This novel by historian Helena Schrader, about World War II fighter pilots on both sides of the English Channel and the women they love, centers around the Battle of Britain. Historically accurate but utilizing fictional characters, the novel describes the experiences of both RAF and Luftwaffe pilots while exploring their feelings - ranging from pacifism to patriotism and from fear to heroism - as it slowly brings the principal antagonists toward direct confrontation.
No. 606 (Hurricane) Squadron has not recovered from the losses over Dunkirk when it is thrown into the Battle of Britain. As the losses mount, morale plunges. New pilots joining the squadron find a cold reception from the clique of Auxiliaries who resent them taking the place of their dead friends.
klaudia von Richthofen and Rosa Welkerling, girls from very different backgrounds, are easily talked into joining the Luftwaffe's women's auxiliary by a recruiting officer. They train as communications specialists and are posted to occupied France. Klaudia soon comes under the spell of the dashing fighter pilot, Christian Baron von Feldburg. But it is Feldburg's wingman, Lieutenant Ernst Geuke, who is in love with Klaudia. Ernst, however, doesn't fit the propaganda - or a young woman's - image of a Luftwaffe fighter pilot. He is short, plump, and his father was a plumber from Cottbus, so how can he hope to win Klaudia's affection?
France, May 1940
The Wing Commander was as obliging about ground transport as he had been about the map and the fuel. One of his dead pilots had left behind a battered old Renault; if Priestman could drive it, he could have it. The Wing Commander then carefully showed him the best route to follow to get to Seclin by road. …. As a last thought, the Wing Commander also gave him a pistol. “I hope you know how to use it. There have been repeated warnings about parachutists landing behind our lines. They use any number of disguises, so trust no one.”
Priestman nodded, but the gun felt very heavy and awkward. He was a reasonably good shot, but he’d never pointed a handgun at anything except a target before – not even a clay pigeon. There was something much more brutal – criminal almost – about pointing a pistol at someone than pointing one aircraft at another.
It was early afternoon by the time Priestman set off, and it was very hot. …. After an hour or so, however, he started to fall asleep at the wheel. …. He decided he would have to stop and sleep. Just a half-hour, he told himself. To avoid jamming the road, he turned off into a field and parked the car under a line of large chestnut trees beside an irrigation ditch. He locked the car from the inside and fell instantly asleep.
Priestman woke with a sense of both terror and confusion. Something was roaring overhead, people were screaming, and a horse galloped past dragging a man tangled in the reins of the harness. Branches rained down onto the top of the car. Jesus Christ, the Germans were strafing the road!
Priestman flung open the door and rolled out of the car into the ditch. There was about a foot of water in it, and his right foot was instantly soaked, but he didn’t notice it at the time. Looking up, he could see two Me109s wheeling around and coming back for a second run. The bloody bastards! There wasn’t a legitimate target for miles.
The roar of engines low overhead, the chatter of machine guns, the screams of refugees and horses, the branches cracking and falling, repeated themselves. Twice. Then apparently the Messerschmitts ran out of ammo or lost interest, because they flew away.
Shaken and shaking, Priestman pulled himself up out of the ditch. His uniform, which his batman had gone to so much trouble to clean and press just last night, was now filthy. Priestman tried to brush off the worst dirt, but then gave up. He went to the Renault and looked it over. Except for a dent or two from the falling branches, it appeared undamaged. Then he turned with dread to look at the road beyond it. Along the length of it, the refugees were picking themselves up, dusting themselves off, and checking their own vehicles. But here and there were crumpled bundles that did not move, or only barely moved. The hysterical screaming of a woman drew his attention to the right, and he saw a woman on her knees before a lifeless bundle. An older woman was trying to calm her. Priestman approached, planning to offer transport to the next hospital, but the child’s head had been blown open and half torn away by the impact. He retreated. A little farther away, however, a man was rocking back and forth clutching his shattered shin, his face screwed up with pain. Robin went to him, and tapped his shoulder. “Monsieur. Je avais un Auto.”
In the end, Priestman loaded no less than six of the injured into the little Renault and set off. Later he could not explain how they communicated. His French was spotty at best, and the refugees spoke a dialect that was far removed from the language of school French masters. Furthermore, they were all in shock, and Robin himself was not far removed from it. Somehow they got to a town, and a gendarme on a bicycle led Priestman to a hospital. But the hospital was completely over-run with patients already. Dazed and bleeding civilians sat or lay like a carpet across the reception area.
Priestman left the injured in that sea of misery and returned to his Renault. The heat had finally gone out of the day. The sun was sinking down the western horizon and turning golden yellow. He realised that he was starving. He’d had nothing since breakfast. Deciding to keep his rations for later, he went into the nearest café.
Filled if not refreshed, he returned to the car and started off again. … it was already getting light in the sky behind him. It was, he guessed, roughly 24 hours since he had taken off from Duxford. He was now somewhere in Northern France, driving a dead pilot’s automobile to a destination he’d never heard of before. In the last 24 hours he had been in his first dog-fight, been on the receiving end of both bombing and strafing, watched his Hurricane blown up before his eyes and seen his first casualties. He was stiff, tired, sticky with dirt, unshaven, and uncombed, and he had an unpleasant taste in his mouth reminding him he hadn’t brushed his teeth, either. He could not remember ever feeling this grotty at any time in his short life. And the grumble of artillery sounded nearer than ever. Today looked like it was going to be a re-run of yesterday. Was it really just yesterday that he had been eager and anxious to come over here to do his part?
|NOTE: In building this site, I thought about many things - such as what spelling standard I should use in
referring to World War II, and what keyword spelling people might use
in a search engine to find this page. I found it interesting to
note the following numbers of page listings for the various ways one
might type World War II into a search engine.
6,050,000 for world war two
5,860,000 for world war 2
134,000,000 for world war II (using the capital i for the 2)
83,900 for world war ll (using the lower case L for the 2)
26,200,000 for second world war
310,000 for 2nd world war
21,600 for ww two
804,000 for ww 2
7,130,000 for ww ii (using the i for the 2)
46,300 for ww ll (using the lower case L for the 2)
21,600 for w.w. two
804,000 for W.W.2
7,130,000 for w.w.II (using the capital i for the 2)
46,300 for w.w.ll (using the lower case l for the 2)
Note that capitalization, punctuation and spacing changes introduced no differences. So if you are looking for information on a particular subject, remember to use all variations of the wrods related to the subject. The pages a search engine will give you to look at will vary with each method. Also in general, I have referred to World War II on these pages using WWII (using the capital i for the 2).
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