Ralph and Gay Murphy, Charleston, SC, USA, 2016, 52 x 300mm, softcover, 562 pages
The War Diaries of R.K.C. Norwood 1940-46
Robin Norwood was the son of a Victoria Cross winner who joined the RAF Volunteer Reserve in 1938. In due course Norwood qualified as a fighter pilot and flew Spitfires during the Battle of Britain. However, for Australian readers the real interest in this book is Norwood’s posting to 54 Squadron, RAF, which was one of three Spitfire squadrons which formed the so-called Churchill Wing defending Darwin.
Norwood was thirty years old in 1940 – a full decade older than many of his squadron-mates. This gave him a mature, detached outlook and made for a very insightful diarist. This book is based on his wartime diaries which have never been published before. They are presented here with detailed observations by his daughter and son-in-law Gay and Ralph Murphy. The lengthy book is a treasure trove of wartime observations: both on aviation matters and also a social history of that period (a great amount of alcohol was consumed in a Spitfire squadron!).
When 54 Squadron flew into the bombed-out RAAF Darwin in January 1943, Norwood was the most senior pilot in the squadron after the commanding officer Squadron Leader Gibbs (who had no prior fighter experience). There are some very detailed descriptions of aerial combat over Darwin, and characters such as Wing Commander Clive Caldwell feature prominently. Some of the controversies of this period are addressed directly, and given that the diaries are a contemporaneous source the book is a valuable addition to the historic record.
Indeed, there are many numerous anecdotes conveying squadron life in the north such as this entry from 4th August 1942: I went over and landed on Bathurst Island. It’s a pleasant place. The aboriginals all gather around and chant “Spitfire, Him No.1 Plane!” When they salute they do so in the normal way and then sing “Bugger Air Board!”
Other than Darwin, the book offers regular insights into wartime Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney as Norwood takes various leave trips (including a ski trip to Mount Hotham and a holiday in Tasmania).
The book concludes with a brief biography of each of the nineteen members of 54 Squadron killed in Australia during 1942-45.