Mark Huxtable's review of 'Six Aces' by Lex McAulay
In his 11th book, entitled Six Aces, author Lex McAulay takes an intensely personal look into the lives of Australian pilots during the Second World War. While his focus naturally is on the men's service careers, the author makes a special point of describing family life, and includes commentary from the people who trained or flew with the pilots.
For Mosquito enthusiasts, the main interest in this book will be the chapter on Charles Scherf, who earned the DSO and two DFCs while flying intruder sorties with 418 Squadron, RCAF. Indeed, Scherf was that unit's top-scorer, and contrived to go on his most successful sorties while visiting the unit from his actual posting to Air Defence Great Britain (previously fighter command).
As do the other chapters in the book, the section on Charles Scherf begins with a few pages on his childhood. Although short, this portion of the story sets the scene for the later development of Scherf's character, and for the close relationship he enjoyed with his family. The author does a good job of introducing us to Charlie Scherf as an individual; much more than simply a fearsome intruder pilot. Indeed, the theme of Scherf's likeability and good nature is maintained through the story, and makes the final few pages all the more uncomfortable.
The intruder sorties flown by Scherf and the rest of the Squadron consisted of going below radar, deep into enemy territory, there to wreak havoc on aircraft or anything else of military value. Until November of 1943, the unit flew its Mosquito sorties exclusively at night, and Scherf enjoyed little success. Thereafter however, the Squadron's fortunes, and Scherf's, soared with the introduction of daylight sorties.
The descriptions of Scherf's flights are long rushes of adrenalin, and make for riveting reading. Indeed, Scherf himself eventually became riveted to this life of. The end result, as the author describes from family sources, was that Scherf was progressively less able to cope with the peace which followed. Lex McAulay leads us through the forces which gradually overwhelmed Scherf, who found himself torn between the family he loved and the destruction which haunted him.
The final few pages are not easy reading - McAulay brings home the sobering fact that the tragedy of the war did not end with the war itself. Six Aces is an original approach to the telling of the story of WWII, and Charles Scherf's adventures with the Mosquito remind the reader of the greater issues at stake.
Mark Huxtable, January 2002
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