Uncommon Courage: Book Review – Yachting Monthly

Uncommon Courage: the Yachtsmen Volunteers of World War Two is a compelling account of the bravery and selflessness of the Royal Naval Volunteer Supplementary Reserve, says Peter Willis

Extraordinary Courage: The Volunteer Boaters of World War II
Julia Jones
Adlard Coles £20 (Posted 17 Mar 2022)

It took the Royal Navy some time to get used to the assistance of yachtsmen who made up the Royal Naval Volunteer Supplementary Reserve at the start of the Second World War.

These “gentlemen, who are interested in yachting”, had, from 1936, been asked to volunteer for service in the Royal Navy “in case of emergency” – and initially without formal training, pay or uniform.

Instead, they were expected to use their own resources and initiatives – undertaking covert reconnaissance a la Erskine Childers, for example, while enjoying a summer cruise.

Many have returned to the classroom to earn chamber of commerce certificates and prepare for direct responsibility.

Although they may not always exemplify what is called “the innate subversiveness of small-boat sailing”, figures like Maurice Griffiths, Peter Scott, Robert Hichens, Nevil Shute Norway, Adrian Seligman and many others brought inventiveness to situations that sometimes challenged the ‘Seaway’ but achieved results.

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They also wrote letters, diaries and memoirs, and it is these that Julia Jones has sifted through to form this remarkable mosaic of candid, front-line accounts of the war at sea.

Delivered with vivid and often offbeat detail, dark humor and modesty, they reveal some pretty staggering examples of bravery and selflessness.

There’s also a good measure of “untold stories” of triumphs and disasters – and touching reflections on the return to post-war “normality”.

For those of us who were the children of the men involved in these events but often chose not to talk about them, it is a deeply fascinating and moving document.

Jones herself, whose low-key, ever-human commentary makes it all bearable, is one of them; it was the discovery of a memoir by his own father in an attic that triggered the whole enterprise.

If you fancy getting to grips with what the maritime side of WWII was really like, I don’t think you’ll find a better (or more entertaining) source.

Buy Uncommon Courage: the Yachtsmen Volunteers of World War Two on Amazon (UK)

Buy Uncommon Courage: the Yachtsmen Volunteers of World War Two on Amazon (US)

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