Christmas with the Spitfire Girls by Jenny Holmes
This is another well written novel featuring the women of the Air Transport Auxiliary on an airfield in Yorkshire during the Second World War. This third novel in the series is set in November 1944, as hopes are high for the end of the war and several of the characters are looking forward to Christmas. Although this is a book in the series, I feel confident that it could be enjoyed as a standalone novel, as the characters are introduced and some of the backstory is included as necessary. In this novel three of the young women are featured: Bobbie, Viv and Mary. A new pilot is introduced, the highly experienced and well known First Officer Peggy Ibbotson, who arrives to fly planes even though she has been training pilots. This book, like the earlier novels in the series, is excellent on the risks that the women face, as transporting the planes involves flying without radios, in planes that often need repair, at the mercy of weather and changing local conditions. It is also known that sometimes enemy planes attack the transport pilots, which makes them extremely vulnerable. This is a very tense novel with twists and turns both on the ground and in the air. I found it an immensely fascinating novel, full of human interest in terms of the perceived dangers and hints of romance and intrigue.
Bobbie has moved on from the traumas of the past, and is now a senior officer. While she enjoys flying, like the other girls she has an special affection for the well designed Spitfire. She is keen to help organise a Christmas event, a dance, despite the tricky moments she endures at the dance that occurs at the start of the book. She admits to being very fond of Ray, who runs a local racehorse stables. Not that the course of their relationship will run smoothly; decisions will have to be made. Mary is deeply in love with Cameron, and commitment may well be demanded. However, she has other concerns, as she worries about her younger brother who is fighting abroad. Viv, the lively, brave and talented Canadian pilot, is not so committed to a man, but is completely determined to ensure that the Christmas celebrations proceed as planned. Meanwhile, the pilots are flying planes against a background of their own fears, especially as some of their loved ones are flying actual combat missions. As relationships can be made more tense by fear, there are also pressures from family and friends.
This is a book which demands to be read once started, as each of the characters is drawn in a consistent manner as the overall story develops. The research into what it feels like to fly a variety of planes in several different conditions is understated but effective. The emotional pressures on the women and those whom they love is well described, especially in the community of the airfield with the various ground crew and other ranks who are all dedicated to getting the maximum number of planes in the air to help the war effort. This is a powerful book on the bravery of the women and men connected with the airfield, the technical requirements of flying and the desperate hope that the war will soon be over before more losses must be faced. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys the vivid depiction of wartime conditions, the lives of women in wartime, and the special circumstances of the final months of the war.