War Birds: Diary of an Unknown Aviator.

Author:Huddleston, Robert
Position:Elliott White Springs' "War Birds: The Diary of a Great War Pilot" - Book review

War Birds: Diary of an Unknown Aviator. By Anonymous. New York: George H. Doran Company. 1926. Illustrations. Pp. 276. $3.95 (Kindle) ISBN: none; and War Birds: The Diary of a Great War Pilot. By Elliott White Springs. Barnsley, UK: Frontline Books, 2016. Appendices. Notes. Bibliography. Pp. 185. $24.82 (Kindle) ISBN: 978-1-47387-959-1

The diary of the "unknown aviator" began on September 20, 1917. Following the last entry there is an editor's note: "Here the diary ends due to the death of its author in aerial combat. He was shot down by a German plane twenty miles behind the German lines. He was given a decent burial by the Germans and his grave was later found by the Red Cross."

The unknown aviator and diarist was John MacGavock Grider, who went missing in action on June 18, 1918. Yet the diarist continues noting that he and [Elliott White] Springs went on an early patrol and shared a victory over a two seater before returning to base." The diary continues on June 19 and runs through the end of August. Obviously a second diarist took over.

Following publication of War Birds in 1926, Elliott White Springs was revealed to be the second diarist. He stated that before Grider went missing, he expressed the desire that the story be told. Evidently Springs was determined to keep his own contributions secret. One of the outstanding features of the book is the excellent illustrations (both color and black-and-white) by artist Clayton Knight that introduce the reader to the aircraft involved and, in many instances, depict events described in the diary.

Grider and Springs were two of over 200 Americans who volunteered to train and fly with British units until America's Army Air Service became combat ready. These two, plus six others, were posted to the Royal Flying Corps' No. 85 Squadron. John Grider was born in 1882, a resident of Arkansas, married with two sons but divorced the year before volunteering for military service. "I'm coming out of this war a big man or in a wooden kimono," he wrote on May 13, 1918. "I know I can fight, I know I can fly, and I ought to be able to shoot straight. If I can just learn to do all three things at once, they can't stop me." The diary might be John Grider's way of proving himself to the two sons he left behind. Springs survived the war with 16 credited victories and became a successful businessman.

A Great War Pilot is an extended reprint of the original book...

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