Book Review by Trustee Andy Simpson
610 County of Chester Auxiliary Air Force Squadron. 1936 – 1940
By David J Bailey
Fonthill Media Ltd
Published: 3 May 2019 @ £45
It’s not often that a work of historical interest arrives and instantly impresses the reader, but David Bailey’s book on the history of 610 Squadron of the Auxiliary Air Force did just that.
The book captures, in extraordinary detail, the activity of the squadron in the first four years of its existence.
610 (County of Chester) Squadron was formed in 1936 at Hooton Park, Wirral, with personnel recruited locally for the expanding Auxiliary Air Force. The squadron began as a day-bomber unit and its ‘weekend flyers’ were soon moulded into a cohesive fighting unit.
The author has written a very readable account of 610 using access granted to much hitherto unpublished material which resides in the squadron association archives. Other sources have also been used to fill in a great deal of detail to reach the final, outstanding work, which for basic, yet vital, information mainly combines No 610 Squadron’s Operations Record Book (ORB), combat reports and the latest National Archives’ files.
What makes this book even more readable is the way the author has drawn this factual material into a story of a new squadron working hard to become operational and then taking on board changes to equipment (different aircraft) and then a different role when it changed from a bomber to a fighter squadron.
This tale is brought to life by the author’s use of personal memories from air and ground crew. Readers are also able to peruse a lot of this information for themselves since the book has nearly 400 illustrations, many showing log-book entries and extracts from the ORB.
On January 1 1939, the squadron became a fighter unit and, by the time of the Battle of Britain in 1940, it had become a Spitfire Squadron, having already transitioned through a number of types. The squadron moved from its northern base and was actually at seven different stations during 1940.
The author manages to capture all of this factually while maintaining the readability of the story of the squadron’s gallant place in the Battle. The losses sustained by the squadron in covering the withdrawal from Dunkirk and in the Battle of Britain are covered, as are the actions that led to them.
The level of detail is high but, again, can be easily understood due to the author’s way of presenting it. In describing the lives of the personnel involved the author shows not only the historical data but also covers the human endeavour and cost.
The book closes with the end of the year 1940, a fitting point in the Squadron’s history for what one hopes might only be a pause in the chronicling of the exploits of 610 (County of Chester) Squadron, which remained in existence until March 1945 and continued as a Spitfire Squadron throughout that time. It was revived in 1946, again at Hooton Park, as a Meteor unit and was finally disbanded in 1957.
This book is the product of much dogged research and, with an extensive list of notes and a comprehensive index, will have its place in documenting military history for many years to come.
(The Battle of Britain Memorial Trust CIO was pleased to be able to grant the author access to its publication ‘Men of the Battle, by Ken Wynn (Frontline Publications 2015) to assist in the preparation of ‘610 (County of Chester) Squadron’.)