Guy Gibson’s Ghost and the Sunday Express

Sunday Express extracts from the Enemy Coast Ahead manuscript, published on 3 December, 10 December, 17 December, 24 December and 31 December 1944.

In the early spring of 1944 Wg Cdr Guy Gibson VC DSO & Bar DFC & Bar was working in an office at the Air Ministry in London, ostensibly in a job in the Directorate for the Prevention of Accidents. But his real work was to write a book about Bomber Command, told through his own experiences as a pilot who had been actively involved from the first day of the war up to the Dams Raid.

Gibson worked on the book, given the title Enemy Coast Ahead, for most of the next few months, finishing a draft some time in the summer of 1944. Some of the text was copied almost word for word from a couple of long articles published in December 1943 in the American magazine Atlantic Monthly and the Sunday Express. These were almost certainly written by ghost writers – the American text by a certain Flt Lt Roald Dahl, who was then based in the British Embassy in Washington DC, and the UK text by an unknown PR officer in the Air Ministry in London.

All the time he was writing, Gibson chafed at being confined to a ground job, and pushed his superiors to allow him back in the air. Eventually they relented and he flew his first operation for over a year on 19 July 1944, in a Lancaster from 630 Squadron, based at East Kirkby, on an operation attacking the V1 flying bomb site near Criel in France. Three more operations would follow in August and September, before he took off from Woodhall Spa on what would be his final trip on 19 September.

A few weeks previously, he had finished work on the final typescript of Enemy Coast Ahead going through the corrections and amendments proposed by various people in the Air Ministry and writing a series of handwritten notes which were pinned to the final version.

After his death, the manuscript was sent to the publishers, Michael Joseph, where it went through a further editorial process. But while this was going on, in December 1944, a series of six articles based on the draft appeared in the Sunday Express, all credited to Gibson. Even though many people now knew of his death, it had not been officially announced. Nowhere in the text is his status as ‘missing’ mentioned,  so the general public must have thought that there was nothing amiss.

Five of the six articles can be seen by anyone with a subscription to the UK Press Online site (also available in some libraries). They are shown above in thumbnail version. The final one – which appeared on Sunday 7 January 1944 – appears to be missing from the archive.

The following day, Monday 8 January, Gibson’s death was officially announced, and many tributes and obituaries would follow. But it is ironic that over the previous six weeks the Sunday Express articles had carried on being published, almost as though they were genuinely ghost-written.
[Source: Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin, 1995.]

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