B for Buster
Ages 12 and up
Random House, 2004, 0-440-23810-2
When Kak arrives at the Yorkshire air base where he is to be stationed, the last thing he expects to see is someone from home - Donny Lee, the brash high spirited young man from his home town of Kakabeka. Kak is terrified that Donny will let the powers that be know that he is only sixteen and too young to enlist. Donny knows that Kak is not an orphan, Donny knows all about Kak and his unhappy family life. But, though Donny advises the boy to leave, and to leave soon, he does not tell anyone and Kak is able to stay.
How excited Kak is to go on his first mission. He can’t wait to get up in the air in the plane that has been assigned to him and the rest of the crew. B for Buster is a Halifax bomber and their job will be to dump bombs on some of the biggest of Germany’s cities. It is only after he has flown his first mission that Kak begins to understand why Donny’s face has a haunted look. Kak discovers what it feels like to be completely terrified, to be shot at and to fly through a sky full of flak. Very suddenly the young man begins to wish that he had never enlisted in the first place.
Surprisingly, the only thing that keeps him going, the only thing that makes it possible for him to get back into B for Buster day after day is Bert the pigeoneer and the pigeons. The Halifaxes still carry pigeons with them which can carry messages back to the home base in an emergency. Kak finds their company and the company of the man who cares for them to be his one solace in a world where young men fly away every night never to come home.
Often wartime pilots are portrayed as being heroes who never falter in their duty, who never feel afraid or worried about the future. It is refreshing to read a book which is candid about how terrifying it was to be a member of a bomber crew and to live with the constant fear that any time yours could be the next plane to go down in flames. We come to see how the men dealt with this fear, how they worked through it and how they did their best relying on rough-housing, drinking, women, and good luck charms to help them make it through another day. It is interesting to learn about the unsung heroes of the war, the pigeons who, on numerous occasions, saved the lives of their bomber crews, getting them help when all else failed.
This is a very moving, sometimes shocking tribute to the men, and the birds, who kept on going despite their terror, and who often failed to win the battle against the enemy.
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