I bring you a book that appealed to me for a variety of reasons. I hope you find it interesting as well.
Battle of Britain Broadcaster: Charles Gardner, Radio Pioneer and WWII Pilot by Robert Gardner
In 1936 Charles Gardner joined the BBC as a sub-editor in its news department. Shortly afterwards, he was joined by Richard Dimbleby and together they became the very first BBC news correspondents. They covered everything from shipwrecks to fires, floods to air raid precautions and, in Garner’s’ case, new aircraft. Their exploits became legendary and they laid down the first principles of news broadcasting – of integrity and impartiality – still followed today. With the outbreak of war Charles Gardner became one of the first BBC war correspondents and was posted to France to cover the RAF’s AASF (Advanced Air Strike Force). He made numerous broadcasts interviewing many fighter pilots after engagements with the Germans and recalling stories of raids, bomb attacks and eventually the Blitzkrieg when they all were evacuated from France. When he got home he wrote a book AASF which was one of the first books on the Second World War to be published. In late 1940 he was commissioned in the RAF as a pilot and flew Catalina flying boats of Coastal Command. After support missions over the Atlantic protecting supply convoys from America, his squadron was deployed to Ceylon which was under threat from the Japanese navy. Gardner was at the controls when he was the first to sight the Japanese fleet and report back its position. Gardner was later recruited by Lord Mountbatten, to help report the exploits of the British 14th Army in Burma. He both broadcast and filed countless reports of their astonishing bravery in beating the Japanese in jungle conditions and monsoon weather. After the war, Gardner became the BBC air correspondent from 1946-1953. As such, he became known as The Voice of the Air,’ witnessing and recording the greatest days in British aviation history. But Perhaps he will best be remembered for his 1940 eye-witness account of an air battle over the English Channel when German dive bombers unsuccessfully attacked a British convoy but were driven off by RAF fighters. At the time it caused a national controversy. Some complained about his commentary being like a football match,’ and not an air battle where men’s lives were at stake. That broadcast is still played frequently today.
About the author:
Robert Gardner, Charles Gardner’s son, worked as a journalist for four years before moving into public relations with the British Aircraft Corporation becoming Head of Publicity and later Vice President of British Aerospace and BAE Systems. He is the author of From Bouncing Bombs to Concorde – The Authorised Biography of Sir George Edwards. Robert Gardner, who is now retired, was appointed MBE in 2001.
I thank Rosie Croft from Pen & Sword for providing me a hardback review copy of this book that I freely chose to review.
What initially intrigued me about this book was the mention of Charles Gardner’s career as a broadcaster for the BBC. I am a fan of radio and as a volunteer at local radio stations for the last few years (first on Penistone FM, in the UK, and now on Sants 3 Ràdio, here in Barcelona), I wanted to read about an important pioneer’s experiences. When I read more about Gardner and his career, both with the BBC and also as a pilot and collaborator with the British Aircraft Corporation, I wanted to know more.
This is a book, written by the son of the protagonist, and as such, it has the virtue of including plenty of personal details and memories that are not easily available anywhere else. Charles Gardner wrote and published books about WWII and about aviation and aircraft, and we have access to many of his broadcasts and articles —and there are excerpts of those in the book as well— but the author has had privileged access to materials such as notebooks, letters, and also, of course, to stories he heard first-hand and lived, and that makes this a much rarer opportunity for those interested in the story of this pioneer, a man who loved the news, journalism, and also planes and flying, to the point that he decided to learn to fly and that would influence his later career in the BBC and also his time in WWII.
This book highlights some events, like Gardner’s life broadcasting of an air-battle between British and German planes in 1940 (a first, and somewhat controversial broadcasting), his friendships (Richard Dimbleby, New Zealand pilot ‘Cobber’ Kain, with Sir George Edwards, his connection to Lord Mountbatten…), his time broadcasting in France and following the RAF before enlisting as a pilot and being involved in actions in Europe and later in East Asia (Ceylon and Burma)… There is also content about his return to the BBC after the war and a chapter about a royal secret and Gardner’s involvement in it (and yes, it concerns Elizabeth, a princess then, and Philip, her future husband. Yes, romance is involved as well). I loved the details about the beginning of Gardner’s journalistic career at the Nuneaton Tribune and the Leicester Mercury and also the account of the first years with the BBC, that reminded me very much of what is like to report on local news: you might be covering an anniversary even today, the opening of a new facility tomorrow, and interviewing some local celebrity the next day. The difficulties he and Richard Dimbleby had trying to broadcast from France and getting access to a broadcasting vehicle highlights how different things were (we were not all connected then), and I loved the inclusion of snippets of how the family was experiencing the same events (his wife and his growing number of children moved a number of times to follow him during the war, and those stories make for great reading material in their own right).
The book also includes many black and white photos of Gardner, his family, the locations… There is an index and detailed notes and resources for each chapter.
This is a great read and a book I recommend to people interested in Charles Gardner, in the history of the radio, news reporting, BBC and media in the UK, in WWII history, particularly the RAF, and in British aviation in general.
You might want to check this article by the author where he talks about his father and about this book.
Thanks to Pen & Sword and to the author for this opportunity, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and especially, keep safe and keep smiling (even under the mask). ♥