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Life's Too Short to Cry: The Compelling Memoir of a Battle of Britain Ace.

Life's Too Short to Cry: The Compelling Memoir of a Battle of Britain Ace. Tim Vigors. London: Grub Street, 2006. Photographs. Index. Pp. 265. $34.95 ISBN: 1-904943-61-6

Life's Too Short to Cry is the autobiography chronicling the early life and military service of Tim Vigors, DFC, an Irish pilot serving in the RAF during the early part of World War II. Using only his log book and memory, Vigors recounts his early years of schooling and fox hunting leading to his desire to fly for the RAF. He concludes the story in Java in 1942 while he recovered from severe burns after being shot down.

The reader gets a pilot's front row seat to the brewing storm that would become World War II. With an engaging writing style, the author recounts his learning to fly, selecting bombers, and then changing his mind and switching to fighters. Ultimately, he is assigned to 222 Squadron as the unit converts to Spitfires. Vigors flew in Sir Douglas Bader's flight and gives an engrossing view of this famed ace. He candidly shares his experiences of some key moments of World War II: the Evacuation of Dunkirk, the Battle of Britain, and the sinkings of the capital ships Prince of Wales and Repulse.

Always humble and honest, the author shares the emotions of the life-and-death experiences of a Battle of Britain pilot. Only nineteen years old during the battle, he describes how his "extreme fear" during his first combat over the beaches of Dunkirk was "quickly replaced by my overwhelming desire for self-preservation." His rare emotion and candor are what make this book great. He recounts how he is scrambled one night in marginal weather to engage attacking German bombers. Still wearing his pajamas and feeling the effects of drinking, he shot down a Heinkel 111 bomber. Ultimately, Vigors became an ace by shooting down six aircraft. All too often, he includes his description of a few pilot actions with the note of the pilot's death later in the war. These sober comments help to drive home the extreme sacrifices of the Battle of Britain's "Few."

After the Battle of Britain, Vigors transferred to the Far East, where he flew an American Lend-Lease Brewster Buffalo. Charged with providing air cover for Prince of Wales and Repulse, he shared the horror of arriving on the scene to see only Repulse's oil slick and the Prince of Wales sinking beneath the waves. Both ships had been sunk by Japanese aircraft because the planned for and ultimately required RAF air cover wasn't requested by the Royal Navy when the powerfulships set sail. Vigors and his squadron mates remained on the ground waiting for the support call that came way too late.

With the memory of the ships' sinking still fresh in his mind, Vigors was shot down three days later. His recovery and subsequent evacuation in the face of advancing Japanese forces brings his memoir to an end.

Many books describe themselves in their titles as compelling memoirs, but few really are. This book definitely fits the bill of being a very enjoyable, informative, and compelling read. Regrettably the manuscript was discovered and published only after Vigors death; readers would certainly have enjoyed reading more about this ace's life. Diana Vigors deserves sincere thanks for sharing her late husband's memoirs. Aviators will enjoy this book for Vigors' detailed descriptions of flying various airplanes. Life's Too Short certainly belongs on the reading list of anyone interested in the Battle of Britain and its brave Royal Air Force pilots.

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