Nevil Shute Norway Foundation

Book Launch

The Exbury Junkers

The launch of "The Exbury Junkers" by John Stanley
Saturday 17th April 2004
A report by David Dawson-Taylor

Kate and I were privileged to be asked to represent the Foundation at the launching of John Stanley's new book, which detailed the event around which Nevil Shute's novel "Requiem for a Wren" was based.

About 100 people were assembled in the Five Arrows gallery, a small building within the grounds near to Exbury House itself. An impressive number of guests were included, (a list is attached separately), and we were introduced to John Stanley by Nicholas de Rothschild, who some of you will remember conducted us round Exbury during the visit there by the delegates to UK2003.

John Stanley gave a very interesting talk to introduce himself and how he got involved in the subject. He told us about the detailed research that he carried out over some eight years using a great variety of sources, and some of the frustrations he met along the way. He has unearthed some very interesting facts, dispelled some misconceptions and explained how Nevil Shute slightly changed some of the facts to make his novel more interesting. John met a large number of eye witnesses to the event and recorded their stories; many of these people were present at the book launch. It would be worth reading the text of his talk, which is also attached.

Whilst we were all eating the buffet lunch so thoughtfully provided, John kindly signed many copies of his book which were on sale.

After lunch, we had a very interesting talk by Val Biro, the designer of the original book cover for "Requiem for a Wren". Val explained how the publishers had asked that his original design should include more aircraft and more action, and they didn't like his "pink sunset". He showed us the original painting of this design, from which he cut the figure of Janet which he then pasted onto his second version. He also altered the composition slightly to show a dog ("Dev") alongside Janet, rather than the figure of a soldier ("Bill"). He is a very interesting man, still active in writing and illustrating children's books. As he lives not far from us, I will try to get to see him again.

Afterwards, John Stanley took us out to the field just south of Exbury House near to where the Junkers crashed; unfortunately we were unable to get close to the actual crash site. Here John gave a very descriptive account of the occasion, the text of which is enclosed. Phyllis Hellier (nee Stephens), the WAAF ambulance driver from Calshot who collected the dead airmen, and whose photograph is on page 28 of the book, was also with us that day.

All in all, a very interesting day.