World War I Tales: The Last Flight
1916. Young Alfred Adams in a private in the British Army about to be sent to the Western Front. He has heard terrible things about the conditions there and doesn’t want to go. Fortunately, he has a stroke of luck; his commanding officer discovers that he is an excellent photographer. Alfred is promoted to lieutenant and transferred to the new Royal Flying Corps as an aerial photographer. He will go up with Donald Stewart, his pilot, and photograph the enemy’s position from their two-seater flying machine called FE2b.
In this first person narrative, Alfred writes to his sister about his adventures, which gives the story immediacy. He tells Lucy about the famous German air ace, Baron Manfred von Richthofen, and how he hopes to shoot down the famous ‘Red Baron’. But it is Donald and Alfred, in their new efficient Bristol plane, who are shot down by the baron. They are taken captive and spend the rest of the war in a German prison camp.
The Last Flight is based on a true story, and Terry Deary and his illustrator James de la Rue have pitched it just right for boys of seven plus who are learning about World War 1 in time for the centenary next year. Planes are still in their infancy, and de la Rue’s drawings show the FE2b looking exactly like the stick insect Alfred calls it; it’s a bi-plane, made out of canvas, wood and wire. It looks, and obviously was, horribly unsafe. The illustrations, from various vertiginous angles, give us the action from Alfred’s point of view. There are some terrific pictures of dog-fights with planes spouting smoke spiralling down. I can’t help feeling that de la Rue thoroughly enjoyed this drawing assignment, and I’m sure that small boys will love them, too. Highly recommended.
If I had to rate this book I would give it 9 out of 10, missing one point because it is not long enough. However, I can read it quickly. If I was the little girl that Alfred was writing to, I would be both shocked and thrilled by this story. The thrilling bit is the scenes involving Alfred and Donald almost being shot down by a fighter plane of the Red Baron. But I would be shocked if someone gave me a very old and stained book, and I’d think ‘Wow, this must be a real manuscript with letters of a World War One photographer’. Recommended for ages 7-13.
Louis McNulty, age 10