Wind in the Wires and An Escaper’s Log

Published on
February 3, 2020
Review Author(s)
Book Author(s)
Duncan Grinnell-Milne
Other Publication Information
Hard Cover, 6.3” x 9.3”, 382 pages plus 8 pages of photographs
Provided by: Casemate Publishers - Website: Visit Site
Front cover

This edition represents a re-printing of two books by Duncan Grinnell-Milne. The first, An Escaper’s Log, was originally published in 1926 by John Lane. The second, Wind in the Wires, was first published in 1933 by Hurst & Blackett. This edition combines his two autobiographies.

Captain Duncan Grinnell-Milne MC, DFC & Bar was born in Bromley, London in 1896, to George Grinnell-Milne and Maria Caroline Mess. He attended an independent preparatory school, Cheam School, located in Headley, Hampshire, where notables such as Prince Phillip and Prince Charles also attended. He went on to study at the University of Freiburg, a public university that has a long tradition of teaching humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. It was at the University of Freiburg that he would become fluent in German that would help him later in life. Duncan Grinnell-Milne joined the infantry (5th Battalion, Rifle Brigade, Prince Consort’s Own) in December 1913 at the age of 17. Too young for front line service with the outbreak of World War One, he transferred to the 7th Battalion (Royal Fusiliers, City of London Regiment). He soon transferred to the Royal Flying Corps for flight training and received his Royal Aero Club Aviator’s Certificate in August 1915.

Duncan Grinnell-Milne was promoted to lieutenant in September 1915 and was posted to No 16 Squadron RFC. He got his first kill in a BE.2c, shooting down an Albatros C.I on November 28, 1915. A few days later, engine trouble downed him behind the German lines and he was captured. Duncan finally escaped German internment in April 1918 after two years of captivity. He returned to service with No 56 Squadron RAF flying a red-painted S.E.5a to become an ace, achieving his sixth kill by shooting down a Fokker D.VII on November 3, 1918. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in February 1919. Duncan served with No 214 Squadron and No 14 Squadron in Egypt in 1919 and 1920 and was awarded the Military Cross in December 1920. He became a test pilot at Farnborough and later a Parisian Air Section attaché in Paris. Duncan Grinnell-Milne retired in October 1925 after having flown at least sixty different aircraft types and accumulating over 2,000 flying hours. While working as a New York art dealer, he authored his first book, An Escaper’s Log. After a couple of novels, he completed Wind in the Wires. Returning to England, Duncan became a broadcaster for the BBC until World War II intervened. He was commissioned in the RAF Volunteer Reserve in April 1939 and served in a variety of missions before resigning his commission in July 1944. Fluent in German, French, and Italian, Duncan rejoined the BBC as a broadcaster until 1946. He ended up settling in London to become an author of another five historical books.

I still have the 1970 Ace paperback, Wind in the Wires that I read as a teenager. It was great then, and remains great now upon reading it again. The advantage is that I had not read An Escaper’s Log and that adds a lot to the story of Duncan Grinnell-Milne. Even the Forward by Duncan’s grandson, Patrick de La Lanne-Mirrlees, is very interesting as he describes Duncan’s older brother, Douglas. Douglas was also an RFC pilot and was also imprisoned by the Germans in the same camp as Duncan. What are the odds?

Wind in the Wires is presented in two parts. Part one consists of three chapters, starting with “The Wings Start To Grow” that reveals how Duncan Grinnell-Milne became a pilot. Duncan puts you in the seat of a Maurice Farman Longhorn as he takes his first flight and continues his advancement in other types until he gets orders to go to France. “The Wings Are Spread” takes you to the front lines over northern France and into Duncan’s initial flight experiences as an observation pilot. “The Wings are Clipped” is a detailed account of his final flight before being captured.

Part two starts up with Chapter 4 “The Wings Grow Again” where Duncan Grinnell-Milne escapes and becomes re-acclimated to all the changes that have happened in the two years of being a prisoner to return a be a fighter pilot. Chapter 5 “Wings of Victory” takes you into battle again until the end of the war. Duncan Grinnell-Milne describes the pain of losing his beloved S.E.5a as they were taken to be ‘recycled’ after the war. He at least got some memorabilia as he cut the panel out bearing “Schweinhund” to take home.

The second book included in this volume is “An Escaper’s Log”. Duncan Grinnell-Milne was a good soldier and seemingly spent every waking moment trying to escape back to London. Obviously he did succeed, but only after several attempts, and many of his fellow escapees were not so lucky. Indeed one of his fellow prisoners of war, Medicott, was caught while escaping. His body was so full of bullet holes and stab wounds that he was covered with a sheet when presented to a senior British officer in the camp.

The Contents include:

  • List of Plates
  • Foreword
  • Wind in the Wires
    • Part I
      • Principled Officers Identified from Nicknames
      • The Wings Start to Grow
      • The Wings are Spread
      • The Wings are Clipped
    • Part II
      • 4 The Wings Grow Again
      • 5 Wings of Victory
  • An Escaper’s Log

Duncan Grinnell-Milne’s two autobiographies combined in this volume are a must have for aficionados of World War One. His story-telling skills are excellent and make this a real page turner. Modeler’s who want to add his S.E.5a to their collection will have no problem as Duncan Grinnell-Milne’s red RAF S.E.5a ‘Schweinhund’ is the box top cover art for the Roden 1/32 kit (Ro 607) and of course, Duncan’s markings are also available in the Roden 1/72 and 1/48 Wolseley Viper engined S.E.5a kits. I have no problem rating this edition as one of the top World War One aviation books available.

My thanks to Casemate and IPMS/USA for the chance to review this excellent book.

Highly recommended!


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