Tuesday 18 May 2021

#BlogTour #WartimeClassics Pathfinders by Cecil Lewis


It's my turn on the BlogTour Pathfinders by Cecil Lewis, it's another novel in the Wartime Classics series by the Imperial War Museum. Pathfinders by Cecil Lewis will be on sale 20th May 2021; cost £8.99. Pathfinders by Cecil Lewis is published by IWM and can be pre-ordered at their online shop here: https://shop.iwm.org.uk/wartime-classics 

In May 2021, IWM will publish two more novels in their Wartime Classics series which was launched in September 2019 to great acclaim, bringing the total novels in the series to ten. Each has been brought back into print to enable a new generation of readers to hear stories of those who experienced conflict firsthand.

First published in 1944 and set over the course of one night in 1942, the story follows the fate of six crew members of a Wellington bomber ‘P for Pathfinder’ thrown together by chance from different corners of the world. They each reflect on the paths of their own lives, as they embark on a fateful mission deep into the heart of Nazi Germany. Cecil Lewis’ novel examines the life of every man in turn, rendering a moving account of each as not merely a nameless crew member, but as an individual with a life lived, ‘a life precious to some, or one… these men with dreams and hopes and plans of things to come.”

Cecil Lewis was a flying instructor for the RAF during the Second World War where he taught hundreds of pilots to fly, including his own son. It was while doing this training that he wrote Pathfinders. Pupils were graded by the time it took them to fly solo – the best became fighters and then bombers. The RAF’s Bomber Command was the only branch of the armed forces that could take direct action against Germany and in 1942 the strategic air offensive changed from precision to area bombing where whole cities were targeted in order to destroy factories as well as the morale of those who worked in them. 

IWM Senior Curator, Alan Jeffreys, has written an introduction to each book that provides context and the wider historical background. He says, ‘researching the Wartime Classics has been one of the most enjoyable projects I’ve worked on in my years at IWM. It’s been very exciting rediscovering these fantastic novels and helping to bring them to the wider readership they so deserve’.

About the Author

Cecil Lewis (1898 - 1997) was a British fighter ace in the First World War and his memoir Sagittarius Rising became a classic of the literature from that war, considered by many to be the definitive account of aerial combat. He was a flying instructor for the RAF during the Second World War where he taught hundreds of pilots to fly, including his own son. 

After the war he was one of the founding executives of the BBC and enjoyed friendships with many of the creative figures of the day, including George Bernard Shaw, winning an Academy Award for co-writing the 1938 film adaptation of Shaw’s Pygmalion. He had a long and varied career but retained a passion for flying all his life. In 1969 he sailed a boat to Corfu where he spent the remainder of his life, dying two months short of his 99th birthday. He was the last surviving British fighter ace of the First World War. 

About the book

The ‘pathfinders’ of the story were needed because often the bombers could not find the towns and cities they were destined to attack at night, let alone the industrial centres within. The crew used coloured marker flares to guide the bombers to their targets and the crews selected (often from the USA, Canada and NZ as well as Britain) were the best night flying crews who were able to find the target unaided. As a pilot who took part in both World Wars, Cecil Lewis brings his unique experience to bear, shining a light on this vital and sometimes contested aspect of Britain’s Second World War focusing on the sacrifice made by the Allied airmen it depicts.


This is more of an introspective character driven read, as opposed to men in the midst of traumatic warfare or under fire. This depicts a single night experienced by each crew member of a Wellington bomber, based on the experiences of Cecil Lewis, who was a WW1 fighter pilot.

And it's also each person revisiting their lives, but not per se to ponder the why or where. It's more of a general glimpse of the individuality of each of them. Not just names or ranks. A human being with a family, friends, a story and a whole life before and ahead of them. Or not, as was the reality for the majority.

Given the fact Lewis is known for writing the 1938 film adaptation of Shaw’s Pygmalion, if you view the Pathfinders from that perspective it's easy to imagine a stage or film setting. It explains the walk through memories, and the distinctive and individualistic approach to the trauma. It gives a voice to each person instead of one voice for many under the umbrella of war trauma and experiences. 

I'm actually quite surprised how often I am asked to recommend books in the war genre and the Wartime Classics are especially popular. When the IWM started republishing these classics I found a whole bunch of readers to share them with and the fact the paperbacks are also aesthetically pleasing to the eye is an added bonus.

Buy Pathfinders at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer. Published in Paperback 20th May 2021 -  £8.99. Buy at Amazon com.

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