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Book Review: Lionel Morris and the Red Baron – Jill Bush

This book is great for readers keen on aviation history and who enjoy a strong narrative thread in their history books.

I have to admit, I’m not a history book reader – I often find books full of facts and figures and lacking a good story. What attracted me to this book was the promise of the story of one man during the First World War rather than an overview of aviation during that time period. To my pleasant surprise I found that I actually got both. We often read stories of Ace pilots and not those pilots who worked equally as hard but whose luck failed them on one flight, so I was intrigued to read the story of The Red Baron’s first “victory” told from the loser’s side.

Bush balances the facts and figures ticking along in the background (the chronology of WWI and events at home, abroad and in the theatre of war) with the story of Lionel Morris and his contemporaries with great skill. The author has an extremely immersive writing style, bringing the land Morris would have been flying over alive and you right into the cockpit with him. Bush uses not just Morris’ diary but a myriad of sources to colour the story, and goes to great pains to paint – but not embellish – the truth teased out from accounts. This then gives the reader confidence in the story presented, that this is as close as possible to the truth of the matter rather than a grandiose work of historical fiction. The “mundane” days are also included in these accounts, and I found the to-and-froing of pilots with wrecked planes equally as intriguing as the dog fights.

Whilst this is a book with “The Red Baron” in the name and some time is devoted to him and his and Morris’ fateful encounter in the skies above France, the bulk of the book is about Morris and his squadron in the lead-up to that day. I therefore urge those looking for an in-depth history of The Red Baron to look elsewhere. However, for the Baron completionists I believe this book will have something completely new for you, and feel fans owe it to Morris and his observer Rees to find out the story behind the Baron’s first kills.

Overall I greatly enjoyed hearing this new account of WWI from the skies, and will look out for more work from this author in future.

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