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 clich├ęs 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, April 25, 2023

The Characters of "Moral Fibre" - Lancaster Skipper Kit Moran

  "Moral Fibre" continues the story of Kit Moran, the hero of "Lack of Moral Fibre."

No sooner had I finished the novella "Lack of Moral Fibre," than I realized that the story had only started. The novella explained in flashbacks why the hero, Kit Moran, had refused to take part in an operation against Berlin in November 1943. The more important book was about what happened after the RAF gave him a second chance. 

And so Moral Fibre was born.

Excerpt 1:

Amanda leaned back in her chair and propped her feet on a footrest, asking Edwin to pour her a glass of port before announcing, “I quite like him. Don’t you?”

Edwin smiled faintly as he brought her her drink. “I like him very much, unfortunately.”

“Why ‘unfortunately’?” Amanda asked, startled.

“Because he’s going back to operational flying in a few months.”

Amanda started. She hadn’t given a thought to that all evening. Despite knowing him for so short a time, she did not like to think he might be killed as Don had been, before he really lived. She protested lamely, “Well, we are winning the war. Germany may well have surrendered by the end of the year.”

“We can pray for that, but I doubt Germany is going to collapse that quickly. The Germans may withdraw steadily from occupied territory, but they will dig in and defend their fatherland like the devil. If you want my opinion, as a former infantry officer, this war is going to last at least another year. What that means, my dear, is that Flying Officer Moran is almost certain to face operations again. He told me flat out that he’d volunteered for aircrew because he wanted a second chance.”

“That’s understandable.”

“Yes. But a second chance for what?”

“Presumably to prove he’s not a coward.”

“Surely a man with a Distinguished Flying Medal doesn’t need to prove that?”

“But he refused to fly—”

“I know. I know. But — well — never mind. Maybe I’m just imagining things.” Edwin waved at the air as if to chase away an unwanted thought.

“Edwin.” Amanda addressed him ominously as she brought her feet off the footrest and planted them firmly on the floor again. She fixed her gaze on her husband and insisted in a deadly serious tone, “Finish what you were about to say.”

Her husband removed his glasses and closed his eyes as he pinched the bridge of his nose. “It was just a thought,” he muttered.

“No, it wasn’t.” Amanda countered. They had been married more than twenty years, and she knew exactly what this was. “It was one of your intuitions, wasn’t it?”

“I don’t know. It was just that when he said he wanted a second chance, I thought —”

“Yes?”

“I had this horrible feeling that he believes he should have been killed instead of Don, and that he’s giving himself a second chance to die.”

As noted last week, Kit Moran asked me to write his story -- perhaps in part because he knew that I shared his love of Africa — the hot, dry savannahs, the untamed mountains, the silhouette of the acacia trees against the vivid colors of an African sunset, the irresistible rhythm of the music, and the beat of the drum demanding that you dance. He knew, too, that I had witnessed the insidious corrosion caused by corruption, the destructive power of ethnic hatred, and the eternal injustice of racism spawned by white supremacists. Kit trusted me to understand that he, although white and upper class on the surface, was not cut off from that quarter of him that was black.

Having convinced Kit that I was trustworthy and could write to his satisfaction by writing Lack of Moral Fibre, he entrusted me with telling the story of his experiences as a Lancaster skipper — and the story of his love. 

For Kit, being entrusted with the command of a Lancaster and with it the responsibility for the lives six other men was the most momentous moment of his life. As noted last week, Kit's life in the RAF started as an aircraft mechanic ("fitter" in RAF terms), but he didn't feel comfortable watching other men risk their lives while he was safe. He volunteered for aircrew in early 1942 and because of his background as a fitter was mustered as a flight engineer. In this capacity, he flew a complete tour of operations in the crew of Flight Lieutenant Donald Selkirk

Kit and Don forged a close and deep friendship. Because of his mixed blood, Kit had never been fully accepted at school in South Africa. Because he didn't go to school in England, his years as an apprentice had been awkward and he hadn't felt completely comfortable. As fitter in the RAF he finally found comradeship, but only at the price of blending in with the crowd and not being fully himself. Suddenly, with Don he had found someone who didn't care about his mixed racial heritage, yet shared values, his fears and hopes. Don, despite being the only son of a landed Scottish family, the last in a long line of military heroes, is essentially a shy young man intimidated by the expectations placed in him. Don and Kit become best friends, and with Kit's parents in Africa Don's parents "adopt" Kit and treat him as a second son. 

It is while they are flying together that the two friends encounter two girls at a dance. For Don and Georgina it is love at first sight. They have eyes for no one else and are soon engaged. But Georgina is a vicar's daughter, and Don is shy and diffident. They respect conventions and that means that they meet mostly in public venues and dating is usually as a foursome with Kit and Georgina's best friend Fiona forming the other couple.  

Kit is intrigued by the darkly handsome Fiona, but she is an "emancipated" woman who disdains traditional female roles. She wants her own career. She isn't interested in getting engaged. She rebuffs Kit before he even asks her to marry him, and when he gets posted LMF, she breaks off the relationship altogether "so he won't have false hopes." She thinks she's being "fair" and "kind." In a way she is. They weren't really suited to one another.

So when Kit volunteers to return to operations, he does so without emotional attachment to a woman. What he hadn't reckoned with was that Don's grieving fiance Georgina would turn to him for comfort, or that he would find himself falling in love with her. He doesn't really want emotional involvement at a time when he will soon be facing the flak and the fighters again, this time with responsibility for six other men, his crew.

Excerpt 2:

Kit had been through the crewing up process before, when he’d been recruited for Don Selkirk’s crew. Then, as now, he’d found the exercise absurdly informal and haphazard. The members of the course collected in a large, empty hall and were told, literally, to “sort themselves out.” They were expected to organise themselves into crews of five with one pilot, one navigator, one bomb aimer, one radio operator and an air gunner. Two additional members of the crew, the mid-upper gunner and the flight engineer, would not join until they went to a Heavy Conversion Unit (HCU) several months from now. The five men who teamed up here, however, formed the core and largely determined the character of each crew. As a flight engineer, Kit had been accepted into Don’s crew at the HCU after it had already become a close-knit and well-functioning team. It felt as if he’d been adopted by them. As a pilot, in contrast, he had the responsibility to create a crew nucleus from scratch by selecting airmen who were both competent in their respective jobs and would work together well. The best crews melded into a well-functioning team. Those that didn’t were often the first to go for a Burton.

Kit remembered the bomb aimer on Don’s crew complaining that they had less time to choose a crew than a wife. Yet, as he put it, “choose the wrong wife and you just find a skirt on the side; choose the wrong skipper and its curtains.” Don had retorted that the wrong navigator, radio operator or air gunners would be just as deadly. “All seven of us have a vital job to do, and all of our lives depend on each of us doing his well.”

Kit surveyed the chaos in front of him and wondered how he could possibly identify the right men from this horde of virtual strangers. Forrester, on the other hand, approached the process with a methodical and nearly scientific single-mindedness. For two weeks, he had been bluntly asking men about their assessments and exam scores, marking down their answers in a small, notebook. As soon as the Station Commander told them to get started, Forrester made a beeline for the Canadians. Forrester had told Kit the troublemakers were “feisty” and “aggressive,” qualities he wanted in his crew, especially for the air gunners.

Kit didn’t agree, but the bigger problem was his reluctance to choose anyone at all. Kit didn’t plan to die, but he couldn’t escape the feeling that his chances of survival were poor. Statistically, more than half the men in this room would be dead before they completed their first tour. Kit’s unease, however, extended beyond the statistics.

For one thing, Don had been the best skipper imaginable, yet he’d bought it. Clearly a pilot judged “average” had an even lower chance of making it. The odds meant Kit would need good luck, and a profound sense of having already used up more than his fair share unsettled him. He’d made it through thirty-six ops without a scratch. On the night Don was killed, the bomb aimer, navigator and radio operator had also been injured, the navigator and radio operator critically. Yet while shrapnel had torn slices through his flight jacket and burned holes in his boots, Kit remained completely unscathed. Kit didn’t think he deserved to escape injury and death more than the others. If anyone had not deserved to die, it was Don. His mother might credit his survival to a ‘guardian angel,’ but Kit thought rather he had been dicing with the devil — and the devil didn’t like to lose, not in the long run.

Of course, there was no reason to assume he would take his whole crew with him when he got the chop, but the RAF had done away with second pilots long ago. That meant that if he bought it his crew stood little chance of returning safely. The best they could hope for was to bail-out.

Standing in that echoing hall filled with eager young men chatting, laughing, gesturing and shaking hands, Kit felt like bad luck. Tapping someone on the shoulder would be like the grim reaper pointing a finger at them. On the other hand, if he approached no-one he would be left with the dregs, the men no one else wanted. The result would be a crew of misfits, further diminishing his — and their — chances of survival.

 MORAL FIBRE IS THE WINNER OF THE HEMINGWAY AWARD FOR 20TH CENTURY WARTIME FICTION

IT WAS ALSO A FINALIST FOR THE BOOK EXCELLENCE AWARD 2023

 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

 

 "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

 

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

 

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