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 30, 2023

The Characters of "Moral Fibre" - The Navigator Adrian Peal

 Moral Fibre is the story of a bomber pilot, which means 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 most important of Kit's crew was his navigator: Adrian Peal.

Before talking more about Adrian, it is important to understand that unlike the USAAF, which simply assigned men to a crew, the RAF relied on an informal procedure for "crewing up." Once men were sufficiently proficient in their own trade (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 six trades necessary to man a heavy bomber collected. Here the trainees were collected 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. 

Excerpt 1:

Standing in the 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.

Then an odd thing happened. Pilot Officer Peal walked over to him. As one of the few commissioned navigators, he and Kit had run into one another regularly at the officers' mess. Tall, blond, slender, and elegant, Peal was a film-maker's image of an RAF officer. Forrester alleged that Peal's father was a famous and successful barrister, while his mother was supposedly the daughter of a fabulously wealthy American "railway baron." Kit mistrusted rumors of this sort, but there was no question that Peal had a ready smile and an easy-going nature combined with the manners of a perfect gentleman.

"Moran?" He smiled as he approached. "Any objections to me as your navigator?"

Objections? Moran already liked the modest and soft-spoken Englishman. Furthermore, hea nd Peal had shared a couple of pints just a few days ago, during which they had discovered a common interest in buildings, Moran as a would-be civil engineer and Peal as a man with a degree in architecture. What mattered most, however, was that Moran had flown with Peal, and he was absolutely first-rate as a navigator. Peal had been precisely atop of every check point dead on time. If anyone was not a misfit or the dregs, it was Peal. If further proof was needed, Forrester had targeted Peal as the man he wanted for his crew. Moran glanced towards the Australian and, sure enough, Forrester was making his way back across the large chamber in evident haste.

Still reeling from the unexpectedness of the offer, Kit stammered uncertainly, "No, of course I have no objections. I'd be pleased to fly with you, Peal--"

Peal didn't give Kit a chance to express any reservations. He broke into a smile and held out his hand. "Shall we go by first names? I'm Adrian, in case you forgot." 

As this excerpt highlights, the navigator on Kit's crew, is the only other commissioned officer. He is the son of a wealthy and successful lawyer and was expected to follow in his father's footsteps. He has only just evaded this fate to follow his own inclinations and pursue a career in architecture. His ambitious American mother, however, expects her sons not only to excel at everything but also always be prominently successful. Her first born has never disappointed and is now a Royal Marines commando. But Adrian, the younger son, is an artist and a dreamer at heart and war poses a particular challenge to someone as sensitive as he is.
In the past, Adrian has dealt with being different from his peers and his parents expectations by trying to disguise and deny his natural inclinations. He has learned to "fit in" and lose himself in a crowd. This tactic served him well at the exclusive boys schools he attended, at university and in the years of training in the RAF.  
Yet Adrian soon discovers he can be himself with Kit and a real friendship develops. They share a room and go on leave together. Kit is introduced to Adrian's parents -- and defends him against their suspicions of "weakness." Both men feel their friendship is a rock in the storm of violence around them.

Yet nothing can adequately prepare Adrian for the reality of combat. When Adrian is temporarily "loaned" to Red Forrester (because Forrester's navigator has fallen sick), he discovers things about himself he would rather not have known -- and Kit must find a way to help his friend without degrading the combat-effectiveness of the entire crew and mission.

Excerpt 2:
[Kit] climbed down the ladder [out of the Lancaster] in [Group Captain] Fauquier's wake, parachute slung over his shoulder. Suddenly  Forrester was in front of them shouting, "Peal's a bloody coward! He froze and nearly got us all killed! If my bomb aimer hadn't taken over the navigation, we'd have drowned somewhere out there! I won't fly  another mile with him! I want him off the squadron--"

"He's my navigator, Forrester!" Moran broke into the flood of indignation. "You've got no right to--"

"Shut up, both of you!" Fauquier cut them off. "We don't discuss things like this at the top of our voices in front of the ground crew on the tarmac. Follow me."

He led them back towards the Mess, found the first empty room, and slammed the door behind them before confronting Forrester. "Now, start over again in a reasonable one of voice."

"As soon as the first burst of flak went u, Peal turned into a bag of shitless jelly, literally shaking and unable to calculate a thing. I didn't need a course for the bomb run, so I ignored him until we'd dropped our load, but when it was time to turn for home, I asked for a heading and he didn't answer me. The wireless operator tried to shake him out of his daze, but he just covered his head with his arms. My bomb aimer had to take over the navigation with the help of the wireless op. Peal's worthless, and I won't fly another mile with him."

Fauquier didn't say anything for a moment. Then, softly, he responded, "You don't have to. My navigator can fly back to Woodhall Spa with you tomorrow, and Peal can fly with me. Now go to the debriefing hut and report to the intelligence officers, but without mentioning this to them or anyone else."

Mollified, Forrester started to withdraw. As he reached the door, he paused to remark to Moran sincerely, "Sorry, Mate. I know he's become your friend, but he's a worthless coward the moment flak opens up. The sooner you get rid of him the better."

"I'll be the judge of that," Moran answered tersely.

"Suits me fine. Won't be my neck," Forrester retorted and was gone.

Fauquier said nothing for a moment or two, then he suggested, "I don't need you at the debrief, Moran. Why don't you go and find Peal? Hear what he has to say for himself and tell him he'll be flying back to Woodhall Spa with us."

"Yes, sir.  And, sir, I'm willing to fly with him no matter what."

"I thought you might feel that way. We'll see."





 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.  

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Tuesday, May 23, 2023

The Characters of "Moral Fibre" - The "Aussie" Red Forrester

 Kit Moran flew 36 operations as a flight engineer before he started operational training as a pilot. That makes him both cautious and circumspect. Yet he is forced to push himself beyond his comfort zone by the cheeky Australian "Red" Forrester, who is intent on competition.

Excerpt 1:

“Look, Red, can’t we lay this to rest?”

“What?” Forrester answered with a pretense of innocence.

“Your resentment over the fact that you got a red endorsement in your logbook on Black Friday and I didn’t.”

“Yeah, sure — if you can tell me one good reason why I got that endorsement and you didn’t! We both disobeyed orders!”

“I can’t answer that, Red. I don’t endorse the logbooks, the CO does.”

“Well, I can!” Forrester snarled. “Because you’re a Pom and I’m a Colonial, that’s why.”

Kit could identify with Forrester’s resentment. He’d been in his shoes. But he also thought Forrester was wrong. “I can understand why you feel that way, but actually I’m not as ‘Pom’ as you think I am.” He paused and then admitted, “I’m classed as coloured in South Africa.”

“What?” Forrester swung around and gawked at him.

“My grandmother was a native South African. Black.”

“Are you stiffing me?”

“No. Furthermore, I admire you for landing without a green given the circumstances in which you did it. I wish I’d had the courage to do that — and that’s precisely what I told the inquiry panel. I’ve already told you about pausing in the corkscrew and throttling back to let your rear gunner get in a good shot. I still think it’s risky, but it seems to work. I’m perfectly willing to admit you’re a more natural pilot than I am. Whether I like your crew as individuals or not, I recognize that they’re a first-rate team. Now, can we bury the hatchet?”

Forrester seemed to think about this for a moment, and then he grinned and clapped Kit on the shoulder so hard it jostled him. “You’re all right, mate!”

“No more rivalry?”

“Ah, no.” He shook his head. “I didn’t say that. I can’t stop myself. It’s just the way I am. But don’t take it wrong, mate. We can be friendly rivals.”

Red is an Australian pilot who arrives at the same Operational Training Unit as Kit Moran at the same time. They share a room, and they soon become, well, bitter rivals. Forrester is ambitious. He wants his crew to be the best in everything -- flying, bombing, gunnery, navigation. He selects a crew of like-minded individuals, who are as aggressively competitive as he is.  And when they do well at anything, they brag about it.

In the course of the novel, this sets up several situations where Moran is forced to make choices and take actions that would not otherwise have been necessary.  Forrester acts as a foil to Moran. He forces Moran to re-evaluate who he is and what he wants. He is the shadow that sets Moran into greater light. 

Excerpt 2:

About an hour later Forrester arrived and made a beeline for Kit and Adrian. “Well, if it isn’t Zulu Moran himself!” he declared in a loud voice that turned heads across the anteroom.

“That’s not—” Kit started to protest, angry with himself for confiding in Forrester about his background. Adrian caught his eye and shook his head sharply. Kit understood. If he protested, he’d only increase Forrester’s delight in this new nickname; by laughing, he rendered it harmless. So, Kit laughed and went on the offensive, “What happened to you? A girl take exception to your amorous advances?” Forrester had a black, swollen eye and a bad, jagged cut on his chin.

“Had to teach some snotty Americans a lesson,” Forrester answered grinning. “Best fight I’ve had in years. What are you drinking?”

Kit and Adrian let him buy them a round, and Forrester pulled up a chair beside Kit. “So, give me the gen on the Lanc,” he demanded.

Kit smiled and kept the tone light and bantering. “She’s not at all your type, Forrester. She’s a lady. Steady, sedate, smooth, and sophisticated.”

Forrester wasn’t offended. “Think I can’t handle a lady? I’ll bet I solo on her sooner than you do.”

“Save your money. You may need it to pay bail next time you decide to break things.”

“I’ll give you odds. If I solo first, you pay me ten bob, but if you do, I’ll pay you a whole quid.”

Kit didn’t want his reacquaintance with the Lanc rushed by the pressure of competition. He shook his head. “No, thanks. I told you before I’m not a gambling man.”

“I’ll take the bet,” Adrian offered his hand to the Australian.

Forrester shook it firmly. “Glad to see someone on Zulu’s crew has balls. Bet’s on then!”

“Your money, but for the record: it’s not getting in the air first that counts but getting back again too.”