Edited to add: This will be the last excerpt from this book that you see on this blog.
This takes place not long after Francis and Ilona had met in Duxford. The disastrous allied raid on Dieppe has just taken place.
“ACW Lowe,” The Depot Sergeant found her in the garage, checking the tires of her lorry. “There’s someone to see you.”
Ilona felt a sudden cold knot of ice form in her stomach. “Yes, Sergeant Sharp, Sir.” She thrust her hands into her pockets and curled them into tight fists until her fingernails dug into her palms. She could feel her legs begin to shake as she followed the Sergeant into the office.
“Hello, Ilona.” Harry, Francis’ wingman stood by the door, twisting his cap in his hands.
She did not know how she managed to find her voice, “Harry?” She sat down, aware that the Sergeant was listening. “Is it Francis?”
Harry took the other seat. “Yes, but it’s not what you think.”
“What’s happened?” She could not bring herself to speak above a whisper and she could feel her heart hammering against her ribcage. “Something happened to him at Dieppe, didn’t it?”
“We were on bomber escort. We had just crossed the coast and the bombers were beginning their run.” He paused and took a deep breath. “We had open sky, or so we thought. Then a whole swarm of Messerschmidts fell on us from out of nowhere. We had to turn and fight, you know, to let the bombers do their job. They were all over the place, swarming like goddam wasps. Francis and I stuck together and then someone behind us said that we had bandits on our tails. Francis loves a good scrap, so he went after them. He climbed fast and put it in a turn that brought him right on the bandit’s tail … brought him down before the pilot knew what hit him. We were outnumbered and we were running low on fuel and these fighters, they were from fields close by so they had plenty of juice. We had to turn and run and one of them had Francis at six o clock. He was right beside me and he tried to climb again before they took a shot.” Harry paused and looked at his shoes. “His plane got hit. It all happened so quickly, but I did my best to stick around and see what happened. The plane was going up in flames but he got out in time. That’s what I wanted to tell you. I saw his ‘chute open so that means he got out of there in one piece.”
“Are you sure?”
“I’d be willing to bet that he’s been picked up by the French Resistance by now and they’ll get him out.”
She stared at him, trying to take it all in. “How can you be sure?”
He shrugged. “I can’t, at the moment, but someone will get the word to us and as soon as I hear anything. I’ll let you know, I promise. I have to, because Francis would have my balls on a plate if I didn’t tell you.”
Harry offered her a weak smile, “Most definitely.”
Her hands were in a knot and her palms hurt from where her nails had dug into them. She was trying to be brave and trying not to cry but all she could think about was standing in the dusk in the middle of a country lane and the warmth of him