Max Hastings on 'Chastise'

Tuesday 24th September 2019, 1.30pm
Venue: Woodbridge Community Hall

The weather forecast indicated it would be a grim day with heavy downpours and strong winds. As Max was travelling to us on the trains, and with a military precision schedule, anything could happen.

Yet on the dot of his expected arrival, a very tall distinguished gentleman stepped onto the platform at Woodbridge. And the wind and rain ceased as we walked the short distance to the venue.

From the outset Max was polite, friendly and businesslike. He knew exactly how he wanted the event to proceed and he seemed pleased that we had anticipated all his needs.

A handshake and a word of thanks to all the members of my team as we entered Woodbridge Community Hall was very thoughtful and put everyone at their ease. We ran through the details of the event and then I took Max to the back room where he was grateful of a light lunch before audience members arrived.

This lunchtime event had been well received and we had sold some 130 tickets. There was a strong male contingent in the audience, and a number of people spoke of the other titles they had enjoyed by this highly respected writer. Some 90 books had been pre-ordered and sold with the entry ticket.

As Max wanted to leave promptly at the end of his talk, he suggested signing books before the event, as well as at its conclusion. He wanted to have time with each person, he said. They had taken the trouble to come along and had invested in purchasing the book, he felt it only right that he should put a personal message in each copy and to have a short conversation. This is exactly what he did for the 30 minutes before he was due on stage.

When the time came, we closed the doors, dimmed the lights and I stepped onto the stage to make the introduction. After an initial hiccup with my microphone, the volume was notched up for a short clip from the movie 'The Dambusters'. This classic 1955 film was the story Max grew up with and he was eager to remind us of this account before telling us something of the truth behind the legend.

In his book 'Chastise: The Dambusters Story 1943' Max encourages the reader to review the destruction of the Mohne and Eder dams in north-west Germany by the RAF’s 617 Squadron in more complex colours.

Speaking clearly, Max gave a comprehensive summary of the elements covered in his book. He orientated us to this point in the Second World War and the evolution of the bomb. He presented something of the characters of Barnes Wallis, the monstrous Harris and the tragic Gibson. But he also described the fate of those swept away by the torrents brought about through the destruction of the dams. Some 1,400 civilians perished in the biblical floods that swept the Mohne valley, more than half of the victims Russian and Polish women, slave labourers under Hitler.

After a 50 minute presentation, accompanied by a gentle humming as the rain pounded down outside, Max took questions from the audience before swiftly returning to his seat for more book signing.

It was another long queue but after 30 minutes, Max was ready for his onward journey.

He had been scheduled to take the 4.18pm train to Norwich for his next talk. As he was due to speak at 6.30pm, there wasn't much down time, so he was eager to get to his destination earlier. After again thanking everyone who had helped with the event, Max left the hall and I walked with him the two minutes to the station. We'd looked up an earlier train which left at 3.18pm. As I saw him off, there was news that in fact the 4.18pm had been cancelled! But the rain had stopped.

I was thrilled to hear from Max Hastings after the event:

Thanks so very much Catherine, you ran a really good show and it was a model of how these events should be ... thanks for having me. Very best wishes, Max

Tickets were £25 to include a copy of 'Chastise' (RRP£25). One additional ticket could be purchased for £10, without the book.

Chastise
by Max Hastings