Book name: Biggles Flies East
Author: Captain WE Johns
Format: ebook, print
Genre: Vintage children’s fiction
Publication Date: 1935
Star Rating: 5/5
The Biggles series from military pilot WE Johns has delighted readers ever since the first story was published back in 1932.
The series was followed by other Captain WE Johns’ characters who also earned a loyal following, including ‘Gimlet’ and ‘Worrals.’ The latter was a female aviator, not entirely unusual even then, but still worthy of note.
When Biggles Flies East begins, Biggles and Algy are fighter pilots during World War One.
Biggles has a few days leave in London and he visits the Caprice restaurant for lunch, knowing it is popular with fellow officers.
He is confused to be approached by a Mr Broglace, who has mistaken him for someone called Captain Brunow.
Biggles is unsure about what Broglace expects from Brunow, but he reports the matter to Air Staff Intelligence, who order him to go back to a pre-arranged second meeting and find out more.
Broglace wants to recruit Brunow to spy for the Germans. Biggles agrees and is already a double agent for the British.
Algy then receives order to fly to Cairo, and does so despite being mystified as to why this is happening and why he has been told that Biggles isn’t returning to France.
He meets Major Raymond in Cairo, and then flies on to Kantara in Palestine where Raymond also appears. By this point, Algy is very confused.
Biggles flies behind enemy lines to that he can be captured, providing him with a cover story to give to the Germans about what the British think has happened to him.
The Germans then accept that he is their agent, and not working for the British, though some individuals remain suspicious of him and he has to be very careful indeed.
Biggles flies to Kantara and is reunited with Raymond and Algy.
It transpires that Biggles had insisted on having his own men around him during the intelligence operation.
Biggles goes back to the German camp and follows orders as best he can, reporting to Raymond and Algy whenever possible. His is the life of a classic double agent, and he’s often stressed by the experience.
However, his customary willingness to lay down his life for his country keeps him going. Biggles’ main emotional challenges come not from concern for his own safety but over worries about Algy being captured or killed.
He is particularly distressed by having to fire upon British planes.
The main focus for Biggles is to identify a spy called El Shereef, who is causing considerable difficulties to the British. They are leaking intelligence about their operations but don’t know who is the culprit.
Biggles Flies East was notable for its attention to the emotional challenges of intelligence work. Biggles says many times that he doesn’t enjoy this activity, but would prefer to be flying back in France.
He is profoundly distressed when he thinks that his own fire has killed Algy. He also worries for his friend’s safety and how Algy will react if the latter thinks that Biggles has been shot because of something he has done.
As always, Biggles first thoughts are for his comrades in arms and he is always the last person to think of himself.
I really enjoyed Biggles Flies East. The new location, the unusual nature of Biggles’ work and the consideration of the emotional toll of war gave it layers of depth that made it a satisfying read in many different ways.
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