Right, got it? Well, let me tell you why you should. Firstly, this book has moved, in a single reading, into my top five favourite books of all time. The achievement is all the greater in that the other occupiers of that list were books I read when I was much younger, unmarked, and could receive deeper and more lasting impressions from the books I read. But First Light has broken through the dull accretions, and the dullening, of age. So, if you would be young again, read First Light.
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Geoffrey Wellum obituary Battle of Britain pilot who wrote a dramatic personal account of his wartime experiences Geoffrey Wellum, author of First Light , in which he looked back on his life as a Spitfire pilot in the second world war. First Light , which was made into a BBC drama in , was drawn from notes he had made as a teenage flier in the Battle of Britain.
Aged 18, in spring , Wellum was posted to 92 Squadron — and it was then that he encountered, and flew, a Spitfire for the first time.
He fell in love with the Vickers Supermarine Spitfire almost instantly. I must be getting lightheaded! What a pity, in a way, that an aeroplane that can impart such a glorious feeling of sheer joy and beauty has got to be used to fight somebody.
In his combat narration Wellum conveys something of the texture of battle, the imminence of death, aircraft straining for kills yards apart, the exhilaration, the surrealism, the terror, the speed — and the Messerschmitt Bf s. The sun glints on their wings and bellies as they roll like trout in a stream streaking over smooth round pebbles.
Trout streams, water meadows, waders, fast-flowing water, the pretty barmaid at the inn. Dear Jesus why this? For Wellum and his comrades the intensity eased, as Spitfires were unsatisfactory nightfighters, and the squadron moved into winter quarters at Manston in Kent. During the battle he had shot down a Heinkel He bomber, and claimed a quarter share in a Ju That November there were two damaged Bf s, and one shared. Another Bf was claimed in , and there may have been more, as he was not one greatly concerned with recording such things.
For Wellum the focus had switched to daytime sweeps, mainly over northern France. The intention was to engage with the Luftwaffe in combat, and to escort RAF bombing missions. By September his time with 92 Squadron had come to an end, and he was tired.
He was posted to an operational training unit and did not return to squadron service until February , when he became a flight commander with 65 Squadron, at Great Sampford in Essex. There were new problems. The Germans were flying a formidable new fighter, the Focke-Wulf Fw , and Wellum was beginning to suffer from persistent headaches. At the end of July, he was detailed to command a flight of eight Spitfires from the aircraft carrier HMS Furious, sailing from the Clyde to the Mediterranean, and land them on the besieged island of Malta.
His headaches became severe and he was diagnosed with sinusitis. He remained on the island as part of the air defence force before returning to Britain, suffering from exhaustion. He was subsequently involved in the testing of Hawker Typhoon fighter-cum-ground-attack aircraft, but did not return to combat duties. After the war, Wellum remained in the RAF until Born in Walthamstow, on the eastern edge of London, Geoffrey was the only child of Percy, who managed an off-licence, and his wife, Edith.
Percy had served at Gallipoli during the first world war and was commissioned on the battlefield. Geoffrey attended Forest school in Snaresbrook, and, while waiting that last term to join the RAF, captained the school cricket team. In he married Grace Neil and they had three children. He worked for a family haulage business and, after that went under, spent time working as a commodity broker in the City. The couple divorced in , and six years later he relocated to Mullion on the Lizard peninsula in Cornwall.
He joined the local choir, and eventually became deputy harbourmaster. A daughter, Deborah, died last year. He is survived by two children, Anna and Neil.
The first aircraft he flew was the Tiger Moth at Desford airfield in Leicestershire. Two days later Britain declared war on Germany. In May , before his flight training was complete,  Wellum was posted to 92 Squadron , which was a combat squadron flying Spitfires. Later, in First Light, he wrote of the experience: "I experienced an exhilaration that I cannot recall ever having felt before.
Geoffrey Wellum obituary