Helena Schrader's Historical Fiction

Dr. Helena P. Schrader is the author of 24 historical fiction and non-fiction works and the winner of more than 53 literary accolades. More than 34,000 copies of her books have been sold. For a complete list of her books and awards see: http://helenapschrader.com

For readers tired of clich├ęs and cartoons, award-winning novelist Helena P. Schrader offers nuanced insight into historical events and figures based on sound research and an understanding of human nature. Her complex and engaging characters bring history back to life as a means to better understand ourselves.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

“Some kind of stupid bird from Down Under.” -- An Excerpt from "Where Eagles Never Flew"


Air Vice Marshal Park got to his feet and went to the bar. Coming up behind Murray, he asked, “Is that another Kiwi I hear?”

Murray spun around, totally flabbergasted. “Sir? You’re a New Zealander?”

But the others were sputtering, “Kiwi? What’s a Kiwi?”

“Some kind of stupid bird from Down Under, I think.”

“Ugly little runt, as I remember.”

“A bird that can’t fly.”

“Well, now you have met two that can,” Park countered, his hand on Murray’s shoulder, as he turned to Murray again and asked, “So how are you getting on?”

“Food’s bad. Beer’s terrible. Weather’s bloody awful. But the Spitfire’s absolutely wizard, sir!”

“Except for the fact that it has a retractable undercarriage,” Priestman noted dryly, causing the trainees to burst into a new round of whooping laughs.

“Yes, bloody nuisance that undercarriage, sir,” Murray agreed soberly. “Couldn’t they build the thing with a sensible fixed base?” he suggested.

Park smiled faintly. “I don’t think we have time for major design changes at the moment. Now, I’m afraid I must be on my way, but maybe I’ll see one or the other of you in 11 Group one of these days.” He shook hands with each of the young pilots, one after another.

“I’m raring to go, sir,” Murray assured him, “but the skipper here,” he nodded to Priestman, “seems to think I still have a few things to learn.”

“All I ask is that you land on the wheels rather than the belly.”

Park laughed with them and then looked at each of them in the eye again. “Best of luck to all of you.”

As he started for the door, Kennel caught up with him, and Park remarked as they left the Mess together, “Keep their spirits up, George. We need them like this.” Another volley of laughter followed them out into the night, as if to underline what he meant.

Click here to see a video teaser of Where Eagles Never Flew


Friday, December 18, 2020

The Battle of Britain: Who were "the Few"?


It would be easy to assume that the vaunted RAF “team spirit” that I talked about in an earlier entry held sway because the pilots were so similar to one another. It would be easy to imagine a tiny elite like the knights of earlier centuries or the Spartan guard with Leonidas at Thermopylae. After all, this was a Britain that was still overwhelmingly white, Christian and intensely class conscious. 

Yet RAF Fighter Command was surprisingly diverse for the period. Of the nearly 3,000 RAF pilots who flew at least one sortie during the Battle of Britain, only 80% were British citizens. Twenty percent came from the Dominions and/or other Allied countries. The largest number of foreigners to participate in the Battle were Polish, accounting for 145 pilots, and the second largest foreign contingent flying for the RAF came from New Zealand with 126 pilots. Pilots also came from Canada, Czechoslovakia, Australia, Belgium, South Africa, France, the United States, Ireland, Rhodesia and Jamaica.

Even more astonishing, however, is that fully one third of the pilots who flew in the Battle of Britain were Sergeants. That is, they were not the children of privilege, not the scions of the aristocratic families or the product of “Oxbridge.” The Sergeant Pilots of the RAF were men with more mundane backgrounds, men without the ‘right accent,’ who had not gone to public schools, and sometimes had even left school at 14 or 15.  

This was because since its inception, the RAF had actively encouraged recruitment from all sectors of society, intentionally breaking with the rigidly class-conscious traditions of the Royal Navy and Army. The RAF had provided scholarships to the Royal Air Force College at Cranwell for exceptional young airmen and apprentices. It had launched a special program to encourage ground crews to receive pilot training. The RAF Volunteer Reserve was established to enable young men still in civilian life without the means to finance flying lessons to learn to fly at RAF expense. These pilots almost invariably came from the classes of society whose sons did not traditionally go to public schools, University or the Officer Corps.

In the Battle of Britain, pilots of the VR flew, drank and joked alongside the titled and privileged pilots of the University and Auxiliary Air Squadrons and the regulars, who had graduated from Cranwell. Literally, the sons of dukes and miners served in the same squadrons, fulfilling the same duties, taking the same risks, and reaping the same rewards. Most of the Sergeant Pilots of the Battle of Britain who survived were later commissioned, and often rose to senior command.

Click here to see a video teaser of Where Eagles Never Flew


Friday, December 11, 2020

"Flying is dangerous. Flying Spitfires is very dangerous.” -- An Excerpt from "Where Eagles Never Flew"


(Setting: An Operational Training Unit following a fatal accident: Early August 1940)

Kennel was waiting for him as he slipped to the ground. “The police have already found him.” Priestman just looked at Kennel, not daring to form the question. “Flew straight in at an estimated 300 miles an hour.”

“I wasn’t flying 300 miles an hour.”

“Maybe not but Acting Pilot Officer Taylor apparently was. Come back up to my office with me.” As they started across the field, the other trainee pilots clustered around. They all looked shocked and shaken. Kennel sent them away. “Stand down. There’ll be no more flying today – or lectures.”

“Is there any hope, sir?” One of the youngsters asked.

“No. He’s been found dead.” Kennel led Priestman into his office. The Adjutant handed a glass of scotch to him.

Priestman took it and sipped at the golden liquid unhappily. He didn’t know what to say.

“There will be an enquiry, of course. The Met was wrong. I shouldn’t have opened the airfield. You should have returned sooner. God knows what Acting Pilot Officer Taylor should have done – but it wasn’t to fly into a mountain at 300 mph.” He paused, sighed. “I’ll write to the next-of-kin. Can you give me all the details you have on Taylor?” This latter was addressed to the adjutant, who nodded. “Anything you can add?” Kennel asked Priestman.

“He was…” Priestman searched for words to describe a young man he had known barely a week. “… insecure. He kept trying to cover it up with bravado.”

“Do you think he’d drunk too much last night?”

“Very likely. I wasn’t with them, but they crashed in late enough.”

“We’d better talk to one or two of the others about that.”

“What does it matter now? You’re not going to put that in the letter to his next-of-kin,” Priestman added a little alarmed.

“No, but it might help with the enquiry.”

Priestman had already forgotten about that, but he supposed this would be the death knell to his career. He’d barely survived the last enquiry. They were bound to throw him out now. God help him, he’d be drafted into the Army!

His expression of foreboding was so explicit that it moved Kennel to remark, “Look, Priestman, there’s no need to look as though you expect to be hanged. We all bear a share of the blame, but things like this happen in training all the time. Flying is dangerous. Flying Spitfires is very dangerous. Give a bunch of teenage boys an extremely fast, powerful aircraft, and the instinct of half of them is to crash it one way or another. It doesn’t help that the Hun is killing, on average, three to four of our pilots every day. Fighter Command needs trained replacements, and it needs them sooner rather than later. If we close down every time conditions aren’t ideal, we’ll either not deliver enough pilots soon enough or we’ll deliver untrained pilots to the operational units – and the Huns will have even more of a field day shooting them out of the sky.”

“That’s over a hundred pilots a month,” Priestman remarked slowly, as he registered what Kennel had just said.

“And half again that many hospitalised,” Kennel added.

“You’re telling me Fighter Command casualties last month were roughly 150 pilots?” Priestman wanted confirmation. “That’s more than six full squadrons.”

“Yes, it is.”

“At that rate, it doesn’t matter how many of them we shoot down. Fighter Command will cease to exist by the end of the year.”

Kennel only shrugged in acknowledgement. They stood there in silence, and now they could hear rain pelting against the windows and the wind howling as a full gale tore down from the Irish Sea. They were all thinking the same thing: the Germans hadn’t even started their main assault yet.

Click here to see a video teaser of Where Eagles Never Flew