These two volumes are welcome additions to the Canadian aviation canon, a subject that is always interesting and usually dominated by extraordinary characters with unlimited energy and indefatigable constitutions.
In the first, Grounded In Eire, Ralph Keefer recreates the story left by his late father, R.G.C. (Bob) Keefer, DFC, a Canadian pilot who flew eighty-eight missions as a Royal Air Force pilot during the Second World War. Shot up on a night time raid over Frankfurt in October 1941, Keefer along with his Canadian navigator, Jack Calder and four crewman flying a badly damaged twin-engine Wellington with a vicious tail wind, overshot England on their return flight and were forced to bail out over Eire.
Our spirited Canadian fly boys found themselves interned for having violated Eire's neutral airspace. After an interrogation they were taken to County Kildare and put into a prison camp right next to German fliers who suffered the same fate.
Keefer (a McGill University football star) and Calder (a Canadian Press reporter in civilian life) couldn't wait to escape to Northern Ireland so they could return to action. However, they found themselves in the unusual situation of being in a rather lax facility with an old boys honour system that allowed them immense personal freedom but restricted their inclination to escape at any cost. Allied and Axis fliers were treated the same. They lived under a parole system in adjoining camps that were lightly guarded and surrounded by barb wire. For the luxury of being able to leave the camp and have total freedom until 2 am each day, prisoners had to sign a parole pass and guarantee they wouldn't attempt to escape. They were free to go fishing, golfing, hang out in bars, go out with the local women or do anything they pleased, including trying to escape as soon as they got back to the camp.
Keefer has accomplished a labour of love in telling his father's story, which was left unfinished (along with an old shoe box full of pictures, clippings and other memorabilia) because of terminal illness. What he calls his 'recreated' story about his pilot father, Bob Keefer, and fellow Canadian navigator, Jack Calder is a lively well-researched tale. Keefer's insightful portrait of life in neutral Eire during the Second World War is more than adequately documented by way of pictures and other data. It provides an unusual historical perspective on international relations that was not widely known because of the concurrent larger conflict. Keefer does well in portraying the quaint, rather quirky but complicated Irish society that holds these men in a cursory manner. Rather than sit out the war in relative safety and comfort, our boys and their fellow fliers chafe at their unfortunate inactivity.
These are cocky men of action who revel in the conduct of their own professional code of chivalry and have an addiction to flying and the inherent dangers, in time of war, that go with it.
What shines through in this commendable volume are the personalities of two stubborn Canadians who manage to escape from Eire in their own particular fashions and return from a seemingly unreal interlude back to the fiery fray in the skies above Europe. Their respective stories and the adventures of their various compatriots are the accounts of men who lived their lives to the max.
In telling this particular story the author succeeds in telling a larger story about a group of fliersCanadians, Poles, Brits, French, Commonwealth and Americanswho defied the odds on any given day while pursuing dangerous missions that challenged human capabilities. Fellow Canadians can be proud of Bob Keefer and Jack Calder. These two brave men and their ilk continually risked their lives for a cause they believed in without a thought for their own safety. Bob Keefer came home, but was changed forever. Jack Calder did not make it back. Ralph Keefer has done an excellent job finishing his father's work, securing a legacy that enriches the genre immensely.
Allan Safarik (Books in Canada) -- Books in Canada