This will be my last newsletter of 2018, and as we move toward the end of the year, for me the more public side of publishing a novel is ramping up. At time of writing, the book tour to accompany the launch of THE AMERICAN AGENT and WHAT WOULD MAISIE DO? is almost finalized, and will be on my website soon. The books will be published at roughly the same time on both sides of the Atlantic and in Australasia and other points across the globe, so there's always a lot to do. Instead of working away on my own, this is the point in my year when I become a more active member of the publishing team, ready to answer questions, make decisions about various promotion plans, and—more recently—how I will travel. Ever since I had a really bad ear infection last February, flying has been even more of a pain, so this year I'll be on a train wherever possible. I don't mind—I like trains!
That's me with my dear friend and travel buddy, Corinne—about to board the Rocky Mountaineer in Vancouver for our trip in September.
There's one anniversary I have not yet written about in my newsletters, or on my Facebook page, and that is this year's 100th anniversary of the Royal Air Force. Prior to 1918, what became the RAF was known as the "Royal Flying Corps." The emerging power of aerial warfare demanded a more streamlined approach, so the RAF was born out of the sterling reputation of those flying aces of WW1. The British army and navy also have their own air corps (and a similar arrangement exists in other countries). But 2018 is the year of the RAF.
The British have high regard—a love affair, if you will—with the "Battle of Britain Memorial Flight" (BBMF), those famous WW2 aircraft that appear at ceremonial events around the country—you can read about it here. In 2012 I was not the only person shedding a tear when a Lancaster bomber flanked by a Hawker Hurricane and a Supermarine Spitfire flew over Buckingham Palace during celebrations for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.
But as you will find out through one of the characters in THE AMERICAN AGENT, it wasn't only British pilots who flew those aircraft. Canadians, Australians, Polish—the latter flew to Britain to help fight the Luftwaffe after the fall of their country to the Nazis—and indeed Americans, all took to the skies in Spitfires and Hurricanes. Many young American aviators—commercial pilots, pilots who worked for the postal service or on farms crop dusting—traveled to Britain following the declaration of war to offer their services. They risked losing their citizenship for fighting under the flag of another country, and in her uniform. As a mark of respect for those aviators, the RAF formed the first "Eagle Squadrons" in the fall of 1940—bringing together American airmen who had been fighting with other squadrons. A number of those men had originally crossed into Canada to enlist with the Royal Canadian Air Force.
Many of those young aviators wanted to fly the Supermarine Spitfire, given its speed—it was considered the fastest aircraft in the skies. However, as much as people now consider the Battle of Britain to have been won by the Spitfire, the true workhorse of the battle was the Hawker Hurricane. If you've followed the series, you will know that Maisie Dobbs' godson, Tom Partridge, flies a Hawker Hurricane from Hawkinge Aerodrome in Kent—it was one of the airfields on the front lines during the Battle of Britain.
For every two German fighters brought down by the Spitfire, the Hurricane brought down three. The German pilots considered it a terrible thing to be brought down by the Hurricane, because it was considered an inferior aircraft to their own Messerschmitt.
Part of the discrepancy between the public's view of the Spitfire and the Hurricane was due to propaganda. The government used the sleek Spitfire—and those dashing young RAF heroes—to bolster public morale. Indeed, the British public to this day loves the Spitfire and all it stands for. Film star Ewan McGregor—whose brother was a RAF fighter pilot—made a documentary about it. And it's worth watching, as is his documentary about Bomber Command. Sadly, many battles won by Hurricanes in the war were deliberately attributed to Spitfires, all to add to the mystique of the hero—which in this case was an aircraft!
But perhaps it wasn't such a bad thing that the Hurricane was seen as the underdog. The German air force dramatically underestimated the Hurricane, resulting in many losses for the Luftwaffe and egg on Hermann Goering's face.
The power of propaganda comes to the fore in THE AMERICAN AGENT—indeed, those involved in propaganda, especially in a time of war, could be considered agents of a certain type.
Finally, in THE AMERICAN AGENT you'll be reminded of the work of Edward Murrow, the famous American "warcaster" based in Britain in WW2. Murrow brought the war into American homes long before Pearl Harbor and US entry into the war. Here's an excerpt from his Christmas broadcast from London in December 1940:
"Christmas Day began in London nearly an hour ago. The church bells did not ring at midnight. When they ring again, it will be to announce invasion. And if they ring, the British are ready. And all along the coast of this island, the observers revolve in their reclining chairs listening for the sound of German planes. The firefighters and the ambulance drivers are waiting too. The blackout stretches from Birmingham to Bethlehem, but tonight, over Britain, the skies are clear."
From family stories, I know those people who had already lost so much were singing carols in the air-raid shelters on Christmas Eve. Murrow's broadcast came just four days before one of the very worst attacks on London—December 29th, 1940.
If we are safe and with friends and family, let's give thanks for our good fortune this Holiday season. And let us hold in our hearts those who are suffering—both here at home where so many have lost their homes to fire and flood, and abroad, where war, want and terror inflict unbelievable pain. Connect with those you love over the Holiday season, even if it's just a quick message—if we sustain those connections and we have our health and a place of safety, then we've already received the very best of gifts. Who needs red ribbon and a bow on such bounty?
PS: And although they're not featured in THE AMERICAN AGENT, let us remember those women on both sides of the Atlantic who transported aircraft across oceans for men to fight the enemy. As one member of Britain's Air Transport Auxiliary commented (and she had as many hours in the Spitfire, if not more, than a good number of men), "The Spitfire was a lady in the air, but a b**ch on the ground!"
Read about THE AMERICAN AGENT