Miss Simpson, what do you think?’ Joseph Cross asked as he pointed to the de
Havilland 60 Moth that stood proudly on the worn grass outside the barn that
served as a hanger.
Ellen wanted to hug him but
thought he might not appreciate the gesture. ‘I love it. Is it dual control?’
‘No, but it has the usual
two seats so can take a passenger.’
‘Good – I’ve got more than
enough pupils to teach. Since the government subsidy last year every Tom, Dick
and Harry wants to learn to fly.’
‘I hope you don’t expect
me to pay you any extra, young lady. I reckon you owe me far more than your
wages would have been for all the lessons and hours you’ve spent flying my
aircraft over the past five years.’
She put her hands on her
hips. ‘Giving my brothers and me lessons at your Flying Club couldn’t have been
as much as the rent you would have had to pay to use my father’s farms and
fields.’ He was about to interrupt but she continued. ‘Not forgetting the fact
that Dad bought the first aircraft and both Neil and George acted as
instructors until they joined the RAF.’
He scowled but she wasn’t
fooled for a minute. ‘The cost of one lesson is usually two pounds – the three
of you never paid a penny…’
‘Joe, I don’t want to
stand here arguing anymore. I want to take her up before it gets too hot. Are
you coming with me or can I go solo?’
‘Circuits and bumps only,
my girl, no flying off into the wild blue yonder. There are three new enquiries
to be dealt with in the office – I want you to sort those out this morning.’
The other aircraft the
flying club owned were a Swallow and a Gypsy Moth. Both were fitted with dual
controls. Joe had several clients who liked to go up on their own and pootle
about until the fuel ran out. This de Havilland had been bought to satisfy
Sidney, the ground
engineer, and the only other full-time employee, wandered out from the hanger.
‘Nice little machine, Ellie, sweet as a nut. You going to take it up for a
‘If that’s all right with
you, I’d love to. I’ll not be long – I just want to get the feel of it for
‘The bloke what brought it
said it flies like the Gypsy only a bit faster. You’ll have no problem – you’re
a natural. I remember your first solo flight when you were no more than a
Joe poked his head out of
the office. ‘No time for reminiscing, Sid, let her get on with it. Just had a
bell and we’ve got a new pupil coming in an hour.’
‘Sorry, guv, I’ll not hold
She collected her helmet
and goggles and scrambled into the cockpit. Even though the weather was warm
she needed her flying jacket on over her dungarees. It got a bit nippy at a
thousand feet above the land. After doing her pre-flight checks she taxied into
position on the grass runway and took off.
An uneventful forty-five
minutes later she landed smoothly and headed for the office to catch up with
the paperwork. The new pupil, a middle-aged bank manager, decided after a
couple of circuits of the field that he didn’t want to learn to fly after all.
As they’d only been in the air for a quarter of an hour there was no charge.
By the time her last pupil
left the airfield it was almost six o’clock. Often they had to work until it
was too dark to fly, but tonight they’d finished early. Ellen left Sid to lock
up and jumped onto her bicycle. At least in the summer Dad didn’t come in for
his tea until late so she wouldn’t have missed her meal.
She pedalled furiously
down the track, swerving instinctively around the dips and ruts, covering the
mile in record time. She skidded into the yard, sending half a dozen chickens
squawking into the air in protest, and tossed her bike against the wall.
With luck she’d have time
to wash before her parents sat down to eat. It had taken Mum months to get used
to seeing her only daughter dressed in slacks or dungarees. She might be a
farmer’s wife now, but she’d come from a grand family and had very high
The fact that Mum had been
disowned when she’d married a farmer should have softened her but instead,
according to Dad, it had made her even more determined to bring her children up
as though they were landed gentry and not the children of a farmer.
After a quick sluice in
the scullery Ellie headed to the kitchen – she was about to open the door when
she realised the voices she’d heard were coming from the seldom used front
parlour. Mum insisted on calling it the drawing room, but no one else did.
This must mean they had
guests. She looked down at her scruffy oil-stained dungarees and wondered if
she had time to nip upstairs and put on something more respectable.
Unfortunately, her mother must have heard her come in.
‘Ellen, you are very late
this evening. Had you forgotten Neil has a twenty-four hour pass?’
She was pretty sure this
was the first she’d heard of it but having her oldest brother home was a
wonderful surprise. She didn’t stop to think why this meant they were in the
parlour, and burst in.
‘Hello, little sister,
I’ve brought a chum along. Let me introduce you to Gregory Dunlop.’
Only then did she become
aware of the second RAF uniformed young man staring at her with open
admiration. He was a bit shorter than Neil, but broader in the shoulders, with
corn coloured hair and startlingly blue eyes.
‘I’m pleased to meet you,
Flying Officer Dunlop.’ She wasn’t sure if she should offer her hand as despite
her best efforts it was far from clean.
He stepped closer and held
out his and she had no option but to take it. ‘I’ve heard so much about you,
Miss Simpson, and have been pestering your brother for an invitation in order
to meet you for myself.’
His grip was firm, his
hand smoother than hers – but what caught her attention was his upper crust
accent. ‘I’m sorry to appear in my work clothes. If you don’t mind waiting a
few more minutes I’ll pop upstairs and change into something more suitable for
‘Please, don’t worry on my
account. I think you look perfectly splendid just as you are.’
He seemed reluctant to
release her hand but she pulled it away firmly. He was a very attractive man
and was obviously interested in her, but she wasn’t looking for a boyfriend.
‘Run along, Ellen, you’ve
got plenty of time to put on a frock as your father has only just come in
himself. We are having a cold collation so nothing will be spoiled by waiting
for another quarter of an hour.’
She smiled at her brother
in resignation and he winked. They both knew there was no point in arguing once
their mother had made up her mind.
She met her father in the
passageway. ‘Have you got to change as well, Ellie? She told me at lunchtime
I’ve got to put on something smart.’
‘It must be because of
Neil’s friend. He certainly sounds very posh.’ She pushed open her bedroom door
and was about to go in when he replied.
‘Seems a lot of fuss for
nothing but easier to give in than put up with a week of black looks and sour
faces.’ He shook his head sadly and went into the room he no longer shared with
her mother. Ellie wished her parents had a happier relationship.
If there was one thing
she’d learned, by watching the disintegration of what must once have been a
happy union, it was this: Don’t marry for love as it doesn’t last. If she ever
took the plunge it would be with a man she respected, liked and who shared her
outlook on life.
Her mother had told her to
put on a frock but she rebelled. She didn’t wish to impress their visitor so
would come down in what she usually wore – slacks and blouse. The only time she
put on a frock was when she was forced to attend church. Most Sundays she had
the excuse that she had to work at the airfield.
She checked her face was
oil free and ran a brush through her hair. Satisfied she was presentable she
hurried downstairs eager to catch up on Neil’s news. George, her other brother,
hadn’t been home since January and she was desperate to hear how he was doing.
Her mother pursed her lips
when Ellie came in. ‘Is your father coming, Ellen?’
‘I don’t know, Mum, but I
don’t think he’ll be long.’ She joined her brother by the open window, leaving
his friend to entertain her mother.
‘I wish you wouldn’t
deliberately provoke her, Ellie. Why won’t you call her Mother? You know how
much she dislikes being called Mum, especially in front of strangers.’
She shrugged. ‘Whatever
she was in the past, now she’s just a farmer’s wife. Have you finished your
He grinned and pointed to
the wings on his uniform. ‘I have, didn’t you see these? George is still in
Scotland – seems he pranged a Moth and needs longer up there.’
‘He obviously didn’t hurt
himself or you wouldn’t be so jolly. Do you know where you’re going to be
Their conversation was
interrupted by the arrival of her father looking uncomfortable in a collar and
tie. After he was introduced to the guest her mother clapped her hands as if
wishing to attract the attention of a crowd of children.
‘We shall go in to dine
now that we are all here.’
Ellie hid her smile at her
mother’s pretentiousness behind her hand. Ham and salad hardly deserved such an
When her father mentioned
the likelihood of there being a war her mother insisted that this was not a
suitable topic of conversation at the dinner table. No one was particularly
interested in discussing the weather and an uneasy silence fell.
‘We’ve got another
aircraft, Dad. I took her up and…’
Her mother glared at her.
‘I’m sure that Flying Officer Dunlop doesn’t want to hear about your highly
unsuitable employment. A young lady should be interested in more feminine
things, don’t you agree, Mr Dunlop?’
The young man nodded
solemnly. ‘I’m sure that most girls would prefer to talk about fashion or
flowers but your daughter is different. I’ve never met a female pilot before
and am most impressed. How many hours solo do you have now, Miss Simpson?’
‘Please call me Ellie,
everyone else does.’
‘And you must call me
‘Well, Greg, to answer
your question, I’ve been flying since I was twelve – six years now – and got my
A licence when I was fourteen and my instructor’s certificate when I was
sixteen. I’ve logged more than twelve hundred hours now.’
‘Good God! That’s a damn
sight more than I have.’ He couldn’t fail to hear her mother’s horrified gasp.
Instead of being embarrassed he smiled at her. ‘I apologise for my appalling
language, Mrs Simpson, I do hope you will forgive me.’
‘Apology accepted. I’ll
say no more on the matter.’
He turned to Ellie. ‘I
want to hear how you manage in poor weather conditions and hope you will talk
to me before we leave tomorrow morning.’
Before she could answer
she was instructed to clear the table and fetch the dessert. Obediently she
pushed her chair back and began to collect the plates. When Greg made a move to
stand up she shook her head.
Clearing the table was a
woman’s job, as well all the other domestic duties that she did her best to
avoid. Pudding was a sherry trifle accompanied by a jug of thick, fresh cream
from their dairy herd. She placed the large glass bowl on the tray and put the
cream beside it. The ham salad, again all home-grown, had been excellent but
this would be even better.
Fenella J Miller