“Do you not know that a man is not dead while his name is still spoken?”
― Terry Pratchett, Going Postal
Special Delivery is the biography and wartime memoirs of Warrant Officer John Morrison, a Scottish Airman in World War 2.
The above quote by one of my favourite authors, Terry Pratchett serves as an apt and poignant entry point for this review. It encapsulates the enduring spirit of individuals like John Morrison, who refuse to be forgotten despite the passage of time. Through ‘Special Delivery’, Morrison’s name is indeed kept alive, as readers are immersed in his extraordinary journey.
Written by Alan James Barker (Ghosts of the Dardanelles: A Novel of the Great War) and John’s Daughter Lynn Defty, the book is based around the letters John wrote to his wife Margery. What sets this book apart from similar tomes, is the unique approach and care taken to tell John’s Story.
John Morrison was born in Aberdeen and at the age of 14 fund work as a Telegram boy, later being promoted to postman in 1940. Despite this being an ‘exempt occupation’ John decided to volunteer as Aircrew in the RAF.
Meticulously researched by Alan James Barker, John’s story starts right at the beginning, describing John’s early days in the RAF and training. Barker skilfully weaves in RAF records and BBC interviews. John’s story continues through 35 Squadron, where he became a wireless operator/air gunner flying both Whitley and Halifax bombers. It’s here his letters to his new wife – love of his life Margery, start to shine. Barker continues Morrison’s story providing vivid accounts of his missions and flights.
John’s letters and memoirs form the central content to the book. We are given an intimate perspective that goes beyond the typical historical accounts of war. Written at a time before social media, and under the starkest of environments, each letter serves as a time capsule, transporting us to the moment it was written and allows the reader to get a small glimpse into the emotions, thoughts, and fears that John Morrison was experiencing.
We learn about John’s optimism at being able to fly and the frustrations at RAF life. Morrison’s letters immerse readers in the brutality of war, the camaraderie among soldiers, and the longing for home which burns with each letter.
Underpinning the letters and memoirs is a beautifully constructed historical record of life as an WWII airman.
On his 24th Mission, Morrison’s bomber was shot down whilst attacking the German Naval ship Tirpitz.
Surviving the crash, Morrison and his Navigator evaded the Germans for a few days until being captured just 2 miles shy of Sweden (a Neutral country). It’s at this point ‘Special Delivery ‘ comes into its own. Captured and sent to Stalug Luft 3 (The POW camp made famous by The Great Escape), somehow Morrison manages to write to his wife. The letters sometimes short, attempt to convey positivity and optimism, but reading between the lines of John’s messages, the horrors are quite clear. Using the letters and his research Barker can demonstrate Morrison’s life as a POW. Vivid descriptions of daily struggles, faced not only by John, but by other servicemen too, create a visceral reading experience.
Morrison’s story continues through several more camps as the Germans tried to hold onto the POWs, despite the advancing Russian Army. 3 years after capture, John was repatriated to his loving wife.
Morrison’s story doesn’t end with repatriation and the book goes on to continue his extraordinary life-story after the war as a family man and veteran. John never lost sight of the comradery forged as a POW, and made emotional visits to ex POW camps later in life, right up until his death at the age of 90.
‘Special Delivery: From Telegram Boy to Bomber Boy’ is a captivating and moving biography that invites readers to experience the trials and triumphs of a humble Scottish airman during World War II. John always said the the lads (55,573) who failed to return home are the heroes not him. However, it’s John Morrison’s courage, sacrifice, and unwavering love for his wife that are testament to the indomitable spirit of individuals caught up in the chaos of war.
This powerful memoir is a must-read for history enthusiasts, veterans, and anyone seeking a deeper appreciation of the sacrifices made by those who have served our nations..
All proceeds from sales and donations go to the RAF Benevolent Fund (a cause very dear to John’s heart)
With thanks to Lynn Defty and Craig Defty