‘Australian Eagles – Australians in the Battle of Britain’ by Kristen Alexander – Reviewed by Justin Sheedy
Sometimes history doesn’t seem real. Especially when it seems too dramatic, too tragic, too surreally heroic to be true. In her latest book, ‘Australian Eagles – Australians in the Battle of Britain’, author Kristen Alexander renders such history quite arrestingly real through her accounts of the part played by young Australians in the making of that history.
The Battle of Britain of 1940 remains one of the most famous battles in history, to this day a perfect model of resistance of good against evil and victory against that evil despite staggeringly overwhelming odds. In that dark year the air force of Nazi Germany, having just rolled up Western Europe, sought to knock out the by comparison tiny British Royal Air Force as a prelude to Nazi invasion of Britain. The Germans thought they had won before they started. The iconic battle that ensued proved them wrong. Of the victorious defenders, Winston Churchill coined one of the most famous lines in the English language: “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.” ‘Australian Eagles’ is a portrait of six of the Australians within that now immortal “Few”.
Kristen Alexander portrays six shining young men. Four of whom lost their young lives in the battle, a fifth losing a leg though continuing to fly until 90-something, the sixth remaining unscathed despite bailing out of his Spitfire in hot air combat no less than three times. Shining young men? It’s no exaggeration: Alexander’s beautifully-researched account of each of them reveals the kind of exceptional personalities they were, often top-notch sportsmen as well, and all so very, very young: Their photographs within the pages of ‘Australian Eagles’ attest to this and reveal fairly each of them as arrestingly handsome, usually with a brave new moustache – as if to mask the fact that they were just boys. By portraying them as such and quite simply as they were, Kristen Alexander encourages us to feel their loss just as profoundly as it deserves to be. To marvel at their selflessness, their courage, their dog-fighting brilliance and their contribution towards victory against one of the worst evils the world has ever known. To remember them.
‘Australian Eagles’ in indeed a fitting testament to the young Australians who fought to win the Battle of Britain but most poignantly as they did it a whole world away from home.