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Sunday, September 19, 2010

Paul Brickhill

Paul Chester Jerome Brickhill was born on 20 December 1916 in Melbourne, Australia, the son of George Russell Brickhill and his wife Victoria (nee Bradshaw), and was educated at North Sydney High School and Sydney University. He spent five years working as a journalist with the Sydney Sun before volunteering for war service in 1940, enlisting with Royal Australian Air Force. Trained as a fighter pilot in Australia and Canada, he served with No.74 Spitfire Squadron. He later took part in the battle at El Alamein, flying Hurricanes and Spitfires with No.92 Squadron. He was shot down in Tunisia on 17 March  1943. In a German prison-camp he planned for 'X' Escape Organisation. After the war he worked as a foreign correspondent in Fleet Street, went to Germany, Austria, Hungary and New York, and was one of the first party of British journalists to enter the Russian Zone of Germany. His various war books have all achieved immense success.

Brickhill married Margaret Olive Slater in 1950 (divorced 1964) and had two children. He subsequently returned to Australia where he died, in Sydney, on 23 April 1991.

Brickhill's accounts of prisoners-of-war and their escape attempts were vivid and tense and sold millions of copies around the world in 20 different languages. The Pan Books edition of The Dam Busters is especially notable as, in 1956, it was the first of that publishers' books to sell over a million copies. Not surprisingly, I seem to have had dozens of copies of The Dam Busters through my hands over the years—and still have four of them. On the other hand, I don't think I've ever had a copy of Brickhill's novel The Deadline.

The Great Escape (New York, W. W. Norton, 1950)
Penguin 1187, 1957, 224pp, 2/6. Cover by A. Games
Faber & Faber, 1963.
——, Xth imp., 1967.
——, Xth imp., 1973.
Paul Brickhill here gives a tragically truthful account of life in a German prison camp and of the way in which the will to escape dominated the minds of the prisoners. The organization, determination, work, and low cunning involved in the heroic mass breakout from Stalag Luft III in 1944 make this an outstanding war story.
__'The story of each one of those who were there is an epic in itself, and Brickhill's account is unbelievably exciting as it reaches its climax. The book is a fitting tribute to those fifty men who never knew defeat; who tried to escape a score of times; and whose sense of duty and courage stayed them.'—News Chronicle.
The Dam Busters (London, Evans Bros., 1951)
Pan GP23, (Apr) 1954, 252+8pp, 2/6. Cover by Carl Wilton
——, 2nd imp., 1954; 3rd imp., 1954; 4th imp., 1954; 5th imp., 1954; 6th imp., 1954; 7th imp., 1955; 8th imp., 1955; 9th imp., 1955; 10th imp., 1955; 11th imp., 1956; 12th imp., 1956.
——, 13th imp., 1961, 252+8pp, 2/6. Cover by Pat Owen
Pan X207, [14th imp.] (May) 1963, 252+8pp, 3/6. (Cover by Owen as per 13th)
——, 15th imp., 1964; 16th imp., 1965; 17th imp., 1965.
——, 18th imp., 1967, 252+8pp, 3/6. Cover by Anon.
——, 19th imp., 1967; 20th imp., 1967.
The Dam Busters is certainly one of the three or four most enthralling and inspiring war books yet published. It is the story of 617 Squadron of the Royal Air Force, which was formed early in 1943 for one special job—to breach the Moehne and Eder Dams in Germany. To carry out this operation the squadron was equipped with colossal "earthquake bombs" devised by a scientist who for a long time could obtain no official support for his invention. The overwhelming success of the great raid on the dams made the squadron famous, and it was retained as a unit and used for other equally perilous missions. It evolved a new technique of pin-pointing targets, and dropped bombs accurately on tunnels and factories; it knocked out Hitler's last and most terrifying secret weapons—the V.3s, enormous guns in underground emplacements that were to have obliterated London; it destroyed the battleship Tirpitz in a Norwegian fjord. 617 Squadron has been described as the most effective unit of its size that the British forces ever possessed; for sheer valour it was unsurpassed—its members won two Victoria Crosses and over 150 other decorations. This book realistically portrays all the grimness of air warfare, but also tells of humorous episodes and of the disappointments when theories and plans were upset.
Escape—Or Die (London, Evans Bros., 1952)
Pan 292, (Jun) 1954, 190pp, 2/-. Cover by Carl Wilton
——, 2nd imp., 1954; 3rd imp., 1954; 4th imp., 1954; 5th imp., 1955; 6th imp., 1955; 7th imp., 1956; 8th imp., 1957.
Pan G532, [9th imp.,] 1962, 190pp, 2/6.
——, 10th imp., 1962.
——, 11th imp., 1964, 190pp, 2/6. Cover by (?W. Francis Phillips?)
——, 12th imp., 1965.
Pan 0330-02098-6, [Xth imp.] Nov 1970. Cover: photo
EscapeOr Die presents true accounts of eight daring escapes from captivity achieved by men of the Royal Air Force during the last war. 'Every man in these stories,' says H. E. Bates in the Introduction, 'was quite determined that however dead he might look or even might feel he was damn well not going to lie down; and the bolder and more brazen his determination the better, in most cases, it succeeded.' The book starts (to quote Mr Bates) 'perhaps the most horrifying and amazing escape of a war that was probably richer in escape stories than any war that was ever fought--the escape of Squadron Leader McCormac from Malaya to Australia by way of Java ... an epic of sheer blazing resolution.' Then follow stories of a young officer who joined Dutch Resistance men in the marshes; of a fighter pilot who was left for dead by a German execution squad in Sicily but survived to escape to Switzerland; of a bomber crew saved by a miracle in the desert; of a Group Captain who was aided by 'the Underground' to cross the Pyrenees to Spain; of a navigator who escaped to the Russians and rode in a Cossack cavalry charge. Finally, we have, in his own words, a Rhodesian pilot's vivid story of Paris just before its liberation.
Reach for the Sky. The Story of Douglas Bader, D.S.O., D.F.C. (London, Collins, 1954)
Fontana 158, 1957, 382+8pp, 3/6.
Fontana 1012, [2nd imp.] Aug 1964
——, 3rd imp., Jun 1965.
Fontana for Scholastic Publications nn, [4th imp.] Apr 1968, 382+8pp, 5/-.
Fontana 0006-12064-4, 1969
——, 6th imp., 1971, 382+8pp
——, 7th imp., 1973
Fontana 4115, [8th imp.] Oct 1975, 382pp, 75p. Cover by Chris Foss
Fontana 0006-34115-2, [9th imp.] Mar 1980. Cover by Vicente Segrelles
——, 10th imp., Jul 1981.
Douglas Bader has become a legend in his lifetime, not only as an air ace but for his triumph over the cruel adversity and the new horizons he has opened up for the physically disabled by his personal example.
__Reach for the Sky is the story of a man who refused to accept defeat; who lost both legs in an air crash in 1931 and was discharged from the R.A.F., who taught himself to walk again without a stick, to dance, to play golf; who fought his way back to become one of the great heroes of the Battle of Britain.

The Deadline (London, Collins, 1962)
Fontana 888, 1964.


The Deadline. London, Collins, 1962; as War of Nerves, New York, Morrow, 1963.

Escape to Danger. An account of the tunnel escape of March 1944 from Stalag Luft 3 and the prisoners of war who took part in it, with Conrad Norton, illus. Ley Kenyon. London, Faber & Faber, 1946.
The Great Escape, illus. Ley Kenyon. New York, W. W. Norton, 1950; London, Faber & Faber, 1951; school ed. edited by James Britton, Faber & Faber, 1956; adapted for children by Sue Gee, London, Hutchinson, 1981.
The Dam Busters, with a foreword by Lord Tedder. London, Evans Bros., 1951; New York, Ballantine, 1965; abridged, Evans (Cadet ed.), 1958; adapted for children by Christopher & Dorothy Welchman, London, Hutchinson, 1974; revised ed., London, Evans, 1977.
EscapeOr Die. Authentic stories of the RAF Escaping Society, with a commentary by H. E. Bates and a foreword by Sir Basil Embry. London, Evans Bros.1952; New York, Norton, 1952; abridged, Evans (Cadet ed.), 1963.
Reach for the Sky. The story of Douglas Bader, D.S.O., D.F.C.. London, Collins, 1954; abridged, Collins (Laurel & Gold ser.), 1965

1 comment:

Norman Boyd said...

Wow! I hadn't realised he wrote the stories for so many of those films I loved as a kid! Thanks for bringing them together Steve. Great stuff as usual!