Thursday 20 September 2018

Book Review: First Light, Geoffrey Wellum

I bought the attractive Penguin 'Centenary Collection' edition of this, from a favourite local bookshop Topping Books, Ely), as something to read during a recent short holiday. I wound up reading it before we went away, in the end. Seduced by the nicely retro cover, I started earlier than intended. And once started, I was utterly hooked.

Brian Kingcome, left, and 'Boy' Wellum, 92 Squadron, RAF, Biggin Hill, '41.

As Geoff Wellum himself says repeatedly, in his very engaging memoir, these were amazing, momentous times, and he had a particularly privileged part to play, albeit a privilege that came with awful risks and costs. Wellum's journey, from idyllic sounding school days, to aerial war in the skies over England and Europe, and all whilst incredibly young (his nickname was 'Boy'), is a fascinating, captivating and even awe inspiring story.

To be one of the 'few', and then one of the few of the few who made it through (phew!), and to then be able to put down the experience in words, as eloquently and as straightforwardly as Wellum does, all these things make this a very special and powerful book. And it all has a wonderful quintessentially English quality, in the best of ways.

Wellum's story has been dramatised.

Wellum himself observes on a number of occasions that having lived a life so full of high drama, adventure, and historical significance, all by the time he turned 21, was both incredible in itself, and also possibly an issue in later life: how can you follow experiences like these? Whilst I don't wish the world to find itself at war again, we do seem, by comparison, to live dull lives in dull times.

Wellum passed away, aged 96, in July, 2018

Wellum in his later years.


  1. Prompted by his death,and RAF Centenary year, I read it as well earlier this summer and gave it a 10+ (out of 10) - equally as awe inspiring is "The Last Enemy" by Richard Hillary - also recommended but quite a contrast...

    1. Hi Steve, I've amended my score to the full five balkenkreuz, 'cause you reminded me how much I enjoyed this book. I'll check out 'The Last Enemy as well. Cheers, Seb