By Simon Brading
With volume 5 of the Misfit Squadron series, "The Maltese Defence" just published, work is already well under way on volume 6, "Tales from the Second Great War" which is a collection of short stories.
In the first of the stories (spoiler free!) we find out more about a character who was introduced in Volume 2, The Russian Resistance.
Exclusively on the Sea Lion Press Magazine, Simon Brading is serialising his latest story: "England Expects: September 1940"
14th September 1940
Eight replacement pilots arrived at dawn the next morning, bleary eyed with the early hour but looking ever so keen. They were fresh out of flight training school and everything about them, from their impeccable uniforms, to their new kitbags, to their unwrinkled flight gear just shouted inexperienced. They went in to see Brice, who assigned four each to 92 and 72 Squadrons, then sent them out to their respective dispersal huts.
For some reason, the Prussians seemed to be having a bit of a lie in that morning, so Brice told the squadron commanders to get the new pilots up in the air and run them through their paces. There were two young women among the four pilots assigned to 92 - Helen Steward and Jane Easton - and Chastity wasn’t at all surprised when she was perfunctorily introduced to them by Aviator Lieutenant Jones, in temporary command of the drastically reduced squadron, then ordered out of her comfy deckchair and told to take them up.
As they walked over to the line of Spitsteams, the two pilots only had eyes for the aircraft, looking to see which one was “theirs”. Chastity, though, only had eyes for them.
They were desperately fresh-faced and didn’t look like they were old enough to be out of school, let alone on the point of going up to take on the might of the Fliegertruppe - one of them even had freckles for heaven’s sake!
She shared a look with Tom Dawkins, the Aviator Sergeant in charge of the ground crew, then nodded in the direction of the aircraft, many of which were brand new, having been ferried in overnight from the factories. ‘This is Easton and Steward, Tom, which ones do you have for them?’
The grizzled veteran of the First Great War looked the two new pilots up and down and sniffed, then turned to point at the two Spitsteams next to hers with a hand covered with burn scars. ‘Easton’s got Nightingale and Steward’s got Gladstone.’ He looked back at the women and all but growled at them. ‘Don’t you dare put even a single scratch on my birds!’ He scowled at them and when they looked away, frightened, he winked at Chastity and mouthed good luck, before stalking away to organise the crews getting the Spitsteams ready.
As soon as Dawkins had gone, the two pilots grinned and hurried towards their aircraft.
‘Oi! Did I tell you you could go to your machines? Get your arses back here!’ Chastity called them back and was dismayed when the two meekly obeyed her as if they were children, despite them both having gone through Officer Orientation College and outranking her.
They stood in front of her, waiting expectantly, barely able to stay still with the desire to jump into their Spitsteams and get into the air. She understood how they felt; once upon a time she had been exactly like them, but those days were long gone, left behind in the years between the wars, when going up in an aircraft didn’t mean risking a meeting with a Flea, followed quickly by a handshake from the Dark Scythesman.
She looked at Easton. She was the youngest looking of the two, a thin waif who looked more like she was twelve than the eighteen or nineteen that she had to be. ‘How many hours in Spits?’
‘Don’t call me, ma’am, please, ma’am; I have to work for a living.’ She turned to Steward, who she could only describe as an English Rose and who would be eaten alive by the male pilots if they got the chance. ‘You?’
‘Eight, ma...uh..., Sergeant.’
Chastity grimaced. With so few hours under their belts on Spits they wouldn’t know how hard they could push their machine before it broke, nor would they know any of the tricks which would help them survive when they had an MU9 on their tail. But at least they wouldn’t crash on landing. ‘Well, this morning we’re going to add at least one to that. We’re going to run through some basic aerobatics first, then you’ll try to follow me as I take you through some more complicated stuff. If that goes well, then we’ll finish with a few mock dogfights. Got that?’
The two pilots nodded, grinning, still far too eager for her liking.
‘How many kills do you have?’
‘Have you met the Misfits?’
The two girls spoke at once and she looked back and forth from one to the other, then sighed. ‘Oh, just shut up and get in your aircraft.’ Chastity turned away and stalked towards her own machine, Victoria. She caught Dawkins looking at her and rolled his eyes at him, but he just shook his head sadly and turned back to his work.
She knew exactly what he was thinking - new pilots like these lasted an average of two minutes in the skies of Britain.
Thankfully, the radar screens stayed empty and Chastity was able to have an uneventful flight with the two newcomers. She was able to teach them a few of the tricks that she’d learnt and was satisfied that she had done her best to prepare them for combat as best she could in the little time given her. As the day wore on, the only incidents, in fact, were a couple of raids on the south coast and a single reconnaissance aircraft, all of which were taken care of by other squadrons.
The one thing that did happened was that the report on the previous day’s raids came in. Incredibly, unbelievably even, while the three raids the normal RAC squadrons had escorted had failed to do any meaningful damage, the two bomber groups shepherded by the Misfits had destroyed hundreds of invasion barges, while the Misfits themselves had shot down in the region of forty aircraft.
While most of the squadron ate up the news and downed many a drink to the Misfits in the mess that evening, Charity immediately dismissed it as more propaganda; there couldn’t be such a disparity between the raids carried out by the Misfits and the rest of the RAC, it was impossible.
Perhaps that was why they had been the only escorts for the two raids; most of the bomber crews would have been too busy just trying to survive to witness the actual results of their efforts.
Simon Brading is the author of the Misfit Squadron series: The Battle over Britain, The Russian Resistance, A Misfit Midwinter, The Lion and The Baron, and The Maltese Defence, available from Sea Lion Press.