“The survival of Britain depended on these birds” says Susan Shepherd, who along with her grandfather Bertie is asked to train their loft of homing pigeons to help the war effort in 1940 by the National Pigeon Service at their farm near Epping Forest. The skies are black every night with German aircraft, London is aglow with bombs, fires and the scent of dead bodies and the Nazis are moving across occupied France threatening invasion of England.
I had heard of homing pigeons being used in WWI but didn’t realise the importance of their role in WWII and the author knows much about the birds, how they were used and also the airplanes that were vital on both sides of the English Channel.
Meanwhile in Maine, USA, Ollie Evans is a crop-duster pilot who has given up his college course in aeronautical engineering and his girlfriend Caroline. When his parents tragically die, Ollie remembers the link with his British relatives and determines to travel and join the RAF and fight and fly for England to win the war.
After a series of incidents on his travels, including meeting the obnoxious Flight Lieutenant Boar (who is as awful as he first appears throughout the story), Ollie ends up on the farm and meets (and falls deeply in love with) Susan.
Both of them have suffered immense tragedy in their lives and lots of the characters in the novel have similar tales, but the deep bond is linked by the faithful pigeon Duchess who is a pet rather than a working homing pigeon. When she and Ollie become directly involved in the war it seems the love story will end. Can the distance from England to France keep the lovers together?
A thoroughly enjoyable read. Perhaps some of the personal backstories are slightly exaggerated but add to the dramatic effect and of course in a time of war there is so much tragedy.
I read this in the week we were commemorating the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings where thousands died in the sea and on the sandy beaches of France. Throughout those dark days of war every method that could be utilised was put into action to work for victory. So while we cast our eyes to the sea and land here in this novel our eyes must rise to the skies for hope and eventually to win against adversity.
A wonderful personal read. Book groups will love this I think and it gives pause for thought for the animals and birds that were often the unsung heroes of war too.
Philipa Coughlan 4/4
The Long Flight Home by Alan Hlad
Hodder & Stoughton 9781529311440 hbk Jun 2019