Helena Schrader's Historical Fiction

Dr. Helena P. Schrader is the winner of more than 20 literary accolades. For a complete list of her awards see: http://helenapschrader.com

For readers tired of clichés and cartoons, award-winning novelist Helena P. Schrader offers nuanced insight to 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, March 14, 2023

Characters of Eagles - The "Erks"

  It was not the pilots alone who won the Battle of Britain. The finest pilots in the world are useless if their aircraft are not serviceable when needed. The RAF worked hard to ensure that its pilots were supported by some of the best trained ground crews in the world and when the test came in the summer of 1940, the men on the ground did not fail. RAF ground crews serviced and repaired British fighters -- often under adverse conditions, sometimes while under attack -- day after day from dawn to dusk until the battle had been won.

"Where Eagles Never Flew" gives several "erks" a voice -- the fitters Appleby, Sanders, and Tufnel, the riggers Ripley and Fowley, and the batman Thatcher -- are all individuals who make a contribution to the novel.

Excerpt 1:

Ripley was just about to climb into the cockpit when Priestman came up alongside. He stopped. "Good morning, sir."

"Morning. Tell me, do you know LAC Tufnel well?"

Ripley and Appleby exchanged a glance before Ripley answered cautiously. "Well enough, sir."

"Any idea why he would want to desert?"

 "No, sir. Tufnel's a first-class man. One of Trenchard's brats," Ripley said firmly, his expression one of earnestness.

"Problems at home, maybe?" Priestman pressed him. 

"No, sir... But he hasn't been himself since Sanders broke his back."


"Sanders, sir," Appleby took over from his taciturn colleague, coming nearer. "He and Tufnel were at Halton together and posted here together. Sanders had an accident before you took over the squadron. He fell backwards off a Hurricane wing and broke his back. He's up in Southampton in hospital now. I heard he won't ever walk again. You might want to talk to Fowley, sir. He's Sanders' replacement."

Throughout the inter-war years, the RAF had attracted technically minded young men with an ‘apprentice’ program that provided them with extensive training at a specially established technical college. Many of these young men from humble backgrounds latter learned to fly and became "Sergeant Pilots" -- the backbone of Fighter Command in the Battle of Britain. But those that remained in their jobs as mechanics, armorers and other technicians were valued and absolutely essential to success.

The erks in "Where Eagles Never Flew" are many and varied. Appleby is ambitious, cheeky and anxious to learn to fly. Ripley in steady, taciturn and thankful he isn't in the line of fire like the pilots are. Sanders is engaged to be married. Fowley's very young and straight out of training; he's conscious of having just scraped through his exams to get his qualifications -- and is now horrified to think that he might make a mistake that could cost a man his life. 

Yet in the Battle of Britain the airfields were the front line. The Luftwaffe made a determined attempt to wipe out Fighter Command by targeting fighter stations. That meant that the erks weren't safe at all. 

Excerpt 2:

The mess had taken what appeared to be several direct hits. Between craters, the rubble, dirt and debris were thrown up in heaps. Bits and pieces of clothing, furniture, cutler and masonry were scattered about as if a giant child had thrown a tantrum. Bizarrely, some things were whole while others were in pieces. A silver trophy recording someone's success at sports lay next to a toilet seat; a framed photograph had landed atop a heap of kitchenware. Water was gushing from a broken pipe and flooding the surrounding area. A lone shoe bobbed on the water as it spread. 

When they reached the slit trench, they found that it had collapsed in on itself. That wasn't supposed to happen Appleby registered. Men with shovels were already at work, and the grey-clad legs of a WAAF were exposed -- all twisted around unnaturally. There were no shovels left, so Appleby went to work with a metal bucket. The earth wasn't packed hard -- just heavy with moisture, suffocating.

They dragged the first girl out, her hair trailing behind her, her face covered with dirt. Beneath it she was ghastly white and strangely peaceful. The next body was also a WAAF, a plump little thing, not particularly pretty, but Appleby remembered she'd worked in the kitchen and had a penetrating, high-pitched laugh that carried into the dining room. Now silenced forever, he thought swallowing, as he helped straighten out her limbs and pull her skirt down decently. One of the others took off his tunic to lay over her.

After that came almost a dozen airmen. Appleby knew them all. They worked as assistant cooks in the airman's mess and served out the meals. They were ordinary blokes. Many of them came from the same kind of background as he did -- but without the benefit of mothers who'd made them stay in school. Growing up in the slums of London, Liverpool or mining towns in the North, they were stunted and all but illiterate. At mustering, they were given the lowest skilled trades: cooks, orderlies, waiters and batmen.

Thatcher is just such a man. The product of the slums, he was undernourished as a child and he has bad teeth and bad eyes. He also dropped out of school too soon to apply for a Halton apprenticeship, and has done menial work all his life -- when he wasn't unemployed. Yet when the war comes, he doesn't wait to be called up. He has been fascinated by airplanes and now is his chance to get near them. He volunteers for the RAF. Because he not qualified for anything particular and doesn't do well on any of the aptitude tests, he is mustered for 'catering' duties, but rather than feeling insulted or demotivated, he sets out to do the absolute best he can -- and in so doing help win the war. 

Excerpt 3:

When they weren't flying, they generally stretched out in the shade of their Hurricanes and tried to sleep. Priestman had done just that when an airman crawled under the wing beside him. He opened one eye, and honestly didn't recognize the ugly little man who was shaking his arm. 

"You've got to eat something, sir," the AC1 urged.

Priestman sat up, forcing himself to focus. It was a cook from the mess. He was in his forties, with crooked yellow teeth, and he was thrusting a sandwich at him. "You 'aven't eaten all day, sir. You can't keep going on an empty stomach."

"How did you know I haven't eaten?" Priestman asked, taking the thick sandwich from the airman.

"Do you think I can't keep track of my pilots?" The AC1 asked indignantly. "You 'aven't been eating proper for two days, sir. It ain't good." The little airman was genuinely upset.  


 "This is the best book on the life of us fighter pilots in the Battle of Britain that I have ever seen.... I couldn't put it down."-- RAF Battle of Britain ace, Wing Commander Bob Doe.

Winner of a Hemingway Award for 20th Century Wartime Fiction, a Maincrest Media Award for Military Fiction and Silver in the Global Book Awards.

Find out more at: https://crossseaspress.com/where-eagles-never-flew




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 bomber pilot, his crew and the woman he loved. 

It is intended as a tribute to them all.  

Buy now on amazon

or Barnes and Noble


Disfiguring injuries, class prejudice and PTSD are the focus of three heart-wrenching tales set in WWII by award-winning novelist Helena P. Schrader. Find out more at: https://crossseaspress.com/grounded-eagles





For more information about all my books visit: https://www.helenapschrader.com



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