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"Flak" Houses then and Now: The Story of American Rest Homes in England During WWII.

"Flak" Houses then and Now: The Story of American Rest Homes in England During WW II. By Keith Thomas. Essex, UK: After the Battle Publishing, 2007. Photographs. Pp 80. $32.95 ISBN: 1-870067-66-5

In 1942, recognizing the need to provide aircrews effective rest and relaxation, the USAAF established combat Rest Homes. Operated by the US Army Service Command with the assistance of the Red Cross, the combat Rest Homes, known as 'flak' houses, offered aircrew the opportunity to take a break in as civilian-like an environment as possible. This short term break, usually taken midway through an airman's combat tour, provided the necessary rejuvenation to allow crews to effectively continue the air war against Germany.

The term "flak" house is gallows humor, with the term "flak" being slang for German anti-aircraft fire. While visiting a "flak" house, airmen wore civilian clothes (provided as necessary). The only uniform worn was a service dress for dinner. This was done to keep the environment as nonmilitary as possible and, thus, maximize relaxation. Red Cross girls helped entertain the airman via activities such as tennis, horseback riding, skeet shooting, and dancing. Meals were often served in bed; and all meals included fresh, well-cooked food.

Thomas documents the sixteen official rest homes as well as four informal rest homes set up by individual wings. He details the particulars of the property such as its size, amenities, and location and also notes whether the site was used for officers or enlisted personnel. Mixed in with details of each house are anecdotal stories from previous guests. These stories help to bring the book to life and provide more meaning than would a simple repetition of facts.

The pages of the book are filled with black and white photos of each 'flak' house and its aircrew guests. In keeping with the After the Battle publishing focus, there are photos of how the various locations appear today, as well as details about the houses' current functions. Unfortunately, the photos tend to be small. Interestingly, the differences between the "then" and "now" photos is only minor in most cases, even sixty years after the war.

"Flak" Houses is an import and may be difficult to find. Also, because it is a limited import book, the price is a bit steep. While the book obviously targets a specific niche market, it does give the reader a small glimpse into the lives of World War II American airmen and details about the "flak" houses that are often mentioned in American airmen's memoirs.

Lt. Col. Daniel J. Simonsen, USAE, Commander, AFROTC Detachment 305, Louisiana Tech University, Ruston, La.
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Author:Simonsen, Daniel J.
Publication:Air Power History
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 22, 2009
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