A reticent yet sharply impressed memoir of a turn-of-the-century cowpuncher who enlisted in the Canadian Royal Flying Corps and was decorated for valor in WWI.
Although the impetus for Liddy’s memoir was clearly his heroics as an aviator over the Somme, he sets the stage by recounting, in detail, his youth in the Platte Valley of Colorado (“real cow country for real cowmen”). There is plenty of ranching action here—wild horse roundups, gathering cattle in the high country, cruel winters on the range—and as he grows older there is plenty of drinkin’ and gamblin’ and womanin’ as well. The author unreels his share of homespunnery: as a young boy, he quips, “all the little girls will be after me. Them I can do without. They smell terrible, all perfume and stuff”; by the time he is a young man, however, he realizes that “there are no bad horses—just bad people.” He keeps the story immediate (perhaps a bit too immediate), narrating it as if he were walking across the paddock in the company of a good friend, kicking at the dry earth and breathing in the sage-filled air. It comes as some relief, then, when Libby changes the venue with his enlistment in the flying corps at the start of WWI. In describing what was surely a hair-raising time, the author adopts a reserved tone—although he does slip in a number of passages describing how he and some “stout fellows” cross “into the German listening post in No Man’s Land, where they play ‘Home Sweet Home’ on the Heinie’s throat with a real sharp knife.” The unvarnished delivery makes the primitive air war all the more terrifying, while the sheer number of engagements Libby found himself in (shooting down 24 enemy craft and getting shot down in turn) is stupefying.
Poker-faced as it is, Libby’s memoir makes for a striking period piece—from the high plains of the American West to the blue skies shared with Baron von Richtofen. (8 b&w photos, not seen)