The Spitfire Girls Fly for Victory by Jenny Holmes
The Air Transport Auxiliary – the Atta girls amongst them – was a group of pilots who took enormous risks to deliver planes in Britain during the Second World War. This second novel featuring a group of these young women in the series by Jenny Holmes, titled for the most exciting and impressive of the planes they flew. I am confident that this book could be enjoyed as a stand alone novel as the characters develop within the story, and the plot stands largely alone. Three main characters, Jean Thorton, Bobbie Fraser and Mary Holland all featured in the first novel, and in this book they are all flying a variety of planes in different, often challenging circumstances. They also have lives that are really interesting, as romance or even just involvement have their moments. A new character, Viv Robertson, arrives to upset many apple carts; with her Canadian background and Hollywood experiences she is a very different, determined young woman.
One of the most impressive things about this book is the immense amount of research that goes into it on a technical level, as the women fly very different types of planes during the novel, each with their own advantages and challenges. So not only do the Spitfires, which are lovingly described, feature, but also the older planes or “crates” which may well have some definite dangers. This is not a textbook of their controls, fuel capacity and way they should have performed, but how they felt to fly, especially in specific conditions. The routes that the women take, which all offer their own challenges, are well described, as the incidents which may affect each fight. Not that this is an overly technical read; the women are given lives and emotions outside their duties, living in a large house with the owners appearing and those that actually work on the planes. Each character is treated with understanding, and develops throughout the narrative.
The book opens in March 1944, with the newly married Jean helping Mary to make a dress to go and visit her “Sweetheart” wearing, as Mary is nervous of making her way to meet the man that she loves. Jean and her new husband are eager to find their own house away from the official accommodation so they can be together, and the cottage comes with a lot of work. Bobbie, on the other hand,has strong memories of a sort of relationship which was disastrous, so is more hesitant about getting involved with another man. Into their established world arrives with a squeal of wheels Viv, with her borrowed sports car and her amazing confidence which partly covers her desperation to fly the planes and help in the war effort. As the book proceeds, two young men appear on the scene who challenge two of the women to rethink their attitudes to those who own the house and a local racehorse stables. When a mysterious young woman is introduced into their midst she has quite an effect on the others in the house.
This is a totally absorbing book which recounts vividly fictional accounts of the women who made a vital contribution to the war effort in delivering planes to the correct airfields. It is frank about the cost to the women who were part of the Atta ranks, the risks they ran, the way they had to have relationships affected by war. Informative but never dry, this really brings the women alive as they flew planes in circumstances their male counterparts would perhaps not risk. Each portrait is very three dimensional, with lots of depth, and altogether this is a very enthralling book.