Explore the world of H.E. Bates: Wartime

Explore the world of
Wartime hero
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Flying Officer X

At the end of 1940 The Battle of Britain had been won but the country was still at war and the Air Ministry was badly in need of some good publicity. H.E. was commissioned into the RAF with the first ever remit of its kind, solely to write stories about its serving personnel and the effect of the war on their families and loved ones. The stories were published under the pseudonym ‘Flying Officer X’. Many crews and pilots can be traced in the stories, including the Czech ace Karel Kuttlewascher and the only Lithuanian in the RAF, Romualdus Marcinkus.

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Fair stood the wind for France

His wartime novel, Fair Stood the Wind for France, brought international recognition and he continued to write about the war throughout his life. The Cruise of the Breadwinner is a tough 'coming of age' story about Snowy, a sixteen year old boy on a tragic rescue mission to Dunkirk, The Triple Echo and A Moment in Time have both been adapted for film and television.

In 1944 he was sent to India and Burma to write specifically for America whose servicemen and women were not expected home for a long time. Three of his wartime novels are set in India and Burma: The Purple Plain, The Jacaranda Tree and The Scarlet Sword.

Besides stories and novels his output during the war was extensive and varied, from dispatches, essays and pamphlets to two long investigative pieces: one about the V1 ‘doodlebug’ launch sites (The Battle of the Flying Bomb) and the other concerning the development of radar (The Night Interception Battle), both of which were suppressed under the 30 year rule.

I remain unequivocally convinced that no writer captured the lives and emotional worlds of RAF flyers as effectively as H.E. Bates.
- Martin Francis - Author of "The Flyer"

Did You Know?

  • H.E. joined the local Home Guard in his home village of Little Chart in Kent, but wrote later that he might have been better employed making marmalade: ‘I was issued with a rifle. I was terrified of keeping the rifle in the house because of the children and equally terrified of taking it on Sunday morning parades in case I had accidentally left a bullet in it and it would go off and shoot somebody, probably the Major.'
  • H.E. flew back from India on a sea plane, carrying a bunch of bananas for his youngest son, Jonathan, who had never seen a banana
  • His wartime play The Day of Glory was performed at the opening night of the Arts Council of Great Britain