View Full Version : Book R.C.A.F. Overseas : The First Four Years.

3rd January 2008, 19:48

I am quite interested in this book as found it on the internet. I suppose it is something similar as RAF: The Second Year???

Could anybody from our Canadian chaps give me some overview of the R.C.A.F. Overseas : The First Four Years book and some recommendation if it is worthy to by for a brief overview + photos about the RCAF in UK?



3rd January 2008, 20:00
I have all three volumes and it is a great book for pictures of individuals. There are quite a lot but very few of aircraft etc.

The general history is very good but be warned that it is a wartime publiction and so has theusual restrictions for that time. So no specifics on squadron missions, aircraft serials etc.

If you want to know anything specific let me know


4th January 2008, 01:02
About 18 months ago I wrote a history of the RCAF Historical Section, of which the following, covering the series "The RCAF Overseass", was an appendix:

Much unwarranted praise has been lavished upon the three-volume history of overseas operations, The RCAF Overseas, which was produced as "The First Four Years", "The Fifth Year" and "The Sixth Year". There are several files in the National Library and Archives of Canada, notably in RG.24 Volumes 17673 and 17674 that deal with the genesis, production, and distribution of these literary dinosaurs.

The inspiration for these appears to have come from RCAF Overseas Headquarters, itself familiar with a flood of British publications that were half-history, half propaganda. Most of the writing was done by the historical section in Wales. Production, however, was arranged by authorities in Canada. Correspondence was extensive, especially as the RCAF sought to have private publication but also to have a portion of sales diverted to the RCAF Benevolent Fund. Various publishers baulked at this, as it would reduce their profits to near-zero, and at length the RCAF itself agreed to buy several thousand copies for presentation to units, stations, Air Cadets, etc.

At least one publisher objected (September 1943) to the unimaginative title, "The RCAF Overseas" Volume 1 suffered for being produced in wartime, with no opportunity to check narratives against German records.

It was also subject to censorship which seems extreme, even by wartime standards. Examples of this abound in correspondence. The term "Circus" was still deemed to be a code word; "fighter-bomber operations" had to be used instead. Specific reference to "400-Block" squadrons was forbidden. Instead, the units were identified as "an RCAF Army Co-operation Squadron" (No.400), "The Rams" (No.401) or "The Buffalos" (No.404) and RAF unit identification was especially off-limits (No.66 Squadron, RAF" became "an RAF squadron". "Liberators" and "Fortresses" became "American heavy bombers". Specific dates were often censored ("just before midnight on May 12th" became "one night in May" while "on the morning of the 4th" was reduced to "one August morning".

Geography was also a target of censorship. Enemy target names were sometimes kept and sometime censored (in at least one case "Essen" became "The Ruhr" while Saarbrucken became "industrial centres in the Saar valley" and "waterways in the West Frisian Islands group" became "the designated areas". British place names were obscured ("Cornwall" became "southwest England" or "another base in England" or "south of England"; "Yorkshire" was fudged to "Northern England", "Norfolk" became "East Anglia").

Anything technical was ruthlessly suppressed - "the newest interception devices" (an oblique reference to radar) was cut out entirely, as was a line that read, "to jam the enemy's R.D.F. Stations" (as if the Germans did not know they had radar and that it was subject to jamming attempts).

The RCAF Overseas: The First Four Years was launched in September 1944 (at the time it sold for $ 3.00). Press reviews were uncritically favourable; the most frequent complaint was that home towns of persons were not identified. In all, 13,141 copies were produced in three printings and by late 1947 only 1,189 remained unsold.

It was followed in mid-1946 by The Fifth Year. This was in some ways superior to the earlier volume (not being subject to the same censorship that had so characterized The First Four Years) and like its predecessor it was priced at $ 3.00. Already, however, public interest was declining. The Fifth Year was not reviewed so widely as the first volume, and sales were markedly less. As of 21 February 1947, Oxford University Press wrote that it had sold only about 3,400 copies with upwards of 4,000 still in hand (including 2,500 that had been set aside for distribution in the United States and went begging for buyers). RCAF Headquarters itself engaged in a campaign to get units in the field to buy copies - with only modest success.

Writing of The Sixth Year had begun in 1946 and was well along in 1947, but Oxford University Press (which had produced the first two volumes) was not anxious to tackle the job. Previous RCAF "guarantees" of sales had been too optimistic, and the Crown itself was unwilling to assume the risk. Five prominent Montreal businessmen signed an extraordinary agreement on 27 April 1948 that if Oxford University Press printed 3,500 copies, and had not sold that lot within three years, they would personally buy remaining copies at $ 2.08 per copy, up to a maximum of $ 5,500. These five public-spirited individuals were S.L. de Carteret, Air Vice-Marshal F.R. McGill, Group Captain Hartland de Molson, Group Captain A.D. Nesbitt, and Air Vice-Marshal Adelard Raymond.

Actual assembly and printing took longer than expected, and a retail price of $ 4.00 was established. The five guarantors reluctantly agreed to both delays and the pricing, but they were unhappy. McGill wrote (25 April 1949, to Air Marshal Curtis), "They are the most unsatisfactory outfit to deal with." It was finally released in July 1949. The Sixth Year appears to have been reviewed more widely than The Fifth Year. The most common complaint (when any were raised) was the exclusive concentration of aircrew, with no reference to non-aircrew personnel. However, at least two reviewers noted more serious flaws. John Yocom, writing in Saturday Night (6 September 1949), singled out its lack of any strategical appraisal and its failure to use enemy records; he bluntly declared it inferior to Canadian Army histories then emerging. A review in the Calgary Herald (20 August 1949) noted that The Sixth Year avoided any policy matters, notably the tug-of-war between the RCAF and RAF over "Canadianization".

Sales of The Sixth Year were relatively slow. Two years after it appeared, Oxford University Press still had 701 copies on hand although by March 1952 this had been reduced to 480. These appear to have been sent to RCAF Headquarters, placed in storage, and literally forgotten until 1962 when they were discovered during office renovations either at Beaver Barracks or Victoria Island. Unlike The First Four Years, there had been no second printings of either The Fifth Year or The Sixth Year.

4th January 2008, 07:42
Amrit and Hugh - many thanks for your comments!

But to be honest Hugh I am not so clever from your review - to buy or not to buy?:-)

I know that it was published during the war so there could be some information censored and that there are many newer and historically accurate books but I would like to buy this as a "piece of history".



4th January 2008, 11:30
I guess you have to weigh your sense of curiosity against the price being asked - and how much space you have on your bookshelves !

4th January 2008, 12:25
Thanks Hugh, yes I know some antique bookshops want very high price, but I have found one copy where the total price including postage is about 45 CAD. And I need some new bookshelves already:-)