Two Precious Gifts

by Tez of Iolaire, in celebration of National Book Week

When I was asked to say something about books my thoughts initially were to those (of the vast number I have read) that figure in my head as favourites but I found that there were simply far too many. Instead I have opted to tell you about two books that I own as a result of friends giving me them as gifts – one is an original from 1776, the other is a facsimile created in 1976.

One of my older friends that had been my Chief in the Royal Air Force back in the early 80’s had said to me “You love old maps and such things. I’ve got an old atlas that I’ll give you”.  Before the chance had come he sadly died and I thought nothing more about the matter. However, a few months after his funeral his daughter turned up at Logie with a carrier bag containing the atlas. I didn’t look at it whilst she was there but simply thanked her for remembering her late father's promise.

On first look I was taken aback as it had no front cover, the back was badly damaged as were many of its pages and many would have simply thrown it away. As I opened its wide pages I realised it was a very early road atlas of Scotland and the title page revealed the date of publication – 1776. It had probably seen service by either a well-to-do family or perhaps a coaching business. Despite it’s tatty condition it was all there; Taylor and Skinner’s Survey and Maps of the Roads of North Britain or Scotland.

I decided to try and save it first contacting a friend that runs a book-binding business in North Uist. I sent it over to her and waited for her estimate thinking it might be beyond rescue. Her reply was £100.00 to fix all the damage and to rebind it. I decided that it was worth the investment and was delighted when it arrived back in the post a few weeks later. I’ve since learned that it’s of considerable value despite the neglect and repair. I love looking at its strip maps and imagining who else has handled this fascinating book over the past two hundred and forty-four years.

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In my capacity as a Reservist in the Royal Air Force I serve at Lossiemouth as a graphic designer for a part of each week. My work involves helping the Heritage Centre with lots of differing things that they get given  - posters, photographs, documents, maps that often need scanning and/or reproducing.

One of the elderly volunteers has brought me no end of challenging tasks and two weeks ago as a ‘thank you’ he gave me a book (as he personally had four copies). It is a facsimile of Wing Commander Guy Gibson’s wartime flying log-book that was produced as a tribute in 1976. I was delighted to be given such an item having served for twenty-five years and having known the ‘Dambusters’ story since childhood.

Once I got it home I gave it a good thumb-through - it’s not really something you really ‘read’. It’s all completed in his handwriting and has some interesting personal glimpses like where he notes when returning from a solo sortie ‘Nearly bought it’ or when travelling to Canada he writes ‘one very nice air hostess’.

Given that he was a young man in his prime I think we can imagine what he meant. He was only 26 years old when he was killed in action on 19th September 1944 when his damaged Mosquito aircraft crashed near Steenbergen in the Netherlands. The last page in his log-book is from 16th September just three days before his death.

His log-book is quite matter-of-fact about his operations as is the norm and the entry for the Dams raids reads the same as any other, likewise on the opposite page it says simply “Awarded VC”.  It’s the occasional personal comments that jump out at you, reminding you that he was flesh and blood.

Of course it’s only really in the post WWII era that he’s become elevated to hero status but when you read his flying log and count the operations he flew and the dangers he faced at such a young age that you realise what a remarkable human being he was. It’s been an honour for me to serve in the same service and to wear the same uniform as him and a great many others that placed themselves in mortal danger in order to defend our freedoms.

Wing Commander Guy Penrose Gibson, VC, DSO & Bar, DFC & Bar

(12 August 1918 – 19 September 1944) - over 2000 flying hours, served three operational ‘tours’ (two was normally the limit) and flew over 170 operational missions.

On 19 December 1944 Churchill wrote to Eve Gibson:

I had great admiration for him – the glorious Dam-buster. I had hoped that he would come into Parliament and make his way there after the stress of the war was over, but he never spared himself nor would allow others to spare him. We have lost in this officer one of the most splendid of all our fighting men. His name will not be forgotten; it will for ever be enshrined in the most wonderful records of our country.

 

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