Review Corner: “Sagittarius Rising”

29 Sep

Sagittarius Rising. By Cecil Lewis. Peter Davies Ltd: University Press, Edinburgh, 1936. Pp. viii, 332.

 Reviewed by Simon S. Sundaraj-Keun

            For enthusiasts fascinated in World War I aviation, Sagittarius Rising is a book that dives into the trial and tribulations of an aviator. The author, Cecil Lewis accumulated his life experiences as a British Flying Corps fighter pilot into this book in order to illustrate man determination to conquer flight and air supremacy. Even if it lacks the scholarly prerequisite, the book is an important first hand account of early aviation and air-power from the perception of a fighter pilot.

 Lewis was caught up, as he affirms, in the advancement and experimentation of Anglo-French aircraft designs in World War I. He trained and piloted in a variety of aircrafts from Shorthorns to Longhorns, and Parasol to the infamous Monare. His contributions during the war made him sort of expert on early modern aviation.

The book starts out by; Lewis elaborating on the selection process of pilots to the dangers of training that claimed more lives than actual combat. He presents the commitment of Anglo-French command in the evolution and deployment of the aircraft as a strategic arsenal in reconnaissance missions prior, and during the Somme operation. It was in skies over the Somme; Cecil Lewis was awarded the Military Cross.

Even Sagittarius Rising is a memoir version on the conversion and advancement of World War I aircrafts from an instrument of communication into a weapon by trial and error was superbly executed. Lewis also constructed the progression of signal operations from its infancy into the era of tactical combat patrol maturity with the emphasis on the man, moment, and machine. The night-time bombing of London by German Zeppelins and Gothas bombers pushed the envelope of technological improvising by the British to counter the threat. Thus, an experimental squadron with Lewis at its helm was formed and ordered to device new techniques and tactics in conducting night patrols.

The last chapters of the book (Chaps. 7-9), Lewis questions the morality of war than leaping into his postwar exploits and adventures by training Chinese pilots in China for Vickers Limited. This book does not solely concentrate on aviation, but expanded on the human aspect of psychological and emotional distress created by World War I within the British and French society.

However, the book is based on Lewis memory. He does not provide any source material, references, or footnotes for his allegations and information. Lewis does emphasize on the triumphs and tragedies that brought about improvements that transformed the British Flying Corps into a formidable fighting force.

            Sagittarius Rising offers information on the inspiration and development of the aircraft into a weapon in World War I. The strength of this book is in the personal reminiscences of Lewis about the contributions and sacrifices of individuals made by laying their lives on the line to break into new frontiers. This book is useful in bridging the gap between adventurers or pioneers and the common person. I do recommend this book for historians of World War I and aviation enthusiasts in general.

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