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"THE WINGS OF THE MORNING" - A TURKEY OF A NOVEL

The Wings of the Morning - Patrick Garland

This is a novel that for all its spirited and at times lively prose, ultimately falls short. My first criticism is the author went much too far in laying out for the reader the family history of one of the principal characters, Archibald ('Arch') Gendron, an Australian of Irish descent who followed his older brother to Britain during the early months of the war to join the forces and fight for the mother country. Frankly, I wasn't too interested in knowing in any great detail about Arch's parents and some of their experiences during their early years in Australia (both were emigrants). I was more interested in knowing about Arch and the struggles he and his generation would have to face on the Western Front. I also appreciated the author sharing with the reader various aspects of Arch's personal life in Britain whenever he was able to visit there on leave. His relationship with an actress performing plays with a London-based troupe around the country as a way of boosting morale was interesting to read about.

Furthermore, what was appalling to me as someone who is fairly knowledgeable about First World War aircraft, was the author's general ignorance of the various aircraft types that Arch flew in combat, as well as the ones he fought against. In some instances, the author would have Arch flying a Bristol Brisfit 2-seat fighter/reconnaissance plane (nicknamed 'the Biff') in 1916. In fact, the Brisfit did not see action on the Western Front until the Spring of 1917! The author --- whose father had been a pilot with the Royal Flying Corps during the war (given that tidbit of information, one would think the author would've been more scrupulous in researching the aircraft of the period --- also featured the Sopwith Camel fighter in the WRONG year, 1916. (The Camel did not see action until the summer of 1917.) And as for the German fighters Arch faced in combat, the Fokker Triplane and the Fokker DVII, the author bunched them together, often confusing one with the other. The author also featured both planes as being at the Front in 1916, which did not happen. The Fokker Triplane - which Manfred von Richthofen ('the Red Baron') made famous - did not enter service until August 1917. And the Fokker DVII (a biplane!) did not see combat until the late spring and summer of 1918.

There is also a part of the story in which Arch and Bickerton, his observer, barely survive a fight with German fighters while on a reconnaissance mission and make a hasty landing in the Ardennes Forest near an obscure French village deep inside enemy lines. The author then went on at considerable length to describe Arch and Bickerton's subsequent experiences in this village (where they were sheltered by a family). By my count, he spent close to 100 pages, waxing rhapsodically about this village and how Arch and Bickerton became semi-assimulated there. He left me with the distinct impression that both men spent several weeks there before they managed to escape back to the Allied lines. (I won't detail the nature of the escape itself, except to say that it was unbelievable.) But once, Arch and Bickerton were back with the squadron, the author (Patrick Garland) clearly indicates to the reader that both men had been missing in action for 10 days!

I think any writer of historical fiction undercuts him/herself when it becomes clear to the discerning reader that a lot of historical detail is erroneous. "THE WINGS OF THE MORNING" is riddled like a colander with errors (some of which I identified above). For that reason, this isn't a novel that I would recommend to anyone to read.