Night Madness is the true-life story of an RCAF tail -gunner’s 35 odds-defying missions over war-torn Germany during WWII. Despite skies dark with Messerschmitts and flak from anti-aircraft fire, he would make it through the war intact, only to face a new battle with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome caused by memories of the raids and participation in the now-controversial bombing of Dresden. Based on letters, interviews and painstaking archival research, author Rick Pyves weaves together a fascinating and harrowing adventure of a bombing crew over hostile German skies and captures all the youth, bravado and honest fear of the young men fighting for home and freedom. Night Madness also looks at the impact of war on the youth who served overseas including the difficulties for combat personnel suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.
Night Madness is a trilogy: a love story, a history (a war story) and a plea for assistance for injured and suffering war vets. More than that, it is a tribute to the author’s father written with sensitivity and emotional connectivity with the father, Ron and with his father’s crew members from their days of service. Even more, Pyves’ work is a clarion call of support for all injured and suffering vets who have served in the armed forces of Canada.
The love story
Pyves copies material from the correspondence between his father and mother during his time of service. The letters are amazingly touching as you read the mindset of two teenagers who have seen each other only three times but who begin a love story that would last their lifetime. The text from the letters allows the reader to enter into a teenage mind, a mind aflame with growing fervour and passion. But the letters also are a portal to another time, an earlier time when the world was so much different than today. Words, names and phrases are eavesdropping on another era. It is even more amazing that the young man thrown into the dramatic and traumatic experiences of a much-engaged airman during the last year of World War II never writes of his terror as appeal for sympathy. He never exposes his wife-to-be to the stresses and traumatic experiences he suffers as a tail gunner in an RAF bomber.
The book is a historical narration written on the foundation of the author’s examination of the correspondence between his father and his mother in their earlier lives. It is based on military records, air service logbooks and crew members journals which consolidates the narrative as being authentically based facts, based on real-life information and records.
Bomber identification, flight maps, geographic names, weather conditions and location descriptions all bear witness to the reality of the whole story. A reader is fully immersed in detail and factual information making the story all the much more engaging.
The bomber flight narratives are suspenseful, even tension-filled as one reads about the engagements, the flak attacks and the German Luftwaffe assaults as written by the author’s father. As a tail gunner, he had the unenviable seat sitting at the rear of a clear covered pod with protruding machine guns and a broad unobstructed view of an aviation war scene. However, for Ron Pyves, the author’s father, it was not a benign view. It was one which was filled with warfare, danger and constant threat of death. There can be no wonder as to how the airman would have ended up afflicted with PTSD.
A plea for assistance for all vets
Pyves writes emotionally about his father’s years of suffering, depression, alcohol affliction, all symptoms of his deeper affliction, PTSD. He describes the effect and impact of the illness on his father and by co-relation how it impacts service veterans of any war. The tragedy behind the illness is broadened and deepened when he writes about how his mother, Kay, sought disability assistance from the government, long, drawn-out process filled with delays, red tape and bureaucratic sloppiness that would have driven many people into giving up the effort. The author’s wife was tenacious. Dedicated to the memory of her husband more than to the need for added financial support for herself and her family, Kay never gave up the effort and ultimately succeeded. The description of this struggle to obtain due financial support is so emotional a reader can understandably be angered at the bureaucracy veterans faced and still face in getting assistance, support and care that they need even today. Pyves presents a caring and empathetic plea on their behalf.
Finally, Pyves closes his story with more than just the expected bibliographic credits to his sources or old photos of the people from the story, he closes with moving summaries of his father’s fellow crew members, making their stories touching and emotional with the naming of wives and families and writing about their lives after the war until their final day. This section of the book is particularly poignant as it demonstrates the emotional depth and engagement Rick had in writing his work.
This is an excellent book. It will engage anyone who reads it: romantics who will love it as a love story; fans of historical sagas as it is a factual narrative based on real-life records; people who enjoy war stories as this book is primarily an air warfare narrative. The book has it all: the gamut of emotions, factual detail and data and suspense and tension that any well-written combat story should have.
In short, a very highly recommended read!