About the book
It’s 1939 and the threat of war hangs over the country…
Flying instructor Ellie Miller has grown up a tomboy. She’s never had interest in the latest clothes or lipstick colours – her only passion is flying her beloved Tiger Moth. But when war is declared, and she is no longer be able to do what she loves most – fly.
Unless she joins the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force that is!
Given the choice to keep the home fires burning – or join the fight on the home front Ellie doesn’t have to think twice.
Joining the WAAFs she meets friends that become her family in the skies – sharing both the small daily triumphs and grief as war slowly tears both the country she loves, and her heart, apart….
Ellie buckled in and did her pre-flight checks before preparing to take off. A hefty ground engineer spun the propeller and she was ready. Reynolds was going to be very sorry indeed that he’d got into her aircraft. Her fury had been replaced by a grim determination to demonstrate just what she thought of him.
She wondered if he’d ever flown upside down – if he hadn’t, she hoped he would be suitably uncomfortable. Once they were airborne she flew until she could see the railway track which she intended to follow as it would lead her safely back to the airfield.
The clouds were low and if she was being sensible she would have remained below them, but today caution and common sense were going to be ignored. The man sitting rigidly in front of her had known he couldn’t be chucked out of the plane. However, she was going to make his journey as unpleasant as possible.
She opened the throttle and sent the aircraft speeding into the thick cloud. She continued to climb until she was in bright sunshine. The compass was between her knees and difficult to see if you weren’t experienced. She would be perfectly safe flying above the cumulous if she kept heading south south west. She peered down and a cold chill ran down her spine. The compass wasn’t working.
For a moment she froze – unable to register the catastrophe. This must have been why Reynolds hadn’t been able to return and she’d not allowed him to explain. Then she relaxed and allowed her flying experience to take over. They were on a course away from the sea so there was no chance of doing the same thing he had.
She would climb another five hundred feet and then dive as if she’d lost control. She hoped he didn’t try to interfere. As they plunged at maximum speed through the clouds she forgot her anger as the sheer joy of flying took over.
Her passenger had turned in his seat and she was delighted to see his face was white and he was yelling something at her. She laughed and allowed the aircraft to continue its apparently deadly descent until they shot out of the greyness and she throttled back, lifted the nose and sped along beneath the clouds in full control.
She recognised the countryside beneath her and adjusted her course so she was heading in the right direction again. When they arrived at the airfield she circled a couple of times allowing Greg to taxi out of the way so she could go in safely.
Sid was waiting alongside her brother and they greeted her with a wave. As soon as they were stationary she clicked her harness and jumped out – but not quickly enough. When she was unbalanced, with one foot raised, Reynolds leaned out and shoved her in the small of the back. She went sailing through the air to land painfully on hands and knees on the grass.
She scrambled up and this time had no intention of interfering if either her brother or Greg intended to thump Reynolds. She was hoisted to her feet by Neil.
‘Up you come, little sister. What did you do to yank his chain?’
Before she could answer, the nasty blighter who’d pushed her arrived at their side. ‘This bloody stupid girl did her best to kill us both.’
She ignored him and spoke to her brother. ‘I told him he’d have to find his own way home but he got into the plane anyway. I just showed him the error of his ways.’ She nodded at Sid. ‘Make sure that man pays for the extra fuel and hours before he leaves.’
Greg was waiting in the car and this time she travelled in the back and allowed her brother to take the passenger seat in the front. She was in no mood for conversation, even if she could have been heard over the noise of the engine and the sound of the air rushing by.
The car skidded to a halt outside the farmhouse and she was out before either of the others. She had no wish to discuss what had happened. No one had ever treated her so badly. She hoped Joe had the sense not to let him fly with them again.
Once she was safely in the sanctuary of her bedroom she flung herself on the slippery, satin covered eiderdown. She hadn’t removed her boots, which was a major sin in this house. She didn’t have time for such niceties – and not for the first time she wished she’d been born a boy and wasn’t hemmed in by petty restrictions.
She closed her eyes and reviewed the events of the past couple of hours. What had she learned from this experience? That not all pilots were gentlemen and some were also stupid. Greg was from the top drawer, was charming, handsome and a friend of her favourite brother – he had stood up for her. Her lips curved – had she found herself a boyfriend?
Jack Reynolds had red hair – not a favourite of hers – and was certainly not a gentleman. He had also pushed her out of the plane. Mum would be horrified if she knew what her dear daughter was thinking at this very moment.
My God! The compass hadn’t worked in the new aircraft. If she’d allowed him to get a word in edgeways he would have told her himself. This was why he’d been unable to return to land. It didn’t explain why he’d been out there in the first place but she had a horrible sinking feeling that she’d misjudged him.
She jumped off the bed and rushed downstairs to the telephone. A murmur of voices was coming from the sitting room so she would be safe to use it without being overheard.
When the operator answered she gave Joe’s number and waited to be connected. She hoped it wouldn’t be his wife who picked up the receiver. When her boss answered she dispensed with the formalities and launched immediately into her reason for ringing so late.
‘Joe, I think I might have made a dreadful mistake. Do you have a number for Mr Reynolds? I must speak to him immediately.’
She heard what she thought was a chuckle but couldn’t be sure. ‘I’ll get him – he’s staying with us – he’s my nephew.’
There was a clatter as the receiver was put down and then a lengthy pause – so long that she thought Reynolds wasn’t coming to the phone. Then there were footsteps and he was there.
‘Well, Miss Simpson, what do you want? It had better be urgent – I don’t take kindly to being disturbed at this time of the night.’
‘What were you doing over the sea?’
He gave her a brief explanation.
‘I thought it must be something like that. I want to apologise for jumping to conclusions – well to apologise for everything really. I’m afraid I have a quick temper…’
‘I apologise for assuming that because you’re a girl you couldn’t be a decent pilot.’
He didn’t say he was sorry for sending her face first into the dirt. A surge of annoyance made her forget she had rung up to put things right.
‘You should have noticed on your pre-flight check that the compass wasn’t working. I take it that was lack of experience and not stupidity.’ Hardly a conciliatory thing to say in the circumstances.
Jack bit back what he’d been about to say. His uncle thought a lot of this girl and he didn’t want to sour their relationship by f-ing and blinding at her.
‘I learned to fly ten years ago and have been working as a stunt pilot in America for the past three years.’
There was no response from the other end and for a moment he thought she’d hung up. Then she responded and sounded quite different.
‘Really? I’d love to do that but women aren’t considered good enough.’
‘A biplane like the Moth isn’t fast enough for all the stunts I did, but I could teach you a few if you’d like me to?’
Why the hell had he offered to spend time with this girl? She wasn’t his type; he went for a curvaceous blonde dame while she was tall, skinny and dark. He had enquired about joining the RAF and was told he wouldn’t hear anything for a couple of weeks so he had time to kill. He might as well spend it teaching her to loop the loop. In fact, he might actually enjoy it.
‘That would be wonderful but I’m not sure Joe would approve. Anyway, Mr Reynolds, we’re too busy to use one of the aircraft for something so frivolous. Sid, our ground engineer, only just keeps up with the running repairs as it is.’
This wasn’t the answer he’d been expecting. Calling his profession frivolous made him decide to pursue it. He wasn’t used to being turned down and this just made him more determined to get his own way.
‘Okay, your loss. Good night, Miss Simpson.’ He hung up before she had time to respond and hoped his rudeness had annoyed her.
When he rejoined his uncle and aunt in the front room he’d already come up with a scheme that would further his plans. ‘Uncle Joe, your Miss Simpson says you’re run off your feet. How about I give you a hand until I leave? I’ve got my instructor’s certificate and am also a qualified ground engineer.’
‘I didn’t like to ask, lad, but your help would be appreciated. Mind you, the way things are going in Europe I reckon there’ll be a war before long and then everything will change.’
‘That’s why I came back – I didn’t want to be stranded on the other side of the Atlantic and not able to do my bit. I’m going to volunteer as they’ll be taking as many suitable young men as they can find when it starts. You wouldn’t believe the rigmarole I went through. They checked my logbook from cover to cover and if they weren’t desperate for qualified pilots I don’t reckon they’d take me. I’m not officer material.’
‘Whatever do you mean, Jack? Why wouldn’t they want you in the RAF?’ His aunt seemed really upset that he might have been slighted by the toffee-nosed blokes who’d interviewed him.
‘I don’t have the proper education. Remember I left school without qualifications and Uncle Joe was my instructor, not some posh geezer. If you hadn’t given me the chance I’d be working in a factory and never had the opportunity to do what I did in the States.’
‘I promised my sister I’d take care of you, lad, and was glad to do so. Joan and I weren’t blessed with kiddies of our own and we think of you as a son. Nothing’s too good for you, Jack.’
They were right – they were the only family he had. ‘Thank you, both of you. I’ll not let you down. Now, tell me about this Ellen Simpson. I’ve never met a female pilot before – it’s not the sort of thing you think a girl would be interested in.’
His uncle explained how the girl had become part of his business, and the more he heard about the family the more intrigued he was. ‘From what you’ve said, Uncle Joe, Glebe Farm is one of the biggest in the area and her old man isn’t short of a bob or two. He isn’t top drawer but must be wealthy or he couldn’t have afforded to send his children to those schools you mentioned.’
‘Fred Simpson has plenty of cash tucked away. He could buy a grand house if he wanted and mix with the rich folk, which would please his missus. However, he’s not like that and that’s been a bone of contention between them ever since they were married.’
‘I’d like to talk to the two RAF blokes before they go back – any idea how much leave they’ve got?’
‘Neil Simpson said they have to be back at base tomorrow evening so you should have plenty of time for a natter before they leave. Don’t know much about the other chap, but if he is a friend of Neil’s, he’s all right by me.’
About the author
Fenella Jane Miller was born in the Isle of Man. Her father was a Yorkshire man and her mother the daughter of a Rajah. She has worked as a nanny, cleaner, field worker, hotelier, chef, secondary and primary teacher and is now a full time writer.
She has over thirty eight Regency romantic adventures published plus four Jane Austen variations, three Victorian sagas and seven WW2 family sagas. She lives in a pretty, riverside village in Essex with her husband and British Shorthair kitten. She has two adult children and three grandchildren.