Wigan writer's new book tells extraordinary life of retired RAF squadron leader
The book contains gripping accounts of his 30-year stint in the Royal Air Force before going on to relate his globetrotting adventures working for the Foreign Office and then his time back in civilian life with Swedish communications giant Ericsson.
Denise, who was written two fiction books, painstakingly transformed his log books and files, containing meticulous notes of many of the places he had been in his long career, into a compelling narrative for the general reader.
And following an eventful and dramatic trip to Cyprus, where he was stationed at one point, he has been overseeing the final stages of the volume’s creation at close quarters as he has spent the last few months living in the borough with Denise.
She said: “It is a phenomenal story. It’s a book you have got to read and even then you won’t be able to believe it.
“He has worked and lived in more than 90 countries. He was a fighter pilot in the RAF for 30 years and was involved in Korea and every arena of conflict in that time.
“He then worked at the Foreign Office before he went into industry.
“The book tells how he went up the Khyber Pass onto the borders of Afghanistan and there are his experiences in Saudi Arabia, China, Australia. He was attached to a number of air forces training them at the Foreign Office.
“It’s all too much, really. It brings the story up to the present day but although it’s his life you just can’t fit it all in one book. It’s also a very funny story at times.”
Squadron Leader Handley and Denise got in contact by chance in 2018 after his wife was a cancer patient at Oswestry Hospital, the establishment to which Denise had dedicated her second fictional work Spring and Autumn.
They began talking on the phone and exchanging emails before the facts of Squadron Leader Handley’s amazing life began to be revealed and the project which would become An Unprecedented Life very slowly took shape.
Denise said: “He was very apprehensive and so was I, but then he gained my trust a little and began to show me his log books. They were like travel brochures, it was unbelievable.
“There were dates, aircraft, destinations. It was just stunning. Then his files had these beautiful photographs. There was one where he was being presented to the Queen and shaking hands with her at the 50th anniversary of the RAF.”
Squadron Leader Handley said: “It has been an interesting exercise. I’m amazed because I never thought it was anything out of the normal. Denise obviously thought so and it came out quite well.
“Some of the stories from my time in the Foreign Office included when the government in its wisdom made the Iraqi Air Force a present of six aircraft and we took some of them to a place near Baghdad. The British site got surrounded by the Iraqi Army but miraculously they pulled out.
“I also talk about going to Pakistan to train pilots in their air force.”
The book had an extra chapter added to it after the duo visited Cyprus, where Squadron Leader Handley had served, and ended up in hospital seriously ill.
A call to the British High Commission was required to get them treatment at a private hospital so they could recover enough to return home.
Denise said: “He said it was funny that he had gone through all those years of war and escaped all the bullets and it was a virus that nearly got him.”
About that time another virus was making its mark on the world and that meant Squadron Leader Handley ended up moving in under Denise’s roof.
Squadron Leader Handley said: “I’m getting acclimatised to Wigan and learning Wiganese. I’m also enjoying the pies and I’ve never met such friendly people.
“I’m 90 and a half now and I’m hanging on for my message from the Queen at 100.”
Squadron Leader Handley and Denise are already working on a second book, this time a fictional work which has the title Through Adversity To The Stars, a translation of the RAF’s Latin motto.
An Unprecedented Life is being published by LR Price Publications and Denise is hoping it will be out by Christmas.
Russell Spencer, LR Price Publications' managing editor, said: "We are very excited to be publishing Denise's amazing book. It really is an incredible true story."
Thanks for reading. If you value what we do and are able to support us, a digital subscription is just £1 for your first month. Try us today by clicking here and viewing our offers ..