army in Burma. He both broadcast and filed countless reports of their astonishing bravery in beating the Japanese in jungle conditions and monsoon weather.
After the war, Gardner became the BBC air correspondent from 1946-1953. As such, he became known as ‘The Voice of the Air,’ witnessing and recording the greatest days in British aviation history.
But perhaps he will best be remembered for his 1940 eye-witness account of an air battle over the English Channel when German dive bombers unsuccessfully attacked a British convoy but were driven off by RAF fighters. At the time it caused a national controversy. Some complained about his commentary ‘being like a football match,’ and not an air battle where men’s lives were at stake. That broadcast is still played frequently today.
The offering from Pen and Sword is authored by Robert Gardner, who is Charles Gardner’s son. This is a hard back book, with a stitched spine and provides 220 pages of good quality heavy matt paper. Robert Gardner MBE worked as a journalist and later public relations officer for the British Aircraft Corporation, and later still vice president of British Aerospace. Robert Gardner has also authored another book titled From Bouncing Bombs to Concorde, and also wrote the biography of Sir George Edwards. Robert Gardner was appointed Member of the British Empire (MBE), in 2001.
The contents of this title are laid out as follows:
A Message from Richard Dimbleby
Chapter 1 Dog Fight Over The Channel
Chapter 2 Beginnings
Chapter 3 Dimbleby and Gardner
Chapter 4 Threat of War
Chapter 5 Off to War
Chapter 6 “Cobber”, Kain and pilot’s tales
Chapter 7 Visits - a row with his own studio
Chapter 8 Blitzkrieg
Chapter 9 Sedan, and the lasy days of France
Chapter 10 Blitzkrieg to Dunkirk
Chapter 11 A controversy that gripped the Nation
Chapter 12 Joining Up
Chapter 13 Life in the RAF
Chapter 14 Flying in the Battle of the Atlantic
Chapter 15 The Most Dangerous Moment
Chapter 16 End of Ops - Broadcasting Begins
Chapter 17 The Forgotten Army
Chapter 18 Air Power and the Imphal Campaign
Chapter 19 The Rear Echelon and Victory insight
Chapter 20 Build Up to the Invasion of Japan
Chapter 21 Reflections on the Burma Campaign
Chapter 22 A Royal Secret
Chapter 23 The Voice of the Air
This book follows the life of Charles Gardner from 1936 to 1945. There are further additions which cover in short details of his life after the war and finally his death in June 1983, aged 71; his obituary was widely broadcast and covered in all major national newspapers. This book begins by telling the story of Charles Gardner’s early years of working for the BBC preparing radio news bulletins on news events and providing eye witness reports. The book does cover in brief from his birth, a little about his parents and also a funny anecdote about his wedding day, when his sister in law stood in for his wife during the ceromony. With the outbreak of war Charles Gardner travelled to France and covered the events that took place up until the evacuation of Dunkirk. He came to prominence when broadcasting a dog fight during the Battle of Britain where he provided blow by blow accounts of what was occurring between an aircraft of the RAF and the Luftwaffe. During his time covering aspects of World War II, primarily those actions of the RAF, there were times when he became disenchanted when some of his stories were being restricted for long periods of time, especially when Gardner saw those news stories as great positive propaganda for our armed forces that were being lost by this censorship.
Charles Gardner eventually signed up to the RAF, on the 20th September 1940. His decision to join the RAF, was formed via the realisation that if he did not voluntarily join up he would be conscripted to one of the armed forces of the UK at some point. It is also made apparent that boredom was to play a part in his decision as he did not want to be a reporter who basically covered official releases. The book then goes on to cover his career, within the RAF and his placements there in. There are aspects of service in the RAF that I was not aware of, such as having to purchase your own uniform for a maximum cost of £40 which would only be reimbursed from the Air Ministry at a later date on producing a receipt. Once he completed his basic training, the book continues to cover his years of service as regards of when, where and what in covering some very interesting times in his life.
There are many stories of Gardner’s time at the controls of various aircraft which are well worth reading. This book really comes to an end with his return to the UK following the surrender of Japan, but continues to tell us aspects of his life including the chapter titled ‘Reflection on the Burma Campaign’.
This hard back offering by Air World and published by Pen and Sword makes for interesting reading, for anyone interested in the lead up to World War II and for want of a better word boots on the ground during the war. The life of Charles Gardner as covered by his son in well written and has a good mix of content; my only critique is that this is quite an expensive book at £25, which may deter some. In all other respects, a very good read.
Fay Baker takes a look at a new offering from Pen and Sword titled 'Battle of Britain Broadcaster - Charles Gardner Radio Pioneer and World War II Pilot'.
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