Winging it to War - Valerie Mendes
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Winging it to War

When I wrote and published Larkswood my young hero – a gardener called Thomas Saunders – had no voice of his own. He is seen through the eyes of Louisa Hamilton who grows to love him during her stay in the house. When the threat of war begins to loom, Louisa knows that Thomas, who has always longed to fly, will immediately volunteer to join the RAF as a very young, and very naïve, fighter boy.

The story of the Tiger Moth planes, which became essential in the training of every pilot who qualified for serious battle, is today well known and well told. The plane itself, a two-seater with a powerful engine, haunted our skies not only for the entire length of the war, but can still be seen flying today by those who adore the machine for its own sake.

In Flight of the Lark, my sequel to Larkswood, I give Thomas his own voice, often in the letters he writes to Louisa from the various secret locations in which he both trains and then qualifies. In one of these letters he writes her Winging it to War.

I have added here my dedication to Dilip Sarkar MBE, who has written so brilliantly about the men who gave their lives to save others during the war. In their letters home these men, who woke every morning to yet another day of bravery, dedication and probable sacrifice, were able to confide their fears, their ambitions – and their hope that they would, one day, be freed of the nightmares of battle and allowed to return once again, exhausted but triumphant, to those they loved.


Winging it to War

For Dilip Sarkar MBE on New Year’s Day 2022

The skies are dark and threaten rain –
I’ll try to fly beyond their stain
Calming my beating heart whose thud
Warns I might crash. The river’s mud
Could be my squelchy end unless
With luck and speed, our God will bless

Endeavour’s courage, honour’s bright
Promise to win my warrior’s fight.
I’ll dry the drenching of my palms
Thinking of others. Bringing alms
Instead of bombs, clearing our skies
For sunlit blue. A winner’s prize

Dangles. I stink of oil and sweat
My eyes are blinded. Can I get
Engine to roar above the fields?
Rise in the sweet dawn air to yield
Glad triumph over fear? I might.
Lend me your eyes. Keep me in sight

Pray as you watch me – still alive –
Ask that I’m careful, make me thrive
Point me to children as you walk
Safe on the earth below and talk
Of how my Tiger Moth can skim
Dipping and diving. Help me win.