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November 13 , 2017

Memoirs of a Swordfish Man

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Two Fights with a Swordfish

Zane Grey (January 31, 1872 – October 23, 1939) was an American author best known for his popular adventure novels and stories that presented an idealized image of the American frontier, including the novel Riders of the Purple Sage, his bes selling book. This is one of his stories.

This is a book of wartime memoirs telling the story of a typical young Fleet Air Arm pilot in the Second World War. It is also a sort of epitaph to an aircraft – the famous Fairey Swordfish or, as its adoring pilots called it, “The Stringbag” – one of the only two aircraft to begin and end the War on active service.

Naval pilots during the War were all officer cadets who held the rank of Naval Airman Second Class while training. As soon as they got their wings, they became commissioned officers as either - depending on their age – a Midshipman or a Sub-Lieutenant. This book follows the life of a very ordinary Naval Airman from the moment that he first applies to be a trainee pilot, through his preliminary training at the cadet school in Gosport and his flying training first in Detroit, Michigan, USA, then at Pensacola, Florida, USA, until he finally gets his wings at Kingston, Ontario, Canada.

Back in the UK for the completion of his training, our Swordfish Man learns how to drop torpedoes, and spends almost a year training Observers at Arbroath in Scotland, where he is voted “The pilot the trainee observers most like to fly with”. He then volunteers for a special night anti-submarine attacks training course, following which he is posted to a front line squadron operating under the direction of RAF Coastal Command from the Island of Benbecula in the Outer Hebrides. Thence his squadron goes to Thorney Island in the English Channel immediately following the Normandy landings and stays there until it disbands several months later. His colleagues go on leave but he replaces a pilot from another squadron killed on active duty and finds himself on HMS Nairana making attacks on Norway and escorting convoys to and from Murmansk.

Throughout the whole of this period, the author does his best to “tell it as it was”, including an essentially honest appraisal of his own feelings as far as he can judge them.

When this second squadron also disbands, our author becomes a Batsman for a further year teaching front line squadrons to land on the deck at night as he and his forty-odd colleagues had done throughout the Murmansk convoys.


Leslie Paine was born in Bath in Somerset and educated at the City of Bath School.

After the War, he continued his education at Oxford, reading English Language and Literature at Pembroke College. He was then awarded a bursary by the King Edward’s Hospital Fund to train as a hospital administrator and served in a number of hospitals including Addenbrookes Hospital Cambridge and the Bethlem Royal and Maudsley Hospitals in London. He spent thirty years as a senior hospital administrator, was awarded the OBE in 1970, became a member of the King’s Fund Council and in 1976 was elected to the Garrick Club.

In the field of sport, he was a keen rugby player to county standard as well as enjoying tennis and badminton.

From his early adolescent years he has been a writer and from sometime later an editor in the medical and healthcare fields, where he still works. Among a number of journals he was Editor of World Hospitals for the International Hospital Federation for seventeen years. As a sporting journalist, he was the Cambridge Daily News’ first rugby correspondent and provided weekly articles on rugby, and occasionally tennis, to The Times for fourteen years.

Including his many healthcare publications, he has produced a number of books, more notable examples of which are: The Wit of Rugby (Lewin), Uncle R Remembers the Funny Side of Rugby (Pegasus Books), Know Your Hospital (Heinemann), Healthcare in Big Cities (Croom Helm), Hospitals and the Healthcare Revolution (World Health Organisation, Geneva) [translated into several languages], Conversations with Miss Cat (Pegasus).

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