ISSUE 9, April 2004

The Duke of Wellington: A Brother in arms
Quarterly Communication: Address of the Grand Master and Report of the Board of General Purposes
Life with the Stars: Masons and famous people
Hall Stone Jewel: Cyril Spackman, designer
Travel: Jamaica
Grand Charity: Annual Report and Accounts
Masonic stamps: Masonry on stamps
Library & Museum of Freemasonry: Antients and Moderns go on-line
Masonic education: Events for Freemasons
Masonic charities: The continuing work
Bowel cancer: How the Grand Charity is helping
Royal Arch: Russia and Eastern Europe
Richard Eve: A former Grand Treasurer
Book reviews

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Air Power, by Stephen Budiansky (Viking, £20. ISBN 0670912514)
The timing of this book is apt, following the centenary year of first powered flight. Yet the Wright brothers could hardly have envisaged the military ramifications that their remarkable achievement in 1903 would bring. Within months of their invention, politicians and Generals alike were beginning to formulate plans to utilise air power in combat.
      It seems hard to imagine now that for much of the 20th century, planes were not so much vehicles for fare-paying passengers but vehicles to win wars. This very fact alone played a major part in developing aviation to the supersonic dimensions it has achieved today. Developing technology costs money, and governments, realising the potential of air power, were only too eager to provide the funds.
      It wasn’t long before machine guns were attached to the flimsy post-Wright bi-planes and the advent of the First World War brought with it legends such as the German Red Baron. Yet the more sinister side to air power was revealed with the Zeppelin and Gotha raids, which killed 1,400 Britons.
      It was clear that military aviation was no respecter of prior definition of combatants. Civilians were now in the front line. Air power brought total war, and Blitzkrieg in 1939 showed just how far developments had come since 1903.
      Strategic bombing became commonplace. For example, the RAF and USAAF campaign on Germany killed 600,000 civilians, but perhaps as remarkably, resulted in the loss of 75,000 aircrew. Budiansky highlights the incompetence of the men who directed air power operations during the last century. In Vietnam, General Curtis LeMay made it clear that success would come by ‘bombing them back into the Stone Age’, while a few years later, General Thomas Power spoke against restraint in a nuclear exchange with the words, ‘If at the end of the war, there are two Americans and one Russian, we win!’
      Thankfully, while technology continues to create terror weapons, it has also provided pinpoint accuracy, as witnessed in Kosovo and the Gulf Wars. In the process, aviation has proved itself able to shorten wars and at less cost to human life. As Budiansky skilfully recounts, the same could not be said for air power during much of the 20th century.

What prompted you to first write a novel?

In some ways, I was born into it. My father was a good poet and writer; my mother wrote 40 novels; and my Godfather was James Hilton, who wrote Goodbye, Mr. Chips. My younger years were therefore spent with my mother sitting with cat on lap writing shorthand, while my father was upstairs tapping away on his typewriter. I managed to suppress my desire to write a novel for the first ten years at ITN before finally succumbing to it.

How do you research for your books?

I use libraries for basic research, but it is people who provide the brilliant anecdotes and excellent research material. I look for people at the sharp end, such as sergeants and corporals rather than high-ranking officers. A number of my books have been based on areas where I worked as a reporter. I virtually lived in Northern Ireland for a number of years, which helped with Harry’s Game, my first novel.

When writing a book, have you got a preferred place of work and a favoured writing routine?

It is terribly boring for my wife because I find myself going into ‘hermit mode’. I put the blind down and shut myself away where I won’t be disturbed. My one respite is an hour’s walk in the morning with my Labrador. The poor dog has to listen to that day’s dialogue!

How do you relax?

It’s often hard to relax while writing a novel as storylines churn in your mind. However, I love watching Bath Rugby club play on Saturdays. I am not mad on travel now, as I filled three passports working for ITN, but my key holiday is going to North-West Scotland in the Spring, and watching golden eagles and otters.

Are you currently working on a project?

I often get the jitters once I have finished a novel, as there is always the insecurity of whether I’ll develop a storyline to match or better the last. I am, however, beginning to formulate a plan for a new book.

Who is your favorite author?

John Le Carré.

Which book are you reading at present?

An excellent book on the Battle of Monte Cassino by Matthew Parker. I visited the place 20 years ago, but had no idea of the scale of the battle. It really was our ‘Stalingrad’ and makes extraordinary reading.

Gerald Seymour’s new book The Unknown Soldier, published by Bantam Press, £12.99 was released on 4th March 2004.