London: Royale Print of London; Hartnolls Bookbinders of Bodmin, and The Phoenix Setting Company of Portsmouth, 1990. First and only, limited, numbered, and signed. Full leather. This magnificent, finely bound commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Britain is signed by 25 fighter pilots honored within, as well as by the six contributing artists and creators of the book. Midsummer of 1940, just months after Winston Churchill became wartime prime minister, found Britain fighting for survival, fending off a prolonged onslaught by the German Luftwaffe meant to be the prelude to Nazi invasion. From 10 July to 31 October 1940 RAF pilots fought off the Luftwaffe onslaught, thereby almost single-handedly securing England. Churchill encapsulated and immortalized the struggle when he uttered the words: "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”
The aesthetic quality and extravagance of this commemorative production is difficult to overstate. The project was instigated by Michael Pierce, a miniature and silhouette portraitist whose experience painting portraits for the Museum of D-day Aviation sparked the idea of commemorating the 50th anniversary. Production took shape as a vehicle to raise money for the RAF Benevolent Fund with sponsorship from Rolls-Royce plc, who had produced Hurricane and Spitfire engines during the war.
The Battle of Britain Fighter Association selected the 25 pilots to be featured. Each was painted by Pierce and provided an item of memorabilia to be photographed as well as a handwritten reminiscence reproduced in facsimile in the book. The finished portraits were taken to each pilot to be signed. G.H. Bennions, one of the leading Spitfire pilots, had to have his doctor take him off medication for 24 hours to be able to sign his portraits and even then he was unable to sign “G.H”; finding “Ben” easier, he signed thus.
The book was bound to exacting specifications. The Chieftain goatskin was dyed RAF blue. Editor Bill Gunston recalled, “some people thought the final shade too dark, but the RAF Museum supplied a piece of 1940 uniform, and when this was placed over the final prototype skin it disappeared; the shade was exact.” The contents were printed on washed Mohawk Cartridge archival paper and the photographs spot varnished. Cockrell marbled paper was desired for the endsheets, however the famous bindery had closed its doors. Undeterred, the team located their former craftsmen who produced the custom, hand-marbled endsheets. For the binding decoration Gieves & Hawkes, the Saville Row tailors whose first British Military appointments include King George III, provided silk bookmarks bearing the emblems of the Battle of Britain Fighter Association and the embroidered RAF pilot wings matching those issued in 1940 for the front cover.
The net effect of this effort is quite striking, not to mention physically imposing; the volume measures 13.5 x 10 x 2.75 inches and weighs more than 11 pounds with its accompanying clamshell case. Of 401 copies produced 400 were sold, raising half-a-million pounds for the RAF Benevolent fund. Number one was presented to Queen Elizabeth. Copy number 349 was presented by Prime Minister John Major to President G.H.W. Bush and another presented to The Queen Mother. This copy, number 139 of 401, is in fine condition, protected in a buckram clamshell box. We note no flaws to the book itself. The clamshell box, featuring silk moiré lining and gilt titling, shows only minor shelf wear.
The heroes honored in this book are Wg Cdr P.P.C Barthropp; Wg Cdr R.P. Beaumont; Sqn Ldr G.H. Bennions; Air Vice-Marshal H.A.C. Bird-Wilson; Air Cdre P.M. Brothers; Air Marshal Sir Denis Crowley-Milling; Gp Capt W.D. David; Air Cdre A.C. Deere; Sqn Ldr B.H. Drobinski; Flt Lt J.H. Duart; Air Chief Marshal Sir Christopher Foxley-Norris; Gp Capt T.P. Gleave; Wg Cdr N.P.W. Hancock; Sqn Ldr C. Haw; Cdr R.C. Hay; Gp Capt C.B.F. Kingcome; Colonel Henry Gaston Lafont; Air Cdre A.R.D. MacDonell; Sqn Ldr M.J. Mansfeld; W Cdr A.G. Page; Wg Cdr P.L. Parrott; Gp Capt D.F.B. Sheen; Wg Cdr F.M. Smith; Wg Cdr J.E. Storrar; Wg Cdr G.C. Unwin. Item #005185