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First Light: The True Story of the Boy Who Became a Man in the War-Torn Skies Above Britain

4.51  ·  Rating details ·  2,478 ratings  ·  167 reviews
"Wellum's First Light deserves to be read for many years to come."
-The Times (of London) High praise for England's bestselling First Light . . .

"An extraordinarily gripping and powerful story."
-The Evening Standard (London)

"A work of exceptional quality . . . a passion and immediacy which make it compelling reading."
-Max Hastings, author of Overlord: D-Day and the
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Hardcover, 368 pages
Published April 7th 2003 by Wiley (first published January 1st 2002)
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Average rating 4.51  · 
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 ·  2,478 ratings  ·  167 reviews


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Start your review of First Light: The True Story of the Boy Who Became a Man in the War-Torn Skies Above Britain
'Aussie Rick'
First Light is one of those books that is destined to be remembered as a "classic" and rightly so. This is a wonderful book of a young man who joined the Royal Air Force before the start of World War Two and who later fought during the Battle of Britain and survived. Most of the book is taken up with his training as a pilot and the fighting during the Battle of Britain. However the book continues on to cover his role in Operation Pedestal and the fighting over Malta until his return to England ...more
Tim
Oct 25, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As was the case with Jack Currys Lancaster Target this is a must read if the subject interests you. First Light is a fabulous account of the day to day life of a spitfire pilot during The Battle of Britain. He selects a handful of his most memorable experiences and devotes a chapter to each. Wellum puts you up there in the cockpit with his masterful command of language and fantastic descriptive prowess. Absolutely riveting and deeply moving from start to finish. ...more
Tony
Apr 12, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, ww2
Geoffrey Wellum left school at 17 to join the RAF, before being launched into the Battle of Britain as a Spitfire pilot at the age of 19. This is his beautifully and candidly written account of what it felt like to be part of a fighter squadron and to fly a Spitfire, the camaraderie, fear, confusion and excitement of flying and fighting, which eventually led to combat fatigue.
KOMET
Aug 21, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This is a very compelling book. As the son of a Second World War veteran of the European phase of the war, in reading Mr. Wellum's account, I want to thank him for helping to make real in my mind, the stresses that war places on you. In particular, while reading the chapter in which Mr. Wellum describes his chase of a Junkers 88 bomber in foul weather and his subsequent efforts to return to his airbase, I felt as if I were the cockpit with him, hoping that I'd get down safely and in one piece!

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Simon Brading
Oct 25, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A wonderful insight into the life of the Battle of Britain pilots from one who sadly departed recently.
Edoardo Albert
Jan 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This won't be so much a review as an injunction: read this book. That's right, stop reading this review right now and go and get hold of First Light however you can: buy it, borrow it, steal it if necessary (any writer in his deepest heart wants readers more than anything else, so if you can't afford to buy his work, he'll forgive someone who steals to read).

Right, got it? What, you mean you haven't bought it yet? Well, let me tell you why you should. Firstly, this book has moved, in a single
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Skylar
Mar 19, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is the best work in the genre of memoir/biography/autobiography I have read by or about pilots of the Battle of Britain. It is beautifully written, humorous and touching. It made me laugh out loud in places and also brought tears to my eyes in others. The most memorable aspects of this memoir (for me) were the sense of serene freedom enjoyed by the author whilst in the air during the pre-operational part of his training, the quiet but deep bonds of friendship between the author and his ...more
Chris Wray
This is regarded as a classic wartime memoir, and it's easy to see why. Geoffrey Wellum joined the RAF as an 18 year old straight out of school, and on the brink of war. He fought throughout the Battle of Britain and through to the end of 1941 as the RAF started to conduct more operations over France, and after a spell as an instructor took part in Operation Pedestal to relieve Malta. Shortly after this he returned to England out on medical grounds as a completely burnt out 21 year old. This is ...more
James Halski
Dec 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The true mark of a fighter pilot is not the number of enemies he's shot down or the way he flies his plane. It is the way he takes his tea.......and my friend Geoffrey Wellum, you take it straight up.
Sonny
There have been countless war memoirs and books about the Battle of Britain. Why another one? This one has some significant differences that make it a compelling read. Surprisingly, First Light was first published more than 60 years after the events described within. At just 18 years of age, the author Geoffrey Wellum was the youngest RAF pilot to fight action during the Battle of Britain. He would eventually become the youngest Spitfire pilot in the prestigious 92 Squadron. Unlike most war ...more
Jack Henderson
Apr 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Stunning.
Anna
Sep 17, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: in-english, history, war
4.5
I enjoyed this book so much, I didn't want it to end. I've had a distant fascination with Spitfires for 10-ish years now, so imagine my excitement when I was reading the detailed accounts of flying one. It's also a great insight into what it was like to be in the RAF at the time.
Gregg Brewer
Jul 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
The Battle of Britain through the eyes of an eighteen year old Spitfire pilot. Recommended.
Kathy
Feb 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
mumble mumble...this website has made it more challenging to select correction edition of book one is reading as well as the start and finish dates and I will soon throw in the towel with frustration...or not. I will stop logging books as being read and just hold off until complete. [Lightbulb!] (sorry to anyone reading this mumble)
This hardback book, checked out from my wonderful library, is the edition I did read. It is quite unlike any other World War II book I have read. This gentleman wrote
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Pete daPixie
Sep 21, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history-wwii
Here in 2010, being the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, Geoffrey Wellum was featured on a t.v. programme just the other night. I then remembered that I read his book some years back. I can review it now because of the deep impression it made back then.
The story begins as the dark clouds gather over Europe in the late thirties. Wellum joins the R.A.F. and is selected for fighter pilot training. The whole account is awesome stuff. From gypsy moth novice to that very first night flight
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Marc Stevens
Mar 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It was the first, first-person account I'd ever read of the Battle of Britain, and my heart ached for the author (the youngest pilot to take part in the Battle).

It was especially poignant to feel the author's loss of hope for his own survival as his tours wore on, and he lost increasing numbers of friends. You truly felt, along with the author, his utter devastation.

At the end of the book, after closing the cover, I burst into tears.

What a great work! Thanks ever
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Andrew
Jun 05, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If you want an overview of the strategy and tactics of the Battle of Britain read Michael Korda's "With Wings Like Eagles". However, if you want a first-person account of a fighter pilot this is your book. Wellum doesn't give a good sense of how his squadron's work figures in the big picture but DOES give a good sense of what it is to be flying and fighting.

Pages 147-155 describe a dogfight in detail.
Pages 230-240 describe him in low overcast trying to find his way home -- with a failed radio.
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Mr Aidan M. O'Donnell
A truly great memoir.

I read this in paperback years ago and made the mistake of lending it someone who didn't return it.

This is one of the best flying books I have ever read. Going from his initial interview with the RAF through to the Battle for Malta. You won't be disappointed. His description of flying back to base in bad weather is worth the cost of the book by itself.
Malissa Mcdermott
Aug 26, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Spitfire fanatics and anyone who likes autobigraphies
This book is fantastic!! It touches the heart, it is a true and honest account of a Veteran Pilot who served his country throughout the 2nd world war as a heroic pilot. It tells us his story of first becoming a pilot and being chosen among others to become one of the finest pilots who flew the spitfire. It is amazing I felt as if I were flyng the spitfire wow!! You must read this book....
Mark
May 28, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Mark by: Found it in Battle of Britain Amazon Kindle search
Shelves: history
The author comes across as somewhat of a twit (although a heroic one), but this seems to enhance the book's verisimilitude. He's not much of a writer, but his descriptions of the mechanics of flight in a Spitfire are very good. Does not discuss anything about Battle of Britain tactics, strategy etc. so is a refreshing (perhaps) first person account of being a fighter pilot there and then, only.
Steve Switzer
Nov 12, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ww2
Excellent first hand account of 'boys' battle of Britain experiences as a very young fighter pilot
Thomas R.
Jan 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Wayne Cochrane
Sep 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
My second time through this book, having read it first several years ago. As good as it gets, and I've read many examples of this genre. The Battle of Britain, the deadly dangerous sweeps over France in 1941, and flying a Spitfire from a carrier with a short deck across hundreds of miles of Mediterranean to take part in the defence of Malta are all well described, as perhaps you might expect. What is special are the evocative personal details. Often when non-pilots write about combat flying they ...more
Jeff
Sep 27, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: wwii
A fine memoir from the youngest RAF pilot to fly in the Battle of Britain. I enjoyed this very much. We get plenty of air combat descriptions, we get the whole story of his training, and we get quite a lot of self-analysis and reflection. He is honest about his faults, and describes his removal from combat twice without glossing over or ending the book prior to those events. I wish he would have spent a bit more time on his events after leaving 92 Squadron. He went on to be a Flight Commander ...more
Robbie
Apr 01, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very interesting from start to finish. Candid and inspiring, its very difficult to imagine a 17 year old in this day and age leaving school and joining the RAF to fight against the might of Nazi Germany, never mind piloting an airplane and fighting in the skies above Britain, The North Sea and France. Yet that is exactly what Geoffrey Wellum did, flying a Spitfire no less. Beggars belief really.

He must have bad balls of steel and his descriptions of battle are gripping and riveting.

Glad I read
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John
Jul 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What a magnificent book: I could not put it down. Of course it is a book about war and the "Battle of Britain", and yet it is so much more; more akin to Jonathon Livingston Seagull, than war narrative, it is also a book about the soul, the wonder of its existence, the awe of beautiful things and it asks the big question; "God - why?"
Wellum was clearly a gifted writer and it is a pity that this is his only work. His life after the war, as he clearly foretold in his diaries would always be an
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Colin
Jul 11, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an outstanding memoir. It is brilliantly written, such that you do not have to be technically familiar with flying to be able to appreciate the excitement and professionalism of pilots like Geoffrey Wellum who took part in the Second World War - particularly the Battle of Britain. Based on Wellum's own real-time notes, the reader is put in the author's position and seems to fly with him on his various missions. I found the most memorable piece was when Wellum was protecting a convoy and ...more
Nick
Jul 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
They don't make men like this anymore!

It is totally incomprehensible for me to imagine that by the age of 21 Geoffrey Wellum had fought in the greatest air battle in history as a fighter pilot.
This was a battle that probably saved Britain from certain invasion! And yet he and many others like him did just that.
It's a brilliant read from start to finish telling how determined he was to join the RAF and fly as a fighter pilot and then to face the reality of actually doing it for real. It was an
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Jason
Jul 05, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An absolutely wonderful first hand account of a young boy growing into a man in the RAF during WW2 and Battle of Britain! The descriptions and the in depth explanation of the inner workings of a spitfire is really enjoyable to read (or in my case listened to) to hear his thoughts as he recounts his dog fights and sorties is a fantastic way to put yourself in the authors shoes. A great read (or listen) well worth it especially if you have interest in WW2.
** I consumed this book through an
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Peter Batty
Jul 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A beautifully written account of a very young pilot entering the RAF at the start of the Second World War. Wellum is humble and thoroughly aware of his flaws and reading this book I felt--with his vivid descriptions of flying and combat--right there with him. Learning of his death earlier in July saddened me more than the news of other WW2 veterans.

First Light brings to life just one small facet of WW2, but it does so in a way that I'll gladly read it again. Thoroughly recommended.
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GEOFFREY WELLUM, a veteran of the Battle of Britain, was the youngest fighter pilot (at 18) in the Royal Air Force (RAF) to have fought in that battle.

"Aged seventeen, he signed up on a short-service commission with the Royal Air Force in August 1939. The first aircraft he flew was the Tiger Moth at Desford airfield in Leicestershire, After successfully completing the course, he then went on to
...more

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