Book Review: The Last Navigator, by Paul Goodwin with Gordon Goodwin • Glam Adelaide

Book Review: The Last Navigator, by Paul Goodwin with Gordon Goodwin

BIOGRAPHY: An extraordinary true story of a boy from the Queensland bush who survived the dangers of Bomber Command to become Qantas’ last navigator.

This unique biography is one of miraculous survival and exceptional detail.

This unique biography of Gordon Goodwin was written by his son, Paul. It is an incredibly detailed account of miraculous survival. Gordon was a Pathfinder mission navigator who served in World War Two.

To give you an idea of the hazardous nature of his father’s occupation, a statistic quoted in the text states only 27 out of every hundred members of the squad in which he served survived intact. The remainder? 55 killed in operations or from injuries sustained, 3 out of every 100 discharged with lifelong injuries, 13 taken as prisoners of war and 2 shot down (but evaded capture).

Thankfully after his release from duty, Gordon’s career in civil aviation ended peacefully with Qantas; altogether he served in the aviation industry for three decades.

It begs the question; how did the story begin?

Gordon Goodwin’s story was always meant to be told. At the age of twelve and in the year 1930 during Australia’s Great Depression, he was forced to leave the comfort of school (at which he excelled) to work on the family farm. Treated no better than a slave by his father, with little comfort from his mother, from an early age he was made to produce results in lamentable circumstances – it was perhaps this upbringing that unwittingly prepared him for the battlefield.

What is striking in this book is the meticulous details recalled when describing not only anecdotes from Gordon’s childhood but the missions at Bomber Command which Gordon undertook. It is a gift of the few when someone can – by pure recall – describe so many stories with the minutest of details included.

Whilst it is true that Gordon did keep a logbook which chronicled his missions throughout the war, the notes of each log pale in comparison to the descriptive nature of the text. Each mission outlines Gordon’s technical knowledge, his crew on the mission, his feelings at the time, timeframes and goals of the mission. Some of these details cannot be found through other sources.

By the same token, the factual nature of each mission provides the reader with conflicting emotions. On the one hand we want the protagonist to win and achieve his mission and come out unscathed; on the other, when the numbers of casualties lost or the destruction caused by each mission are noted as simple facts, you can see how detached one needs to become during war.

That is not to say there is little humanity in the book – in fact there is a love story – the story of Gordon meeting his wife whilst in battle, and their lifetime together thereafter. Both were lucky enough to survive the war after which Gordon’s professional expertise led him to a career with Qantas; with his meticulous attention to detail contributing to the automation of navigation upon which Qantas aircrafts now depend.

Reviewed by Rebecca Wu

Distributed by: Allen & Unwin
Released: July 2020
RRP: $32.99

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