On Courage: A celebration of the Victoria and George Cross holders

Happy publication day to On Courage, stories of Victoria Cross and George Cross holders (published by Constable, Little Brown).

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On Courage is a moving collection of 28 inspirational stories, which showcase the valour, courage and bravery shown by recipients of the Victoria Cross and George Cross. The VC is the highest military decoration awarded for valour in the face of the enemy to members of the armed forces, whilst the GC is awarded to those who have displayed heroism or courage whilst in extreme danger.

Each chapter in On Courage is introduced by a public figure – from Mary Berry to Sir Bobby Charlton – and the stories told are remarkable, but also at times hard to read. The determination and selflessness of the VC and GC recipients is just incredible. Reading through the accounts was incredibly humbling – protecting others at the expense of your own safety is something I’m sure not many of us would be selfless and courageous enough to do. In fact, it’s hard to imagine the situations the recipients of the VC and GC endured and overcame.

Today, I wanted to shine a light on one story in particular – the one of RAF flight engineer Norman Jackson. During the war, he climbed out onto the wing of his Lancaster bomber plane, whilst in flight over Germany, to put out a fire using a twisted parachute as a rope. Whilst out there, with exploding aircraft around him lighting up the sky, he was shot in the arm which caused him to plunge down to earth, and many were surprised that he lived to tell the tale. He confronted fear head-on to protect his comrades and squadron, all on the night his first child was born. I found this story particularly moving as my Grandfather was also a pilot in the RAF during WWII – it made me think of the resilience and bravery they must have had up in the sky. But truth be told, this wasn’t the only story that left me with a lump in my throat and glassy eyes.

A heart-warming read, On Courage reminds you of the good in humanity and shows that wherever we go in life there will be remarkable people, if we just look for them. I highly recommend picking this up – just be sure to get the tissues at the ready!

You can order a copy of the book through Waterstones here.

The Victoria Cross and George Cross Association made its archive available, which contributed to the publication of On Courage. The book is part of The Sebastopol Project, which will raise money for Combat Stress, as well as The VC and GC Association – £2.70 of every book purchase will go directly to charity. Combat Stress is the UK’s leading charity for veterans’ mental health.

April Reads

April was spent with a viral infection, so a lot of time was spent resting up / sleeping / generally feeling miserable, so this month I’m going all guns blazing to get back on track and up-to-speed with everything.

So, what did I end up reading in April?

I See You by Clare Mackintosh (Sphere) – 4/5

I’m a big fan of Mackintosh’s debut novel, I Let You Go so had high expectations for I See You. I don’t think it had the same level of shock, or cleverness, as her first but nonetheless this was a high-paced psychological thriller which ultimately leads you to question those around you.

Elmet by Fiona Mozley (JM Originals) – 3/5

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Examining those on the fringes of society, Elmet explores family, the way we use the land and what landscapes mean to us. It’s a slow burner of a book for sure, but Mozley’s prose is beautiful. It’s an earthy, visceral read, however I found it a little patchy in places and didn’t think the ‘twist’ in the book worked with the overall flow – perhaps it was meant to feel jarring. I’m keen to see what Mozley does next.

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan (Scribner) – 3/5

In the midst of WWII, we follow Anna who is ballsy and independent – she becomes the first female diver, something that was unheard of at the time. This novel has war, love, mobsters – intrigue and scandal. The characters were really well developed and the storyline evidently well researched as I could imagine myself on the dock with Anna. I did enjoy Manhattan Beach; however, it would have gone up a star or two if we heard more about Anna’s life and her Mother rather than the men that dominated her life.

When I Hit You: Or, A Portrait of the Writer as a Young Wife by Meena Kandasamy (Atlantic Books) – 5/5

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This is my stand out book for the month and definitely a contender to win the Women’s Prize for Fiction. It was raw, tender, poetic and playful. It tackled an incredibly sensitive subject matter – of domestic abuse – and spoke about it openly. I couldn’t stop reading this and devoured it in a single sitting.