Over Fields Of Fire –
Flying the Sturmovik in action on the Eastern Front 1942-45
By Anna Timofeeva-Egorova
Helion & Company Ld – £25.00
‘’I am careful with my memory – generally I try not be carried away by recollections. Memory is memory and life is life. Nevertheless, I have to tell my grandchildren and great-grandchildren the truth.’’
Memory is indeed memory and life is indeed life; and what accounts for such crystal clear distinction herein being so erudite, so penetrating, is what partially accounts for this book being such a pleasure not to mention something of an honour to read. Over Fields of Fire: Flying the Sturmovik in Action on the Eastern Front 1942-45 reads like a cross between a memoir, a diary and a manual on sheer determinism. It tells the real life story of its author Anna Timofeeva-Egorova, who, in 1942, was the first female pilot to fly Russia’s (in)famous Sturmovik. The Russian ground attack aircraft that was to play such a crucial and pivotal role amid the carnage of the Eastern Front.
But unlike a memoir that reads as if always subliminally and clandestinely considered, these 178 pages are relentlessly endearing, yet nothing short of heartbreaking. This may in part be due to the translation from Russian into English by Vladimir Kroupnik. As the simplicity of language used and the way some of the words are expressed, ensures this book reads as if someone is actually regaling their very own story from within the comfort of their own home. As if sat in a comfy armchair or from behind their favourite table down the pub, in front of an audience of transfixed, wide-eyed, curious listeners.
Even Egorova’s nigh opening gambit in the opening chapter ‘Led astray by a rainbow,’ hints at a certain coquettish reticence: ‘’I remember the send-off as a bright sunny festival, although the day was quite likely to have been overcast. But… my friends’ smiles, laughter and jokes – all this so dazzled me and so turned my head, and my joy, overfilling me, so fogged my vision… When the train had taken off I, by now on the carriage platform, stared ahead for along time, blinking with half-shut eyes, failing to make anything out…’’
It’s the final five words ‘’failing to make anything out’’ followed by the (inevitable) ellipsis, that quintessentially suggests a certain sense of romantic vulnerability. In the writer’s mind, the world was clearly her oyster for the taking. It was also her (inevitable) doom in the making, which, by 1944, after having flown 270 sorties, reared its ugly head. Shot down on a mission over Poland, she survived but was badly burnt. Not only that, she was taken prisoner in a German POW camp for five months, before being liberated by her fellow countrymen.
Along with twenty-seven pages of black and white photographs towards the back of the book, Over Fields of Fire really is one of the most humbling books you’re likely to read for a long time. The author’s trajectory of meaning remains as equally potent and powerful today, as the days to which she is referring. Yet from where did she gain her clarity of character and strength?
I’ll let Anna Timofeeva-Egorova answer that for herself: ‘’I think in the 18th century the Englishman John Bradman remarked: ‘’Beware the anger of a patient man.’’ How right he was…’’