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 clichés 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.

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

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