Brilliant engineer behind the Hurricane
Sydney Camm Author: John Sweetman Publisher: Air World: First published 2019, RRP £25 ISBN: 9781526756220
Sir Sydney Camm was a brilliant engineer who had no formal technical training after leaving school. When he died in 1966 obituaries rightly gave priority to his primary role in the design of the Hurricane, yet his career stretched from the early days of aviation to vertical take-off and landing. The Hurricane played a crucial role at the turning point of world history in 1940 yet Camm worried through his life that he could have made it better.
His staff at Hawker found that he could be both avuncular and capable of woundingly censorious comments. He was devoted to his family and caused surprise by producing photographs of them from his pocket on a formal occasion. Away from his comfort zone he was seen as shy, withdrawn and sensitive about his regional (Berkshire) accent. To his daughter he was "a man of paradoxes".
So Camm is something of a biographer's dream and he has attracted one with a suitably impressive CV. Dr Sweetman has written widely on the Second World War, is an honorary research fellow at Keele University and is a former head of defence and international affairs at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst.
Sweetman is sure-footed in addressing both Camm's achievements and failings. I enjoyed learning much about the great man's unexalted early life in Windsor, one of 12 children of a journeyman carpenter and joiner. There is much to learn here about the birth of the Hurricane and the tribulations of being an aircraft designer caught up in the national and aircraft industry politics of the post-war period.
I do wonder though if the book was written in a hurry. There are plenty of mistakes. Most are the trivial kind that we all make but they add up to the point of damaging confidence and most would surely have been spotted if the proof reading had been thorough.
I offer some examples. Sumburgh is in Shetland, not Orkney. I can state that with authority having flown in and out of Sumburgh and it felt as bleak as the area's reputation. Douglas Bader was an acting Squadron Leader, not a Wing Commander, when he took command of No 242 Squadron in June 1940. The name of the Hurricane pilot whose actions on August 16 1940 earned him the VC was Nicolson not "Nicholson". The implication that American pilot Byron Kennerly flew in the Battle of Britain is not correct or, if Dr Sweetman has the evidence that he did, he might care to send it to the Battle of Britain
Memorial Trust so that Kennerly can be considered for any future edition of Wynn's Men of the Battle of Britain. The New Zealand Hurricane ace from the Battle of France, "Cobber" Kain, becomes "Cain" in one instance. Once Sydney Camm is knighted there are correct references to his wife as "Lady Camm". However, in a caption, (written by somebody else?) she is "Lady Hilda Camm", a description I doubt that she was accustomed to in an era rather more conscious of form than is today's.
Sydney Camm should be in a Battle of Britain collection, but take care.