From Biplane to Spitfire: Book Review
From Biplane to Spitfire - The Life of Air Chief Marshal Sir Geoffrey Salmond, KCB, KCMG, DSO
Author: Anne Baker
Publisher: Leo Cooper, first published 2003, reprinted 2021 RRP £19.95
ISBN: 0 85052 980 8
The Salmond brothers were major forces in the Royal Flying Corps and the early days of the RAF. John Maitland ("Jack"), the younger of the pair, is the better remembered. Although he and his brother William Geoffrey Hanson ("Geoff") both rose to be Chief of the Air Staff, Jack's tenure of the office was much longer and he held senior posts in the Second World War, as well as being one of the coterie, of which Lord Trenchard was the senior figure, which sought to influence policy during the period in which the Memorial Trust is particularly interested.
Anne Baker is one of Geoff Salmond's four children. At the age of 106 she was made MBE in the 2021 New Year Honours for her charitable work. She has produced a well-written, readable and interesting account of her father's life, with many facts.
There are, of course, pros and cons of most biographies by relatives. Baker naturally benefitted from close observation of her subject and the impact that his adventures and responsibilities had on him. She had access to many letters and other papers written by her father, as well as the previously unpublished memoirs of her uncle. This is not, though, a volume to seek out for in-depth analysis of Sir Geoffrey Salmond's thoughts, actions and decisions or the military and world scene within which he acted.
The title of the book is worthy of comment. "Spitfire" is one of those words that publishers of military history love to insert into titles with a view to increasing sales. Sir Geoffrey died of illness in 1933, aged 54, almost immediately after taking office as CAS. This was three years before the maiden flight of the Spitfire and five years before the type entered RAF service. Only a tenuous case is made for the title used. The author points out that Geoff Salmond was an enthusiast for, and supporter of, the Schneider competition in its different guises and of the RAF High Speed Flight.
Herein lie the origins of the Spitfire. However, I am reminded of a friend of mine who worked for the Co-op for many years and likes to insist that, during his service, he met at least 20 people who told him that they had invented Co-op stamps.
I did examine the work of a number of historians who had written about Geoffrey Salmond or the Spitfire but none mentioned the two together. The search was not exhaustive, I accept.
Sir Geoffrey made an enormous contribution to the development of, and, indeed, the survival of, the RAF. There are surely many better achievements to be used in a title page summary of his life.
At the close of Anne Baker's most interesting and useful book she rightly gives considerable attention to the wide range of tributes bestowed on her father at his passing. She notes that, at his funeral on May 1 1933, the pall bearers included, Marshal of the Royal Air Force Lord Trenchard, Air Marshal Sir Robert Brooke-Popham and Air Marshal H C T Dowding (who would become Sir Hugh just over a month later).
Anne Baker concludes with the thought that her father would have liked to be remembered, "as one of that 'Happy Band of Brothers' who had, by their inspiration, built and shaped the new service, the Royal Air Force, and who, not so very long ago, had taken their courage in both hands and learned to fly."