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First Light (WWII Collection) Paperback – International Edition, September 22, 2009

4.8 out of 5 stars 116 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


An extraordinarily deeply moving and astonishingly evocative story. Reading it, you feel you are in the Spitfire with him, at 20,000ft, chased by a German Heinkel, with your ammunition gone Independent A brilliantly fresh, achingly written memoir. Thrilling and frightening on virtually page ... Wellum takes you into battle with him. A book for all ages and generations, a treasure Daily Express Vivid, wholly convincing, compelling. One of the best memoirs for years about the experience of flying in war -- Max Hastings Sunday Telegraph Amazing fresh and immediate ... absolutely honest, it is an extraordinarily gripping and powerful story Evening Standard

From the Inside Flap

"Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few."
–Winston Churchill, 1940

Geoffrey Wellum was one of Churchill’s "few," the gallant pilots of the RAF who streaked through the skies to repel the massive, brutal Nazi bombing assaults that killed thousands and leveled entire cities throughout the endless months of the Battle of Britain. To a man, they were courageous, determined, and oh, so young. Geoffrey, known as Boy to his comrades, was a good deal younger than most.

In First Light, Geoffrey Wellum tells the inspiring, often terrifying true story of his coming of age amid the roaring, tumbling dogfights of the fiercest air war the world had ever seen. It is the story of an idealistic schoolboy who couldn’t believe his luck when the RAF agreed to take him on as a "pupil pilot" at the minimum age of seventeen and a half in 1939. In his fervor to fly, he gave little thought to the coming war.

Writing with wit, compassion, and a great deal of technical expertise, Wellum relives his grueling months of flight training, during which two of his classmates crashed and died. He describes a hilarious scene during his first day in the prestigious 92nd Squadron when his commander discovered that Wellum had not only never flown a Spitfire, he’d never even seen one.

Boy soon learned the golden rule of the dogfight: "Never fly straight and level for more than twenty seconds. If you do, you’ll die." Wellum’s vivid accounts of ferocious aerial combat contrast the mortal terror of an innocent teenager with the grim determination of a highly trained warrior intent on doing his job–blasting the enemy one moment, desperately trying to shake off a pursuer the next. Few writers have succeeded more completely in evoking the chaos and horror of war.

A battle-hardened ace by the winter of 1941, though still not out of his teens, Boy flew scores of missions as fighter escort on bombing missions over France. Yet the constant life-or-death stress of murderous combat and anguish over the loss of his closest friends sapped endurance. Tortured by fierce headaches, even in the midst of battle, he could not bear the thought of "not pulling your weight," of letting other pilots risk their lives in his place. Wellum’s frank account of his long, losing bout with battle fatigue is both moving and enlightening.

Filled with affectionate portraits of Boy’s fellow fliers–many of whom did not survive the war–First Light tells an unforgettable true story of patriotism and fear, pride and humility, self-sacrifice and triumph. Already a bestseller in England, this powerful and compelling memoir is destined to become a classic, not only of military history, but also of literature.

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Series: WWII Collection
  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin UK; Re-issue edition (September 22, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141042753
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141042756
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 1 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (116 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #138,350 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Dave English VINE VOICE on January 10, 2004
Format: Hardcover
You'd think that after 50 years, all the worthwhile first-person there-I-was accounts of flying Spitfires in the Battle of Britain would have been published. You'd be wrong.

This is an exceptionally well written book that gently yet almost instantly transports you to England, 1939. You'll go through RAF flight training, and then be behind a V12 Merlin over Kent in the middle of the Battle of Britain. There are hundreds of such true tales - and I've read most of them - but this is clearly one of the best.

'Boy' Wellum not only takes us inside the cockpit, but inside the emotions of a young man at war, and inside an amazing time and place in world history. If you are a pilot looking for what it was like to fly the Tiger Moth, Harvard, then at 168 hours climb into a Spitfire, this is the book for you. And if you are interested in a literate immersion into The Few, this is the book for you.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a very compelling book. As the son of a Second World War veteran of the European phase of the war, in reading Mr. Wellum's account, I want to thank him for helping to make real in my mind, the stresses that war places on you. In particular, while reading the chapter in which Mr. Wellum describes his chase of a Junkers 88 bomber in foul weather and his subsequent efforts to return to his airbase, I felt as if I were the cockpit with him, hoping that I'd get down safely and in one piece!
Having read other books by and about the famous RAF aces (Bader, Tuck, and Paul Richey), I recommend this book very highly. It's very well-written and will give you a deeper appreciation for the sacrifices made by the Second World War generation. Thank you, Mr. Wellum, for your service and for this book. There are many more people than you may realize who are grateful for what you have written. Thank you again.
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Format: Hardcover
`First Light' is one of those books that is destined to be remembered as a "classic" and rightly so. This is a wonderful book of a young man who joined the Royal Air Force before the start of World War Two and who later fought during the Battle of Britain and survived. Most of the book is taken up with his training as a pilot and the fighting during the Battle of Britain. However the book continues on to cover his role in Operation Pedestal and the fighting over Malta until his return to England as a tired and worn out pilot.
I truly enjoyed Geoffrey Wellum's story of his training and chuckled a good many times whilst reading about one thing or another. Mr Wellum has a wonderful way of telling a story and you can easily picture the details as you read his narrative. I found myself amazed as I read the book of how much this young man and his friends suffered in defending their country and their mates in the air.
This is an account that anyone who has an interest in WW2 aviation will be delighted in. It's well told, full of humor, sadness, and death defying flying and combat action. These men, as young as 18, flew one of the fastest and deadliest aircraft at the time and many didn't make it through the campaign or even their first mission. You read with sadness the loss of many good pilots and friends but still the men continue flying day after day facing terrible odds.
I really enjoyed the author's style of writing, he was witty, descriptive and came across with a sense of telling a story with understated facts. He downplayed his own role during the Battle of Britain and I was really hooked on the narrative as it moved along at a cracking pace. I found it hard to put the book down late at night, which brought forth a moan from my wife about turning the lamp off or else!
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Format: Hardcover
Not being much of a reader of books, I decided one day to pass by my local bookshop and try out the experience. I had no clue what to get and after 30 minutes fruitless searching I found myself trudging towards the shop exit. Determined not to feel like I hadn't made an effort, I made a final and slightly desperate search through the display table at the front of the shop. The last book I looked at for some reason felt right, I don't know why but it did. I took it to the counter and as I paid for it, I felt an overwhelming certainty that I was going to enjoy it. "First Light" by Geoffrey Wellum, yes, definately a good choice.
I'm rather an optimist by nature but even I didn't expect to be quite so taken by this book. It was a real privelige to read and I dare say that for a now budding reader like myself I shall never quite find anything to rival it.
I experienced all sorts of emotions reading this book, from laughing out loud to trying to keep "a stiff upper lip" I was riveted from the first page by the warmth and honesty of the writing.
I feel very humble indeed knowing what these men did for us. And I feel an overwhelming sense of sadness that the world these men fought so hard to protect, has fast become so selfish and unprincipled.
I only wish I could turn back the clock and live the way it was back then. It wasn't perfect by any means, but it had heart. And if there's one thing that stands out in this book than that is it - Heart. Mr Wellum cared, about his country, about his family, about his friends and about himself.
He says at the end of the book that his only regret was that his life had already reached it's pinnacle by the time he was 22. Well, I'd like to respectfully disagree.
Thank you Mr Wellum for your wonderful story, you have inspired me immensely and left me feeling very proud to be British.
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