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.

Tuesday, May 24, 2022


 Few humans live in isolation, and neither do characters. Secondary characters enhance novels, particularly complex novels, by adding depth and color. Sometimes secondary characters have their own plot-lines; sometimes they simply inhabit the plot line of the central characters, adding color, texture, and added depth to the main character's actions and development. Ideally, secondary characters attract the reader enough for the reader to be emotionally invested in what happens to them, too.

The central character of Moral Fibre is a bomber pilot and bombers in the Second World War were manned by comparatively large crews. The B-17 had a crew of ten. The B-24 had either ten or eight men. The RAF's Lancasters and Halifaxes had crews of seven. 

Unlike the USAAF, which simply assigned men to a crew, the RAF relied on an informal procedure for "crewing up." Once men had qualified sufficiently in their own particular specialty (i.e. pilot, navigator, bomb aimer etc. ) to be ready for operational training, they were sent to an Operational Training Unit where men from all the trades necessary to man a bomber collected. Here the trainees were brought together in a large hall and told to "sort themselves out." This process occurred quite early on in training, usually within the first two weeks, and it lasted until every pilot had a complete crew. Thereafter, the men trained together as a crew. 

Memoirs, letters and diaries all attest to the powerful bonding that went along with serving together in the same crew. In Fighter Command, the pilots' focus was the squadron. Pilots and ground crews developed a strong identification with the unit. Socializing took place largely in the squadron or with other members of the squadron. In bomber command, the squadrons were large and evoked little loyalty. The crew, on the other hand, was everything. Yes, some crews broke up because of injuries, deaths, or incompatibility. There were instances of crews refusing to fly with a pilot, or of one member being kicked off a crew for one reason or another. But as rule, crews melded together and became an interdependent team. Not only did they fly together, they ate, drank, and played together much of the time too. Many crews kept in touch with one another after the end of the war, sometimes for decades until death separated them.

Since Moral Fibre features a Lancaster skipper, Kit Moran, his crew inherently plays an important role in the novel. They are the men Kit both depends on and for whom he is responsible. Each of them is an individual with a backstory, a character and dreams of their own. I have striven to depict them as sharply as possible and to make the reader care about them too. 

The navigator on Kit's crew, and only other commissioned officer on the crew, is Adrian Peal. The son of a wealthy and successful lawyer expected to succeed, but an artist and a dreamer at heart. He has learned to "fit in" and lose himself in a crowd, but soon realizes that with Kit he can be himself. A real friendship develops between Kit and Adrian. "Daddy" MacDonald, the Flight Engineer, is the oldest member of the crew at 35. He's worked his way up through the ranks, and he's married with two kids. He's calm, trustworthy, knows his job inside out and is a rock on which Kit can rest some of his burden. The two gunners are very young and come from poor, disadvantaged backgrounds. Frank Roper is a "bolshie" with an cheeky attitude toward authority and a cocky confidence. Nigel Osgood comes from a broken home that makes him quick-tempered and pugnacious. Nigel gets into fights, causing Kit some problems, but is tough and tenacious and overall an asset to the crew. Terry, the wireless operator, who was orphaned young, is poor-sighted and introverted, yet bright, curious, and possessing inner strength. Stuart Babcock the bomb aimer, on the other hand, comes from a good home, is rather spoiled and the least mature member of the crew. The mix of these personalities makes for a unique crew with a unique blend of strengths and weaknesses, and provides almost infinite material for fleshing out the novel. 

Next week I'll look at the secondary characters that support the heroine.

Riding the icy, moonlit sky— They took the war to Hitler. 

Their chances of survival were less than fifty percent. Their average age was 21.

This is the story of just one Lancaster skipper, his crew,and the woman he loved.

It is intended as a tribute to them all. 

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 Flying Officer Kit Moran has earned his pilot’s wings, but the greatest challenges still lie ahead: crewing up and returning to operations. Things aren’t made easier by the fact that while still a flight engineer, he was posted LMF (Lacking in Moral Fibre) for refusing to fly after a raid on Berlin that killed his best friend and skipper. Nor does it help that he is in love with his dead friend’s fiancé, who is not yet ready to become romantically involved again.


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