Nevil Shute Norway Foundation

Book Review

Flight Log

Review of Nevil Shute's Flight Log for 1948, Part II
On To Bali !

Karachi featured an inexpensive but good hotel - Shute, a bargain hunter, recommends a cheap hotel where all the airplane mechanics stay - double value ! And he found that the Orient Airways station manager was old acquaintance, whose mechanics would be happy to do the work. But there were costs. The manager was a talker and Shute noted he probably hadn't had an audience for months. "...Back to the hotel to meet Stack for a drink and to spend rather a dreary evening listening to the exploits of Stack. Having helped us with the aircraft we felt we had to be polite, but I'd much rather have paid in cash."

An early start from Karachi had been planned but they didn't take off until around 10:30 a.m. local time because of required official formalities. "...the officials were helpful and courteous; it is the red tape plus the leisurely ways of the East that wastes so much time."

A direct flight to Ahmadabad for fueling was planned and then to Bhopal the same day was their flight plan, but an overnight at Ahmadabad was required due to their late start. Here Shute commented on the very good airdrome control and was entirely complimentary. I suspect this astuteness at quickly sizing up men and organizations has much to do with the popularity of Shute's works among "Organization Men" - especially airmen. In a very few words he evaluates a place and its operators without being overly judgmental but with little of the "touchy -feely" attitude which permeates most literature about travel. Staff do their jobs properly or they do not. Shute sees and tells which.

Ahmadabad to Bhopal was a pleasant two-hour flight. A very poor hotel there - not considered suitable for Europeans. "But if you are sufficient social status to be a guest of the Nawab of Bhopal you are accommodated in the Palace guest house free of all cost: you live in Dorchester style luxury and motor cars are placed at your disposal all quite free to motor to see the sights." Presenting themselves as two traveling authors, Jimmie and Nevil passed the test; the Nawab was a great aviator owning several aircraft. Shute recommends the Palace route highly but warns that travelers should be prepared to be self-sufficient if they don't make the social cut.

At Calcutta more maintenance on Item Willie at Dum-Dum airport amongst all the Constellations and Skymasters. No Highway was at the publishers - Shute must have felt a twinge of regret here that England wasn't producing a competitive airliner to take advantage of the expansion in post-war air travel. The civilian jet age was still another ten years in the future. Shute and Jimmie were entertained by some veddy, veddy English friends and he notes both that gas rationing is still in effect and the considerable social prejudice about using the trains which were used by the Indians. Shute had been in Calcutta in 1945. Here he looked up a Burmese nun he had known then but had little opportunity to talk to her, as the Mother Superior (an Australian) monopolized the conversation.

From Calcutta to Akyab, via Chittagong. The airport as Akyab still utilizing pierced steel planking from WWII - the grass has grown up through the holes so a pilot might have thought he was landing on a grass strip until he felt the metal underneath. Shute had been there in 1945 and notes that all the wrecked aircraft had been there then but it was a busy place so not noticed so much as now - "Now all the troops have gone and left their mess behind."

Shute's log throughout includes information of interest to every pilot- adequacy of airfields, weather, radio frequencies, maintenance facilities and, sometimes most important, cooperation level of the staff. This log should be required reading for anyone (even today more than half a century later) who sets off on a long cross-country journey by air. Today aircraft, airways and airports have much better technical facilities but knowing probable weather, location of emergency landing facilities, and "Who is in charge here?" are still vital for a pleasant journey. He also visits historic sites along the way, often after seeing them from the air, so the log is of interest to those who are immune to the charm of idiosyncratic small airplanes and their utility. He is also an astute observer of social customs and changes taking place as colonial empires are dissolved. Then from Akyab to Rangoon.

From Rangoon to Bangkok flying low over the notorious railway built by the Japanese with Allied prisoners as labor, with massive casualties among the poorly-supplied prisoners. Memorialized by The Bridge Over The River Kwai, by late 1948 mostly abandoned. Shute notes: " is a curious reflection that this flight was by far the most beautiful and enjoyable that we have made since we left England." Also that Bangkok was the first place he'd come to where the Europeans and the native population mix socially "Where everyone smiles at you."

Part I