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RAF Wings Over Florida — book review

12 November 2010

RAF Wings Over Florida — book review

There is a small town in Florida named Arcadia which, along with a smaller Florida town called Clewiston, was an aviation training base for the RAF during WW II. The training was for the basic phases and the fields — Carlstrom Field in Arcadia and Riddle Field in Clewiston — were made of grass, not paved as was the norm for the USA, though not for European powers.

Florida’s good weather and safe location helped the state train tens of thousands of aviators during WW II. Since the Axis powers could not match these numbers they could not replace pilot combat losses, so Florida’s training ground was one of the significant factors in the winning if WW II.

RAF Wings Over Florida: memories of World War II British Air Cadets, Will Largent, 2000, ISBN 1-55753-203-6, 258 pp. — and it can be downloaded here.

This book by Largent is a complete story of the RAF experience as well as their losses while learning to fly. Many were lost to training accidents and the book deals with the lighter and darker sides of American society back in the day. The town turned out to meet trainees and host them at dances, movies and picnics. At the same time, RAF men were confronted by men of the town and told to not entertain notions of equality among men when it came to what were termed in the day “Negros” and are now called African-Americans. The RAF men were shocked at this backwardness and wrote home about it. They were perplexed by the paradox of the USA with its U.S. Constitution and fighting the Axis in the name of democracy, yet enforcing bigotry and illegal, too often heinous, acts directed against people of color.

This book is a delightful read and transports the reader back to those days. Not only are the trainees and townsfolk described so, too, are the instructors. Every person has a story, it is said, and this shows many of them. Interestingly, lives of many of the trainees and instructors are followed for long after their days in Florida.

A chapter is devoted to the overall non monetary cost of the war and mentions the 23 officially recognized cemeteries with RAF sections across the USA, with three in Florida including the one located in Arcadia called Oak Ridge Cemetery*.

As bonus, the last chapter amusingly describes the English the RAF personnel were advised to “relearn” so that socially embarrassing situations could be avoided while staying in the USA.

This book should be read by those interested in learning history of this period in the context of the day — the real and visceral history. Many historic photos are in the book, photos I have not seen elsewhere, as well as personal writings from the aviators.

* There is a post on the RAF section of Oak Ridge Cemetery — the easiest way to get to it is to type “Oak Ridge” in the search window and select ENTER.

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