A post placed on the Isle of Wight Heritage Group Facebook page in September 2020 immediately caught my interest.
The post referred to five books written about experiences of the Second World War published under the pen name Gun Buster. The reason the writer had placed the comment on the Heritage Group page was because the real identity of Gun Buster was a man whose home was on the Isle of Wight.
So who was Gun Buster and what did he write about?
Richard Campion Austin, Captain of the Royal Artillery, was the driving force behind the five wartime reflections, but Gun Buster is both he and his father John Charles Austin, a journalist, who assisted his son turn his thoughts and experiences into appealing books.
Richard was born in Richmond, Surrey, on 25 May 1912. Following education in London, aged 18 he enlisted with the Royal Artillery (Territorial Army) in 1930 and served continuously in this capacity until the beginning of the Second World War.
The opening chapter of his first book, Return Via Dunkirk, begins - The dear old house looked me full in the face over the sparkling waters. There it was, perched on the green wooded hillside with the path straggling down to the pretty sandy beach. There it was, warm and mellow in the late afternoon sunshine, radiating peace and the peaceful virtues, very lovable, very English, and - which seemed most miraculous to me - unchanged.
Richard was referring to the moment that he bobbed around in a troop ship at Spithead, equipped for war, against the juxtaposition of being able to see his beautiful Island home, Nettlestone Manor, as the afternoon light faded into evening and the convoy of the British Expeditionary Force prepared to make its hazardous cross-Channel voyage to Cherbourg to enter the war.
Richard's approach, with his fathers assistance, in writing of his experiences with 'Y' Battery during the ignominious rout that led to the evacuation at Dunkirk are refreshing for their frankness, humour and authenticity.
After his return Richard was medically discharged with tuberculosis. So successful were the first two publications, Return Via Dunkirk and Battle Dress, that his desire to draw on the experiences of others led the father and son to write three more equally successful war stories of their time.
One month before VE Day Richard married his sweetheart Hilda and they continued life at his beloved Nettlestone Manor (today renamed The Old Manor). So appealing were his stories to a nation eager for hope during the blackest days of the war that he even drew the scornful attention of despicable traitor William Joyce, also known as Lord Haw Haw, in several of his Nazi propaganda broadcasts Germany Calling.
No doubt Richard was as amused as all Islanders when Joyce announced in one such broadcast that the Kriegsmarine had inflicted a telling blow on the Royal Navy by sinking HMS Medina - the land based facility known today as Puckpool Park, a matter first told to me with much mirth by my late father-in-law who tended Puckpool grounds and gardens for many years.
Soon after the war Richard secured a position teaching maths at King James I Grammar School, Little Appley, remaining there until its close in 1967. From there he taught at Winchester but remained an Island resident, retiring in 1985.
Reporting his death aged 89, on 13 September 2001, the County Press published - He was a keen sailor, cricket player, regatta entrant and was district commissioner and then president of the Island Pony Club, helping to promote riding for the disabled. He helped out at Seaview Yacht Club as deck officer, was involved in church life at St Peter's, Seaview, where he was on the parochial church council from 1960-72.
In my opinion his books are well worth a read and I was fortunate enough to source first-edition copies of all five.
A portion of the cover of 'Return Via Dunkirk' reproduced from E.C. Turner's 'Embarkation from Dunkirk'.