DISCLAIMER: Bad Girls and all its characters are property of Shed Productions, division of Shed Media Group, plc. The author implies no ownership of these characters, and they are used in the stories without permission solely for entertainment and not for profit. Similarly this applies to any copyrighted fictional characters either from literature, broadcast media or film.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is a work of fiction based on historical events and composite characterizations of real people and places. For artistic purposes I used the equivalent RAF Ranks instead of the Air Transport Auxiliary's. Additionally the story blends the history of ATA which operated in the UK and Atlantic Ferry Organization (AFTERO) and Transport Command No. 45 Group. We all owe a great debt to the ATA ferry Pool pilots who contributed to aviation developments in the post war era. Nikki's aviation biography is particularly sketched on Diana Barnato Walker, M.B.E. (15 Jan 1918 - 28 April 2008). Nikki and Helen's restaurant Romano's was a 19th century London icon that sadly did not survive the Blitz. Since this is an alt-universe I used it beyond its historical accuracy for artistic reasons. It is my greatest hope the readers will remember the real sacrifice of the men and women of SOE fictionalized in this story and take time to learn about their brave contributions, as well as of the three wartime George Cross recipients: Violette Szabo, GC, M.B.E. , Odette Sansom Hallowes, GC, M.B.E. , Noor Inayat-Khan, GC, M.B.E. It remains our duty to carve their names with pride.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To karen_athome[at]yahoo.com
The Black Raven
It is ordained that the Cross shall be awarded only for acts of the greatest heroism or of the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme danger, and that the Cross may be awarded posthumously. 5th Ordinance of the Royal Warrant for the George Cross.
Why were adults always so sad? Why did they have sandwiches and tea in the afternoon when Granma's went away? Why did little girls have to play in their rooms when adults cried?
The quiet afternoon of the little girl's bedroom was shattered as a fierce battle erupted over the sweeping skies of London. Diving out of the sun a squadron of Hurricanes intercepted a treacherous wolf pack of ME 109's. Group Captain Nicola Wade sallied forth, skillfully pumping cannon rounds into the nearest Messerschmitt causing her foe's plane burst to pieces in the sky. She nimbly performed a split S maneuver to disengage from battle when the little girl answered her mother's insistent call to supper.
Strewn on the bedspread were paper dolls and die-cast airplanes momentarily forgotten as she hurried to the dining table. In the midst of the pretend Essex countryside was an old black and white photo of six women wearing flying suits and standing in front of a Lancaster Bomber and hand written on the white boarder in faded ink; Dorval 1943.
Dorval Quebec, October 1943
Fuel tankers and oil tenders lumbering around the tarmac loudly announced dawn as it broke over the misty Canadian airfield. Covered military transport trucks zigzagged amongst the planes stationed on the apron and air crews jumped from the still moving vehicles.
Three newly built Canadian Avro Lancaster Mark B X bombers were parked on a finger lane near the main hanger of the Dorval Aerodrome. The first Canadian Lancaster KB700 christened the Ruhr Express, had been flown to the UK by Squadron Leader Reginald Lane DSO DFC, and his hand-picked RCAF crew in September just as the leaves began to turn yellow in the brisk eastern autumn.
A covered transport pulled up in front of the static Lancs and a flash bulb popped like mini lightening. The disembarking crews carefully climbed down and gathered up their parachute packs and gear.
"Oi' Bloody ell' mate. Enough with Hollywood eh, we ain't bleedin movie stars you know."
"Ah come on Yvonne it isn't everyday they give us heavies to ferry."
"He's ruining my bloody night vision e' is Den, so shut it." Yvonne laid her Cockney accent on thick for the Canuck photographer. Denny just glanced at her watch and shrugged at Yvonne's odd reckoning of the time. The final pair of feet hit the ground as Yvonne stomped and flapped to keep warm, muttering about, 'bloody freezing Quebec'.
A Willys jeep with rusty brakes ground to a halt beside the truck and a tall woman with short dark hair and dressed impeccably in a dark blue flying suit stepped out. "Attention," was called crisply from the end of the line and the rank straightened.
"Morning ladies, glad to see we all made it back from leave."
Squadron Leader Nicola Wade the first woman to join the ATA Ferry Pool and first woman to fly the legendary Supermarine Spitfire. She looked down the line of her pilots and briefly glanced up behind the women to the nose of the number one Lanc. A wry smile formed on her lips as she called "at ease" and joined the five women in line.
The photographer shouted "Aetheris avidi" and the flash popped again.
"Very good work with the grease pencil Denny," Nikki gave her trademark glare to Yvonne's navigator.
On the nose of Nikki's Lanc was a drawing of wee lass wearing a tam, with her tartan skirt blown violently askew. Below the lovely figure in hand written script was Up Yer's.
Denny had the poise to look abashed then broke into a big grin.
Nikki saw the look on Flight Lieutenant Silvia Hollamby's face change and cut her off before her dour opinion could ruin the perfectly good start to her morning.
"Lady Hollamby. Let me say it for you. I think you will find it is nothing less than would be painted there permanently by a deserving crew in the UK, and besides I am rather fond of the rendering of the Tam."
Yvonne bent double laughing as Silvia sputtered. "Yes ma'am."
Silvia was titled by marriage. Nikki was the Squadron Leader and as such her status of commanding officer demanded a modicum of respect, even though Silvia felt the younger woman in no way deserved it. Then there was the matter of women like her navigator Michelle, constantly piping up to offer her two-penneth.
"Eh miss, innit better we get these birds to London fast so they can use 'em to bomb the tits off jerry?" She winked at Denny." 'En I can get on with shaggin me boyfriend yeh."
Silvia grabbed her uncouth navigator by the parachute straps and dragged her toward her Lanc. "I should take a bar of soap to that mouth of yours young lady. Now get about your pre-flight walk around or I'll have you on report."
Denny got the last word in shouting after Shell she'd see 'er on the threes, as Yvonne and her double timed to the last Lanc down the line. "Smart-arse how do you know Nikki will choose line abreast?"
"Dunno Von, it looks better and she can't lose Silv that way."
"Oi', get up there kid."
With the last photos for posterity taken care of, Nikki turned to the quietest woman in the group. "Hurry up doll or we'll be late for tea at Buckingham Palace."
The cute red head slung her parachute pack over her shoulder. "Well then, we don't want to disappoint Michelle do we."
"The cheek, come on Walker we have a plane to deliver."
The cockpit of a Lancaster was fitted with only a pilot's seat. To the right was a passage forward to the nose and a simple fold down jump seat for the flight engineer to occupy as copilot during takeoff. Behind the pilot was a table for the flight engineer to work from during flight. A Lancaster crew was additionally comprised of a bomb aimer who normally occupied the nose during bombing runs and who operated the forward gun turret. A radio operator working aft of the navigator's curtained station, a mid-gunner and a rear gunner appropriately nicknamed Arse-end Charlie rounded out the seven man crew.
Nikki fitted her parachute into the seat pan to act as a cushion, and began the process of checking her instruments and control surfaces. The transatlantic journey of "heavies" as they were called held multiple hazards and would be very taxing for the two woman crews. Nikki, Yvonne and Silvia were among a hand full of women pilots to receive the extra instruction and be checked out on four engine aircraft. Their navigators were also trained flight engineers and all of them would be knackered once they reached Prestwick from Gander. Nikki was very protective of her squadron. Their log books recording flying hours and types of aircraft flown were impressive as was their spotless service records were also just the way she intended them to remain.
The Lancaster's familiar and nostalgic sound came from its four Merlin engines that hummed like giant dangerous mosquitos. Even after the fatigue of the Blitz, it was rare not to see the eyes of a Brit turned upward tracking the sound of a Merlin engine in the sky. A ground crew member stood by with a fire extinguisher as Nikki opened the fuel and turned the switch on number one as the first of her engines caught with ease. She smiled for small mercies and the skill of the Victory Aircraft factory workers. Flight Lieutenant Claire Walker read out the engine pressure readings and monitored the RPM gauges. In the other cock pits engines purred to life and the planes were made ready for the first leg of the ferry crossing.
Yvonne looked out her window and yelled at Denny as she gave fuel to the number three engine and turned the switch to the on position. "Eh' Den what'd they say in the old days? Switch on."
"Right, let's get this bleedin kite in the air."
Nikki keyed her radio mic to contacted ground control for permission to join the queue for takeoff. Eight Hurricanes taxied down the runway and took off. Two Anson transports taxied out and took off. An impressive string of six Dakotas rolled out and took off one after the other.
Nikki never failed to be impressed by the thrill of takeoff. The miracle of heavier than air flight put a smile on her face every time, even in the most dangerous planes or hazardous flying conditions. The chocks were away, the ground crew cleared, she set her props to fine pitch and gave the Lanc three quarter throttles. Claire covered Nikki's throttle hand and as Nikki took full control of the yolk, she increased the aircraft to full throttle.
Once they were airborne Claire moved to the engineers table behind Nikki and studied her maps. She made a note with a pencil and checked her watch. "First mark, three hundred miles. Course bearing zero six five. Should be a milk run to Gander Nik. Can't say anything after that though."
On her mic Nikki checked in with Silvia in ferry three and Yvonne in ferry two as they formed up and set course on Claire's bearings to Gander Newfoundland. The weather briefing was good with minimal chance of icing at the altitude they were restricted to and a favorable tail wind.
"You gonna ride back there all day or are you going to come up here and keep me company. Come on, I'll tell you a story." Claire rolled her eyes. She'd heard many of Nikki's stories over pints in the mess. She double checked her safe minimum altitude chart and stowed it.
"Sure just let me give you the true air speed; two two five. Altitude eight thousand. Estimated time of arrival Gander. Sixteen hundred Zulu. At the mark set rpms to eighteen hundred for cruising at eight thousand."
Yvonne pushed her sleeve back to reveal her watch, and Denny called out the mark. "Twelve forty five Zulu. Course bearing zero six five. ETA to Gander three hours fifty five minutes." Denny looked up from her map to Yvonne.
"Cruise set at eight thousand. Two hundred indicated airspeed. Heading zero six five Luv."
Shell re-entered Silvia's cockpit with a clip board and sat in the jump seat.
"So what's the big rush to get 'ome? You gotta a hot date with Sir Bobby?"
"No dear. I just want to get you there and tucked into bed so you don't get in any trouble with those friends of yours." Silvia never passed on a chance to wag her tongue at her navigator. They had only been paired together as a crew a short time and already Silvia had found a way of getting on Shell's tits.
"I'm so glad you're lookin out for my best interests Silv. I wouldn't want to think you were denying yourself on my account." Shell returned to the navigator's table, slapping the clip board down to cross her arms and pout. She couldn't believe her bastard luck getting stuck with the posh bitch for this ferry crossing. A good part of her experience was in Mosquitos and she loved the freedom of the fastest twin engine plane on the books. She was however practical that a successful mission would be good for her promotion prospects. It was difficult coming up from where she had, but she was glad her talent with cars and speed had paid off.
Claire came forward sat beside Nikki in the jump seat. "We have a good tail wind Nik. Our current ground speed is two two five miles per hour. I'm adjusting our time of arrival minus ten minutes. ETA at Gander fifteen fifty Zulu."
"How's the weather in Gander? Are we going to be arriving early for a crack up?"
"No. Visibility at Gander is ten miles. Ceiling eight thousand. Barometer steady at thirty point one zero." Claire watched Nikki's focus expression as she held the yoke steady. "You promised a story. So tell me, how you lost your cherry." Nikki didn't even blink.
Denny putzed over the navigator's table with a ruler and pencil plotting courses on her map. Bored she clapped the pencil down and went forward to stand beside Yvonne.
"Tail wind is cutting our time to Gander; three hours twenty minutes." Yvonne was impressed by the boost. "That or Nikki's flapping her wings extra hard." Denny liked it when she could give Yvonne good news. "I Hope the crossing goes as smooth. How's she flying?"
"Nice ride. I've had better though. She does keep her nose down better than a Liberator. It must be something taking one of these out loaded on a raid."
Silvia made the strenuous effort of turning around so she could address her navigator. "So Miss Dockley where should we look for a nice man for you. Army? Navy? No there's a girl in every port with them. How about a fighter pilot, I know how about a coastal observer."
"What? A bleedin hermit in a lighthouse. Why not a dashing Senior Officer. I can pull the best in London in this uniform."
"First you'd have to trade your Wellies for high heels dear and I don't see you being able to manage it." Silvia faced back around and Shell flipped her the victory sign.
The hop to Gander was as routine as it came for a ferry crew and the three plus hours passed with ease. Nikki looked out to the distant airfield for the visual confirmation of the radio direction beacon they had been following for some time and keyed her mic.
"Gander control. Ferry one, on approach at the outer marker."
A crisp voice with a slight accent filled the cockpit. "Ferry one, winds at Gander from the northwest at five knots. Visibility ten miles ceiling eighteen thousand. You are cleared to land."
Nikki keyed her mic. "In the circuit ladies. Nice and easy, one, two, three."
A Royal Canadian Air Force traffic controller watched with binoculars, as Nikki's plane came in picture perfect and taxied down the runway. Yvonne's plane approached next.
"Ferry two on outer marker 300 feet 90 knots."
The controller picked up a hand held radio mic and keyed it to speak. "Ferry two you are cleared to land." He followed the Lancaster on visual for its touch down and taxi past the tower. Winds buffet Silvia's plane and Denny strapped into the jump seat as Silvia contacted Gander control keying her mic.
"Gander control ferry three, off the beam experiencing turbulence. Request a go around."
"Ferry three you are cleared for go around. No other traffic in your area. Winds holding northwest gust to 15 knots."
Silvia adjusted her air speed and pushed the yolk forward to bring the nose down and banked the aircraft left. It felt counter logical to push forward, but with the nose too far up in a turn and a plane could stall. It wasn't something she ever wanted to experience again.
Nikki watched Silvia's Lancaster as it pull up in an arcing turn over the airfield and growled. "Bloody showboating."
With the three planes safely down, ground crews chocked the wheels and scurried around dodging the arriving fuel truck. Nikki and Claire met Yvonne and Denny and waited for Silvia and Shell to walk around the nose of their plane and catch up. Nikki was off like a shot determined to get to the canteen.
"I have to find coffee girls or I'm going to be a bear later. Meet you for the weather briefing."
Shell was just as eager. "Oi. Dinner sounds good, anyone else for it?" Shell was still reluctant to use Nikki's name casually or in banter. She had only been in the squadron six months and the tall woman although fair and never unkind, remained a mysterious figure she didn't want to cross.
Denny begged off pointing to the loo, "I'll meet you all there." Silvia bunched her nose. "Well I could certainly use a cuppa." Yvonne and Claire just followed behind her in the procession of hungry stomachs.
Denny watched them disappear through the doors at other end of the hanger then headed toward the mechanic shop. A woman Corporal wearing coveralls was working alone on an engine.
"Where do they keep the brooms around here mate." The young woman saluted Denny.
"That would be Corporal Wiley ma'am, and we keep brooms in closet over there." Indicating a door over to the left.
"I think an inspection is in order corporal." They entered the closet and close the door behind them giggling.
The canteen food was good considering the privations the UK was struggling under and was largely due to the American traffic passing through on the way to the England. Nikki had a coffee cup in her hand and a blissful look on her face. Real coffee was a rare luxury back home.
Yvonne took the cow by the udder. "So girls, what shall we do about leave this go round, get a flat or stay at the barracks in Prestwick?"
"Not too much to bloody do in Prestwick. Too bad we couldn't hop down to London and get a hotel room." Claire was the official party girl of the group and no one was surprised by her whinging.
Silvia scowled at her. "You have the devil's mouth too young lady. If we get leave to London I want to visit my Bobby. So count me out."
Claire raised her coffee cup in a toast to Sir Bobby Hollamby. Silvia quirked her brow and inquired loudly, "Where's Edwina gotten to?" Yvonne just choked and sputtered her tea.
With the break for food and facilities over it was back to work for the women. It seemed the effort to be done with the war burned extra hot in Nikki and she tended to push them all along with her whether they liked it or not.
A thin RCAF Flight Sergeant spoke form the podium at the head of the room. There was a large wall map of the Atlantic behind him. Weather briefings were the most important part of the mission and none of the women thought otherwise, as they expectantly followed his report.
"Weather at Gander, seventeen hundred Zulu: No wind, barometer steady at thirty. Visibility twenty miles Ceiling twenty thousand. High cirrus clouds."
He pointed on the map to the area below Greenland. "Weather at Southern Greenland, high overcast. Winds Variable out of the Northwest. Barometer thirty point one and rising. Winds at fifteen thousand feet, twenty knots."
Nikki watched Denny take notes in her log book, Claire copy her notes onto a map with a pencil and Shell write to a small note book. The reference to Zulu invaded Nikki's thoughts and she flashed on Greenwich and a particular rose garden. As quick as the though appeared she banished it, clearing her throat.
"Conditions at Prestwick at sixteen hundred Zulu were: overcast, ceiling fifteen hundred feet, visibility one mile. Barometer thirty and falling. Forecast is for clearing by morning."
"That's not all ladies. The Americans are tracking Atlantic hurricane number four off their coast. It is need to know only. Remnants of the system are expected to wash out operations here for a couple of days. You will be stuck in Scotland for at least an extra day courtesy of hurricane number four.
Denny leaned back in her chair and whispered to Claire. "What did we do to deserve this?"
Claire winked at her. "You must live right Den."
The flight sergeant stood to attention and Nikki called "dismissed." She quickly pinched the bridge of her nose; the others being too chuffed to notice.
The RCAF Gander traffic controller watched the three Lancasters pull into formation in the dusk sky. "Gander Control to ferry one. Have a safe flight. Transferring you to Greenland control. Gander control out."
Silvia in ferry three slotted in on Nikki's port side and Yvonne in ferry two held the starboard in a line abreast formation on each other's threes. Silva's plane though designated number two seemed to always find itself bringing up the rear or drifting ahead. It was always a balance between keeping them in her pocket and safe flying separation. Transatlantic crossing was still an art credited to the navigators. Nikki was thankful she and Claire got on so well and was never surprised by the professionalism and attention to details that her navigator provided during a mission.
"I think the winds off Greenland will give us a bit of trouble. Estimated time to Prestwick eleven hours and thirty minutes. Just in time for breakfast Nik."
"You know how I get when I miss my morning coffee. Best keep me on the beam."
Claire smiled. "No problem if you tell me that story then."
"You're worse than a two year old. You've met Trisha. You know half the story already."
"Ooh Nikki. I meant you first airplane. Not your first. Not that."
"That is the other half." Nikki enjoyed taking the piss from Claire once in a while. "I met Trish at the King's Cup races. Her mother sponsored the Schneider Cup Supermarine S-6B in 1931."
"Kin'ell, are you kidding me. Patricia Harris is Lady Harris's daughter."
Nikki shrugged. "Trisha's father had an American Curtis JN 4 Flying Jenny shipped over after the war. Trish and I got our wings with the Royal Flying Club and I must say it is still a thrill to take her up."
"The Jenny or Trisha?"
Nikki winked. "Both."
Claire digressed from her impeccable public-school accent. "Kin'ell Wade. Now I'm sorry I asked."
She slipped from the cockpit. The long hours over the North Atlantic demanded focus and she respected the fact this wasn't a social jaunt. Nikki checked her instruments and did a radio check with Yvonne and Silvia. Generally the crossing was radio silent and navigation was by dead reckoning. When weather permitted Claire and the other navigators used sextants to navigate by the stars.
After the third mark Denny came forward and notified Yvonne that Silvia was not with in visual contact. The planes had encountered minimal cloud but the moon had set and the formation had been looser for night flying. Yvonne broke radio silence and hailed Nikki.
"Ferry two to ferry one, ferry three is out of visual range."
Claire moved into the observation bubble to confirm Silvia was out of formation.
She keyed her intercom, "Yvonne is about five hundred starboard. No sign of Silvia. It is dark out. She could have crept ahead of us."
Nikki was ticked. "She better bloody be out there. Claire, get a fix and log everything from here out. Ferry one to ferry two; get a fix and double check it with Claire. Log every move you make. Christ we're in the soup now."
"Two more marks Nik, and then we're there. I hope Silvia and Shell are OK."
Prestwick Scotland, UK
Prestwick Airfield on the Scottish west coast was beautiful in the morning. A single Lancaster cruised in to land on the runway, lonely as it taxied past Wellingtons, Halifaxes and Liberators static on the dispersal tarmac. An impressive variety of fighters were parked in and about the aerodrome hangers. Amongst this backdrop, were a myriad of ground activity and a constant drone of engines filling the air.
Silvia and Shell walked past a new American Liberator B-24. Shell wasn't up for the awe the huge beast inspired, so she gripped her log book and maps like death and fussed with the kit bag slung over her shoulder. Silvia looked quite pale as well.
"It must have been an instrument problem ma'am. I'll mention it to the ground Sergeant and see what he thinks." Shell's diction improved significantly in the face of the bollocking she anticipated from Nikki.
Silvia merely pushed her gloves deeper into her pockets and unzipped her flight suit a bit to release the stifle she felt coming on. She strode toward the Ferry Pool Command building where she guessed Nikki would be. At the CO's office they approached the clerk.
"You might as well hit the canteen ladies. The rest of your flight is still a half an hour out."
It seemed to be the longest half hour Shell had ever spent waiting in her life. It was alright for Lady Silvia to cock up, but she had no free passes. Years ago she might have considered slagging her way out of a situation like this, but flying in Nikki's squadron instilled pride in her now. It was time to man up.
Nikki and Yvonne's planes taxi into the dispersal area where Yvonne immediately recognized Silvia's Lanc. "Bugger her! She made it."
The Ferry Pool Command Operations Office was busy and when Nikki finally found Shell and Silvia she met them with stony silence. Nikki knocked on smartly on the CO's door and slipped in leaving the two women to stew.
The commanding officer seated at a desk, lowered a file folder. "Nicola good to see you back safe."
Nikki wasn't in the mood for pleasantry and jumped immediately to the point. "Thank you sir, if I may; I take full responsibility for the flying error."
The CO held up his hand to pause Nikki and pressed the intercom calling for Silvia and Shell. He accepted their salute and stood them all at ease.
"Flight Lieutenant Hollamby, could you please explain arriving a full half hour before your Squadron Leader?"
Her pale skin turned to ashen. "Pitot tube sir. I believe the pitot tube was giving false airspeed indication and we slipped ahead in formation when the moon set."
"Right, and Miss Dockley can you explain your errors in navigation that nearly resulted in tragedy."
Shell was fast on the game and the exaggeration of this circumstance while serious was not life threatening. "Sir, I should have made visual contact with Squadron Leader Wade's aircraft at the third mark and that error combined with failing to notify Flight Lieutenant Hollamby of visual contact gave her false confidence of her true position in formation. The error rests fully with me sir."
"I have no need to remind you ladies that errors cost lives. You are valuable members of the air service and your loss would be incalculable. Make all appropriate entries in your logs and file a detailed incident report on the instruments to the maintenance depot."
"Squadron Leader Wade, I see no reason to give permanent marks for this incident as it seems to be the culmination of an unusual set of circumstances. That will be all for now. Dismissed."
The three women saluted and left the cramped office. Silvia looked positively gray, while Shell managed a slight blush. Nikki rounded on Silvia coolly. "Silvia I found myself at fault too, but don't think I am satisfied with a minor bollocking. You could have been shot down by coastal defense or worse marauding Junkers 88's."
"Flying Officer Dockley you need to pay more attention and I should have noticed the deviation as well. Keep this incident in mind when you're a senior officer. We have to keep to a higher standard or we'll all lose out to the old boy's network."
Shell was thunderstruck by Nikki's magnanimity. Climbing down together was not something she had anticipated. "Yes ma'am, it won't happen again."
"Yes Ma'am, thank you," was as much contrition as Silvia was willing to muster.
Nikki held Silvia in a direct piercing glare. "Don't think I did anything for you Flight Lieutenant Hollamby."
"Now, if you want to get to London, double time it to the Anson hanger, dismissed."
The Air Transport Auxiliary Ferry Pool had a constant escalator operation of moving planes and personnel around the UK. The women of Nikki's squadron regrouped at an AVRO Anson with nose art of a cigarette girl named Annie. Nikki whispered "bloody hell," and announced loudly "ATTENTION."
They all snapped to military attention complete with salutes. The object of Nikki's discomfort crossed in front of them and returned their salute.
"At ease ladies, we're not in the army! Headed to London? White Waltham OK for you girls?"
Everyone but Nikki relaxed. "Yes ma'am. It's an honour to fly with you Wing Commander Harris."
"What's all this guffaw Nicola?" She shook Nikki's hand warmly. "I hope we'll have a chance to chat latter." Claire was the only one who had an inkling of why Nikki was so jumpy.
"Wing Commander Harris, may I introduce my squadron." Nikki stopped first at Claire. "My navigator Flight Lieutenant Claire Walker." They continued down the line. "Flight Lieutenant Yvonne Atkins. Flying Officer Edwina Blood. Flight Lieutenant Silvia Hollamby and Flying Officer Michelle Dockley."
"It is a pleasure to meet you ladies. Let's get this kite in the air shall we?"
The interior bulkheads of the Anson were lined with jump seats. Claire nudged Nikki and raised her eyebrow in question. "You just met Trisha's mother, Rachael Harris, the woman who has more money than God and nearly runs this whole outfit. I've only crossed paths her briefly over the last three years." Thankfully the journey to London was swift and event free as Nikki was sure any more excitement would do her head in.
Standing on the sidewalk in front of King's Cross Train Station, it wasn't as much of an argument as it was a clash of tired weary souls, as the women sorted the next few days. Black taxis whizzed by them in the busy street.
Waving her hand in a flourish Yvonne suggested anywhere around Russell Square would be perfect. "We can tube down to Leicester Square and catch a show."
Denny lit the first cigarette she'd had in ages. "Are you in for a show Shell?"
"I dunna know. I was going to ring up a friend. Otherwise ya."
Claire voiced the vote for the group. "Let's just get a room at the Hotel Russell then."
Nikki yawned. "Actually, I'll get a room separate. I'm not up for much and I think I'd enjoy a good lie in."
Silvia waved her hand in the air at the street. "I'm off then. I want to get to Brixton before tea time. I'll see you girls tomorrow night then." A hackney carriage stopped for Silvia to hop into.
They watched it speed off. Yvonne let out her breath. "Thank Christ for Sir bloody Bobby Hollamby. Cheers."
The Hotel Russell was a grand affair and if not for the war would have been well out of the women's means. Many of the hotels in London had been pressed into billet service for the war effort.
As soon as they entered the lobby Yvonne and Shell were off to find a telephone box.
"Hello Operator. I'd like to reach the mess of RAF Staplehurst, Kent Squadron 412. Yes, I can hold." She hung the phone on the hook and waited for the ring back. Shell paced beside her.
"Urry up eh, some of us got blokes too." The phone rang and Yvonne snatched it up quickly.
"Hello, Hello! Charlie?"
"No miss, this Squadron Leader Lowman. May I be of assistance?"
"Yes sir. May I speak with Batman Charlie Atkins?"
"I'm sorry, I can't connect you quite now, but I can pass a message along to him if you would like.
"Yes, thank you. Could you please tell him his missus is in London at the Hotel Russell, and for him to ring as soon as he can. Thank you very much sir."
Yvonne didn't crack. "He must be out. I got him that job after I ran a Spitfire down 'ere to that Canuck Squadron. Mess orderly ain't much, but what can a medically unfit do."
"You're up then. I hope you got better luck pullin than me." Yvonne handed the phone to Shell for her to try her friend.
Claire knocked on Nikki's door. She wasn't going to take the lie in business seriously. "Come on Nik, you need to let down too. You're wound tighter that a clock spring." The door opened and Nikki lounged against the door frame.
"I've rung a friend to meet us at Romano's on the Strand."
"Walker could you be any more cliché."
"Sod you Nikki. I don't know what all happened between you and Trisha, but I'm not going without a gin and tonic tonight and neither are you."
Black out on the Strand was awe-striking in terms of character and sheer determination to survive. Nikki knew the depth of the effort that people everywhere were making to keep England free. Here in the heart of her beloved city, on the street she'd walked many times with Trish, she drew strength from her hope.
Nikki and Claire were well taken care of in the bustling restaurant. "You know, my mother saw Vesta Tilly in here one night. I think that's how she and father knew to be so bloody minded when they found out about Trish and me." Romano's restaurant was still decorated in garish gilt mirrors and red velvet of the Victorian vaudeville era.
Claire laughed, surprised by the confession and not sure how to respond, so she simply left Nikki free to sit with the memory. "I saw her off in March and haven't heard from her since. Not that I really expected letters but still, you know."
Nikki looked vacantly out into the restaurant as internal dialogue playing in her mind. "Are you sure? I can still back out if you want me too." Nikki grabbed Trisha's lapels and crushed the stunning blonde's lips. "Don't be silly Babes, go give em hell." The memory of the train station kiss still lingered painfully close to the surface.
Claire waving to the friendly voice calling her name jogged Nikki from the doldrums.
"Claire, Claire Walker."
"Helen." The two women embraced.
"Helen Stewart I'd like to introduce you to my CO, Nicola Wade."
Nikki looked into her eyes. "Green as a glen and deep as a loch."
"Pardon?" Helen smiled at the compliment not sure if it meant was for her.
Nikki tried valiantly to halt the unmistakable tightening that spread in through her chest and her voice dropped to a husk. "Sorry, it's Nikki, please call me Nikki." Her chest ached and she drew a breath holding it briefly as the moment passed.
"Nikki it is then." Helen again flashed a smile that could tame a wild child.
Special Operations Executive
Parachute jumping from a Westland Lysander over Invernesshire from three hundred feet during daylight had been a tea and scone party compare to jumping into hostile enemy territory, in total darkness, with a hundred pounds of equipment. The only ray of happiness accompanying WAAF SOE Section Officer Patricia Harris to the ground in central France, was SOE Major Dominic McAllister; whom she was glad was along for the heavy lifting.
Snow covered ground confounded Trisha's depth perception and her feet hit harder and faster than she had anticipated, causing a jolt of pain in her heels.
"Merde, il twat."
Dominic may have blushed, but it was hard to tell in the darkness. "Trish? Do your best. Just walk it off."
The equipment canister had hit the ground nearby with a heavy thud despite the covering of snow and Trish cringed hoping every sentry in the Loire Valley hadn't woken.
They worked swiftly to retrieve their equipment and bury the evidence of their arrival as there was still a slog to the designated rendezvous point. Compound drops were required because too many teams had jumped directly into compromised networks. Operation Black Raven was critical to re-establish radio operations in Nantes and was the culmination of a year of meticulous planning and training. Armed with sten guns and backpacks loaded with gear, the two agents headed toward the town of Vihiers.
"This is it." Dominic surveyed the position at the end of a farm fence just before a bridge and found it glaringly short on cover if anything went arse up. "From now on code names only."
"Dom for the record and future reference, you can only drop the A in my name before another A, or a consonant, and never when something's mine." She paused to contemplate the one other occasion to shorten her name, "or if we've been intimate. Got it?"
"Then I take it you don't want me calling you Zan?"
"You're a horse's ass Adonis. Light us two ciggy's will yeh." Signal and counter reply were thus exchanged. The maquis melted out of the shadows and welcomed the agents to their town.
The reception committee transferred Trisha to a safe house in Nantes where she set up her activities. Her mission was radio communications, training and establishing local radio operator networks and intelligence gathering. Dominic's roll was to provide support, training and command of coordinated espionage activities in the area of the port and strategic points in the Loire Valley. Each agent had challenges setting up their networks to overcome that would test their mettle daily. The battle of nerves had begun.
The successful insertion and first transmission of the Black Raven Circuit was received by Grendon Hall wireless operator code named: Home Guard, at 0900 hours November 20th 1943.
WRNS First Officer Helen Stewart clapped her hands in victory as she received the confirmation cipher that the Raven was in the Tower. She keyed the predetermined return phrase to sign off, and then began the labourious process of logging and dispatching her first War Diary entry to her Commanding Officer Colonel Simon Stubberfield of F section.
Helen had been paired with her agent for two months previous as they learn each other's Morse code keying habits and develop the ear required to recognize the other's Morse voice. She only knew the woman she conversed with as Zandra, and the operational circuit code name would be Black Raven.
She settled into a routine of meticulous checks and counter checks as various milestones in the operation were completed. Radio contact was on prearranged days set during each transmission as well as emergency contact times if needed.
The danger of betrayal or capture loomed over every transmission and Helen regularly had nightmares involving the faceless woman who was risking so much. When she thought critically of the disruption to her sleep, she was rather grateful. It was dragging her out of the depressing numbness and grief she had felt after her fiancé Sean had been killed at El Alemain a year ago.
Late in January 1944 Colonel Stubberfield called Helen into a briefing. His office was surprisingly brighter than she had expected, but it still smelled of stale cigar smoke. The only thing missing from the tableau was a bottle of scotch and a stodgy Ministerial bureaucrat. He took her salute and directed her to have a seat.
"First Officer Stewart first let me congratulate you for your fine work in Operation Black Raven. Phase two will be beginning shortly with an intelligence misdirection regarding Pas de Calais. BBC is involved, as is Combined Operations. I can't tell you how critical it is that Black Raven be monitored closely for compromises. One whiff of irregularity and it will be out of our hands." Simon interlaced his fingers together.
"Helen, you are the most important link in going forward and I need to know you are up to the task. We are no longer in the early days. The deception must be complete."
Taken aback by Simon's candor, she wondered what was going on. "Yes sir, I see no problems on my end and to date I have had no indications to suspect the circuit is compromised. Am I to understand the field agents are not being forewarned of this operational status change sir?"
"That is correct." Helen shrunk. The implications were overwhelming and she couldn't afford to let her feelings show. "Thank you sir, I have every confidence."
She felt however like a pawn in a giant chess board with a twin soul matched in a ghost game, mirroring moves that brought them both closer to an abyss.
Nantes, France June 1st 1944
Dominic had secured an impressive network of saboteurs and the wireless transceiver operators Trisha had trained were well placed. Their operational orders had brought the two agents together only briefly, a few times in the last months. The irregular actions of Adonis's sabotage network and Zandra's communication network radio transmissions drew intensified scrutiny in the port and countryside around Nantes and the Loire Valley. Covert drops were becoming very difficult to schedule with more and more refugees in the countryside. The last received message was to prepare for a supply drop on the next new moon. Money, guns and explosives rained from the sky that night. Trisha risked attending the drop zone to acquire a replacement battery for her W/T set. Everyone knew something big was about to happen as German radio detection trucks swept the Nantes neighbourhoods with increasing frequency.
The patients to sit still and wait for the jaws of a lion to snap shut eluded Trisha. The hands of her watch had ground to a halt seeming to defy physics and caused a knot of anticipation in her stomach. The adrenaline rushing in her ears reminded her of the nights spent with Nikki nearing heaven's door then crashing over the edge like a water fall. She had read once Victoria Falls in Africa were the highest but she had no need to ever see them. She reluctantly banished the thoughts of Nikki to concentrate. At the designated time the wireless finally sprung to life in her head set, she felt every dash, every dot as her own heartbeat. Home Guard was there; her link to home, someone tangible and she could breathe. Nikki would forgive her just this once.
D-Day Operational Orders F: 80, Circuit: Black Raven, Operation: Ascension, Field Name: Adonis. Resist and harass the enemy with all haste and by all means. Primary objective: Nantes electrical pylons crossing the Loire River, Nantes-Clisson rail line, local telephone lines with the aim of interfering with enemy communications and movement. Secondary objective: Secure Nantes port from German sabotage.
Operation Ascension began five days later following the BBC broadcast launching Operation Overlord. In the days following the Normandy invasion Trisha's most dangerous work was making contact with the maquis using the letter drop boxes. Nerves frayed to the breaking point dogged her all day as she worked on the razor edge of her cover.
And not because of a betrayal, or at the lack of caution, Trish found herself in the wrong place at the wrong time. Her last key strokes to Home Guard had been "leeks for dinner babes."
Operation Music Hall
By all accounts Operation Black Raven and Ascension had been overwhelming successes. Helen began worrying when Zandra's usual transmission of troop strengths and equipment movements was missed on the prearranged time. When the predetermined emergency transmissions went without acknowledgment her heart leapt into her throat and she knew Zandra was in trouble.
Colonel Stubberfield called an emergency section meeting to try and salvage the Black Raven circuit. MI5 had a seat at the table and were ready with a counter operation. Simon didn't want to lose control to MI5 so a cat and mouse bargaining began.
"Logically I put First Officer Stewart forward as the chief shore wireless operator for Operation Music Hall. If we are to pull off ruse transmissions they have to remain sounding authentic from our end. Just as Zandra had recognizable a key voice so does Home Guard."
Helen understood the mercenary nature of the intelligence community, but was unprepared for the callous abandonment of the person who was Zandra for the idea of Zandra. There was no talk of rescue, only abstractions and calculations and past tense. When the cyanide pill was mentioned Helen excused herself to the loo and vomited. For over ten months she had idealised Zandra as well, but now the ramifications hit her that the person whose real name she didn't even know, might already be dead or in extreme peril. If she had any part to play in saving the life of her agent she had to front up now. She slipped back into the briefing room.
"Sir, if I may. Operation Black Raven has value beyond a wireless double cross. It was widely known that a far-reaching search was on for 'the' Black Raven. If German Intelligence believes an agent by that name is still covert, they may just ignore W/T O Zandra and Adonis. I suggest the window to shift the Black Raven onto say; Paris, will close shortly. The deflection of man power might just buy our operatives more time." Helen steadied her voice. "Sir, brave and desperate men can cause the most acute embarrassment to the enemy it is our duty to provide them opportunity, a strategy."
Simon thanked Helen for her impassioned speech and dismissed her. She left the room seething at the condescension, seething because she was impotent to appeal further.
The gentleman from MI5 closed his file and queried Simon. "You're quite sure she doesn't know the true identity of Zandra?"
"Yes, Section Officer Harris was deemed qualified for the operation despite risks exposure of her societal name and position might pose. As a precaution her civilian identity was need to know only to minimise her exposure to unauthorized inquiries."
Enough time had elapsed for Simon to have developed a conscience over the proposed sacrifice. "Miss Harris is meritorious of our compassion."
At precisely 15:03 hours 20th June 1944 Helen began transmitting coded messages to The Black Raven. She felt like she was in a burning building. The corridors filled with heavy smoke and behind every door a face she didn't recognize. She couldn't save Zandra but the Black Raven might.
84 Avenue Foch, Paris France
'What can't be overcome must be endured.' Which stupid twatting twat said that? She couldn't remember. The beating she had received had been brutal. Her face was bruised, swollen and bloody, and she ached all over from the boot kicking they'd laid on her. Curled in a ball on her side made it easier to breathe and not vomit. Trisha let fog drift through her to cool the pain. Nikki? They were sixteen and on the West Pier in Brighton kissing and groping each other.
Her cell door smashed open and two guards grabbed her and dragged her to the second floor. She reeled from dizziness and pain when they threw her to the floor before a waiting Gestapo Officer. He greeted her standing beside a table of captured wireless transceivers.
"Good morning, mademoiselle, how are you?"
She guessed correctly this was shock and awe treatment, and along with the beating just the beginning of the torture.
"Monsieur je ne comprends pas d'anglais."
"Comme vous souhaitez. Écoutez s'il vous plaît." He adjusted the volume of the transceiver as a message tapped out.
"I'm sure you recognize this. Of course we don't have the key codes yet but that is only a matter of time. There is one thing you could assist me with before you are transferred to my colleagues at Fresnes."
"Where is the Black Raven?"
S'il vous plaît monsieur, je suis Zandra Plackett. Je ne parle pas l'anglais."
"Yes as I thought. Adieu mademoiselle Plackett. Adieu."
Trish was packed of in a private vehicle to a prison on the outskirts of Paris.
Fresnes Prison, Paris
The welcoming Trish received by Obersturmbannführer Fenner was amicable, at least as far as he was concerned. The British spy had so far not deviated from her story, and if she really was a French national he tortured to death, then it would be of no consequence any way.
Daily questioning and physical abuse by Fenner attempted to unmake Zandra. His goal was to force her from the haven of her identity and identify the criminal British spy Black Raven.
The pain in her head was excruciating. Her teeth no longer chattered, nor was she able to shiver. She was so cold that every muscle in her body was in a complete spasm. She couldn't speak if she'd wanted to. Only the fucking Gestapo would have twatting ice in the middle of fucking summer in Paris.
Fenner looked into the glassy glare. "Hey English bitch, where do you think you're drifting off to?"
My house in Greenwich with my looker of a girlfriend you sad fuck. The silent thought caused Trish to flush with warmth. Thinking of Nikki warmed her, revived her. Nikki loved her.
Fenner could see the change and dragged her naked body out of the ice filled tub. He left her laying on the stone floor stripped with only a thin wool blanket for cover. "You look ill mademoiselle; I think it is time for you to see the Doktor."
Trisha guessed it had been about three or four weeks since her capture and little had changed in Fenner's sadistic routine. Hypothermia to the point her heart spasmed, beatings, a sexual assault, all of it was nothing. Nothing until the day Hauptsturmführer Doktor Waugh arrived in her cell.
The official Gestapo record read: 10 July, 1944 Einwohner prisoner Zandra Plackett deceased during interrogation.
On that morning 10 July, 1944 two badly beaten Frenchmen were brought into the interrogation room and forced to their knees. There would have been three men, but the reception guards had gotten carried away. Fenner stood near them pacing, gloating and watching. Trisha's one previous dealing with Dr. Waugh had not been pleasant and the theatre macabre unfolding now bore ominously in her head. One of the witnesses was Dominic.
"Mademoiselle Plackett again, who is the Black Raven? Where are your code books? Who is your commanding officer?" Fenner paced closer.
Fenner nodded and Doktor Waugh injected the vein of her immobilised right arm.
"Oui, as you wish."
A chemical as cold and as sharp as glass slid through her veins, tearing a hideous primal scream from her lips. She hoped in this, what might be her last moment, to convey to Nikki how much she loved her.
"Tell her I love her."
"Not Anglais?" Fenner laughed. He knew she had not been as she claimed. In one stride he was towering over her chair, eying the blonde. "Lesbiche! I should have known. You whore." With a practiced reflex he jammed his dress dagger in her neck and twisted. Her blood sprayed his hand and soaked into the fabric of his black uniform.
London, November 1944
Silvia sipped tea in her parlor with her husband Bobby. The small room was close and cluttered with family pictures and knickknacks.
"It's very serious business this war. I've had to keep my girl in line the whole time. I have it in mind to get her sacked from my crew for her lax behavior." She dipped a digestive biscuit in her tea. "The lot of them skiving about on the streets tonight."
"You're a good influence on those girls Silvia." Her husband's congenial smile soothed her feathers.
Denny stepped out from the lintel of a night club. Her hands were shaking as she lit a cigarette and slumped against the wall willing the tears away. Raw feelings of meeting her dad for the first time in years bubbled back. She angrily tossed the butt and headed down the sidewalk, not noticing the young men across the street walking opposite. Before she had a chance to react they'd dash across to accost her.
"Gotta light mate."
Quickly she glanced around for an out but they had surrounded. "No." She tried to break away but they grabbed her and started punching.
"Leave off, let me go." They just jeered her. "We run this street and we don't like your sort."
Denny's split lip got blood all over them they punched her once more in the gut. She dropped and they ran disappearing into the night.
From Leicester Square Shell enjoyed the stroll back to the hotel arm in arm with two Canadian airmen. Nearing the Hotel Russell which had remained the girls' favorite place to spend their leave, the revelers found Denny disheveled and crouched against a wall holding her side, smoking a cigarette.
"Denny what the hell's happened to you? Who did this?"
Den tossed the cigarette into the street and straightened herself. Her lip was cut and she had a bruise over her left eye. She wobbled and the airmen jumped to steady her between them.
"Den can you walk? Do you need a Doctor?"
"No Doc Shell. You boys mind just giving me a hand up the stairs?" The two men helped their charges get safely to the lobby. Shell saw them off, thanking them and asking if they wouldn't mind ringing her tomorrow.
Safe up in the room Denny got herself cleaned up and comfortable in bed before concern and curiosity finally overtook Shell.
"Mind telling what this is about, you gettin set on."
Denny tried to rationalise the beating. "It was me own fault for bein' a dark Soho street alone."
"I met with me dad in club. He's a mathematician at Cambridge but he's, you know, a pouf. He left mum and me. I think that's why she's a drunk and I never had any advantages. Me aunty sent word he was looking for me and tonight we got together in Soho. He was all fired up for us to have a flat and all after the war, but I don't know."
Shell understood the fragility of thinking long term.
"An I got Shazer in Gander to think about, and Yvonne wants to adopt me. So it don't look good, but I couldn't say no, cause I didn't want to disappoint him."
Shell tried to lighten the conversation up. "What you think it's like, you know, two blokes?"
Denny laughed. "You probably know more about it than me Shell with them two tonight and all."
"Them Canadians is all gentlemanly and polite. They know how to treat a girl. Bought me drinks and took me dancing. Kept theirs hands to themselves too. Not like them bloody grabby Yanks."
"Speakin of grabby. How do you think Yvonne's getting on with Charlie? Wager ya she's shagging him so raw, poor sod won't be able to walk for a week." "An 'er too." They laughed so much Denny had to stop because of her sore lip.
"Guess we'll find out tomorrow at the train station. Thanks again for helpin tonight Shell. Hope one of these days maybe it'll be different." She turned out her bedside light.
"Eh Den you need a hug over there or anythin?"
"Ya Shell that'd be nice. Come on in."
Nikki had dealt with Silvia filing reports and giving her no end of grief for months. They hadn't had a decent leave in yonks and weren't likely to again. Over cocktails with Claire in the hotel lounge, she outlined the plan to switch Denny and Shell on the next return leg to England.
Claire empathized with Nikki. "Michelle Dockley is a conscientious pilot and officer, where Silvia had continued to skate by on privilege and pastries."
"Privilege and pastry, did you just make that one up Walker?" They both laughed. Something Claire hadn't seen Nikki do in ages.
"Well you know we drew Mosquitos back to Gander. I say assign Shell to the number one seat, and then switch up the crews if you must when we bring Lancs back this way. It will feel good putting a twist in Silv's knickers and you'll get the Mossies there in one piece. After all Michelle is the best woman mosquito pilot there is."
"Good convincing Walker. You'll make a first rate Barrister."
"Shell's very good with her hands." Nikki gasped in mock horror. "I wouldn't want know. Trisha'd cut my tits off." Claire watched Nikki's face cloud.
"It's alright Claire. I know she's doing her bit and I knew she wouldn't be able to send letters or anything like that. She wouldn't have been happy flying the milk around with us. She as much as said so when I saw her off."
The little she knew of Trisha made Claire take Nikki at her word. "I'm sure she's giving the Germans hell Nik."
"What time does our train leave?" It had been a while since Trisha had come up in conversation. Claire knew Nikki was suffering terribly.
"Nineteen hundred, so I guess it better be lights out for us. I'm heading up. See you in the morning Walker."
Next day had been casual with no one really up for much. The war having ground on for so long had their spirits down and was particularly evident in the cab ride to the train station. Shell, Yvonne, and Denny met Claire and Nikki at the Euston Station ticket queue.
Yvonne was already in a mood when Silva waltzed across the marble hall. "Nice of you to show Silvia. We were worried you'd gone over the wall."
"Be a dear and get my ticket will you Von." Nikki jumped between Yvonne and Silvia to prevent blood shed.
"Enough, the two of you. Couple of sad cows, leave it." She handed Yvonne and Shell their next ferry chits and walked away. Shell stared at the paper. "Bleedin bloody 'ell. We drew Mossies an' Miss gave me one."
Nikki was done in, she slumped in the sleeper coach exhausted and took a long drag off her cigarette. Claire started to speak, then though better of nagging Nikki about the smoking. "Night Nik."
The sleeper service had been decent on the overnight to Glasgow and by the time they had arrived at Prestwick, she'd eaten and had a good cup of hot coffee. Yvonne hadn't killed Silvia in the night so Nikki's morning was looking quite cheery depending how she viewed it.
"Ok you lot listen up I have something important to brief you on. These are high performance aeroplanes with a few quirks. In trim flight they have a low stall speed of a hundred and five knots. Stall speed on normal landing approach with flaps and gear down is ninty-five knots. You'll get a stall buffet in your stick ten knots before stall speed is reached. Don't panic and don't over fly the plane. They correct fairly easily. Remember you prang it, you buy it. Now get out there and show me your stuff."
The Mosquitos were lined up ready to be ferried back to Canada for refit and modifications.
Claire yelled over the roar of the two Merlin engines directly beside them. "Two hours to Iceland. Another four plus in a twenty five knot crosswind to Gander. Then three hours to Toronto."
Nikki keyed her VHF radio mic. "Remember ladies. We are on radio silence to Iceland, except for Maydays or Pans. We are cleared to fifteen thousand feet cruising altitude, flying in formation." She flipped the radio switch to intercom and addressed Claire. "Cozy little beast isn't it?"
Like nearly every other aerodrome they landed at, planes in various states of repair or preparedness lined the runway. The ferry pilots rolled to a stop at a large hanger with a Catalina flying boat stuffed inside receiving servicing. A Sunderland parked outside dwarfed the Mosquitos as ground crews rushed to meet them. The crew hatches opened and ladders dropped to allow the flight crews to exit their planes. A fuel truck with an oil tender stopped beside Nikki's plane.
This wasn't their first time in Iceland and finding their way to the canteen and meteorology was easy as they were both in the Coastal Command building. Weather briefing was a different affair here and Claire had to retrieve the latest weather forecasts herself. An RAF clerk handed her a set of papers and she set off to canteen.
Most of the squadron was sat down to lunch and the well-deserved tea when Claire arrived to briefed the pilots. "Gander is clear but there are twenty five knot winds to fifteen thousand. We can do it, but it will be a bugger." Denny and Silvia joined the table and Claire's weather briefing became more formal and detailed.
Nikki was still relaxed from the good morning they had had and it showed. "So we go fast, and we won't get our feet wet. Anyway you'll too be busy navigating to notice me doing all the hard work. We're ok for using the radio's now, so I can't see any worries. We keep close and keep in contact."
Silvia squirmed and pulled faces until Nikki inquired after her health. "Got a cramp there Silvia?" "Yes ma'am I think I'm coming down with the squirts."
Nikki wasn't having any of it. "Silvia we are pushing on and there will be no medical leave. No way. We won't be abandoning you here. I suggest you try eating some soda crackers and finish up your tea."
As the women got up to leave Silvia caught Yvonne at the end of the line and whispered, "I think she's gone all soft for Shell. Yvonne hissed at her, "I'll give you fair warning luv, don't start that shite with Nikki or you'll have me to deal with."
"See. This is what happens when their sort are around. It turns me stomach." Yvonne hissed back. "The only derisive person amongst us is you. So shut it."
Walking to their Mosquito, Silvia goaded Shell. "Your girlfriend defended you again today." Shell's eyes turned steely. "What are you on about now Hollamby?"
Silvia pressed Shell, "As if you didn't know. Nikki Wade all hot for you."
Shell was too stunned to be amused "Look you stupid bitch, I don't know what you think I am, but I ain't. Miss Wade is just seein my potential. Something you could never be bothered to do. So sod the fuck off, and leave Nikki alone."
"Those kind of women infect the rest of us with their ways." Shell stopped and swung Silvia around to face her. "Dyke? Isn't that what you want to say Silv?" "Let me tell ya once and for all. I ain't no lezza, but if I were, I'd be bloody lucky to have her." She climbed up the hatch, wondering if Silvia would ever drop it.
Nikki's Bed Sit, Toronto
Claire and Nikki sat on the chesterfield musing about the current situation in Europe. It appeared the war would be drawing to some kind of conclusion. What kind was still a matter of concern for the Allies. The Germans had launched a late winter offensive catching the Americans off guard in the forests of Belgium.
"I honestly don't know how much more I can take Claire. I haven't heard from Trish in over a year and a half. God only knows what she's doing; it does my head in not knowing. I wish I at least knew she was ok." Claire listened silently and sipped her tea.
"Then add bloody Silvia stirring the pot. You should see the file full of ridiculous reports and frivolous nattering. We're on the same damn side and you'd never know it."
"Nikki surely you're not still contemplating transferring Michelle. A switch up this late in the program could be disastrous."
"I had thought to put you on Silvia's crew but I know I couldn't bear it if anything were to happen, and what I'm not willing to do myself, I won't ask the other crews to do either. Silvia will just have to sit with it."
"Ah Nikki have you gone all soft?"
"Wouldn't you just Walker."
"No, then it would be my tits in the wringer."
Nikki's voice flattened. "Claire, this isn't dereliction of operational duty or serious conduct violations we're talking about here. Dockley flies in this squadron on her merit. I only wish I'd busted that shiftless cow Hollamby down months ago."
"You are right Nik, give Silvia good bollocking and let her take it up with Ten Downing Street."
A week of delays and bad weather had caused the squadron to be laid over in Canada longer than expected. It looked like the Americans had regained the upper hand and the two fronts were slowly squeezing the German Army to it defeat. It looked like the war might soon be over.
Nikki received orders for a ferry of three more Lancs tentatively scheduled for mid-January 1945. The assignments were still to be sorted so she requested a review with Silvia.
"Mrs. Hollamby please take a seat."
"'Mrs.' is it now? I don't think I like the tone of this." She alit from her chair.
Nikki bellowed at her. "Sit in that chair."
"Well I never." Silvia hesitated.
"I said. Sit in that chair." Nikki rubbed the bridge of her nose. "God I wish it was electric."
Nikki paced the office. "I won't have you undermining the good order of this squadron Silvia. You are a senior officer and as such you will treat Miss Dockley with the respect she has earned. I also expect you to carry out my orders as directed."
She came to rest against the edge of her desk and leaned on it. "Silvia, I have never once thrown my personal life in your face, nor have I made any inappropriate command decisions based upon it. How you got it in your head to be bothered about it is beyond me. I can only guess it is misplaced jealousy."
Nikki sat up stock straight. "Have I not suffered the same privations as you during this bloody war?" She bore Silvia directly in the eyes. "This is the end of it or I will have you transferred out. Do I make myself clear?" Nikki placed particular vocal emphasis on her last sentence.
"Yes ma'am. Am I dismissed?"
"You are. See to your duties Flight Lieutenant Hollamby."
54.92, -25.00 Derrynacross Reception, North Atlantic
Yvonne wasn't superstitious and didn't believe in luck. She made her own way every day, but picture perfect crossings were disasters waiting to happen. They had just squawked the final mark for Derrynacross Reception in Northern Ireland when a German Junkers 88 happened upon the unarmed ferry squadron.
Through his cockpit canopy, a Luftwaffe pilot sized up the three Lancasters flying abreast below him. He looked around the sky, empty above and cloudy below.
"Sitzende enten! Quack. Quack!"
He pushed his yolk forward and turned the wheel right into a heading intersecting the first Lancaster. Through the forward gun sights he lined the crosshairs of his machine guns on the broad back of the closest Lancaster and fired.
"Holy Shit Silvia what's that?" The plane shuddered and shook violently to the sound of bullets pinging off metal. Shell scrambled up front to find Silvia slumped over the controls unconscious and bleeding. She struggled to pull the heavy woman free of her seat as the plane plunged into a corkscrew dive to the right.
"You would have to be a big bloody one." The centrifugal force assisting her to shift Silvia would soon tear apart the plane if she didn't regain control quickly.
The attack continued across the formation as Shell called out the Mayday. Nikki's plane was exposed after Shell fell out of formation on her port wing. Nikki rolled out left as the rear gunner's bullets tore through her right wing and engines. Nikki keyed her mic screaming for Yvonne to go for the deck as her right inboard engine burst into flames.
A hail of rounds sliced through Yvonne's cockpit exploding the instrument panel and spraying her face with glass and shrapnel.
Fire was visible in ferry one's starboard inboard engine beside the cockpit, "SHIT! Claire hit the fire suppressor."
Nikki jammed the yolk forward as hard as she could and pushed them into a steep dive, hoping the flames snuffed out instead of fanning as they attempted to escape.
Shell's voice filled their headsets. "Ferry one where are you? Ferry three is flying level at a thousand feet. Silv's all shot up." Her plane was flying fast and low over the ocean streaming hydraulic fluid. The controls shudder violently. On her own Shell pushed the throttles forward to gain speed and altitude to make it over the coast.
"Ferry three stay on your present heading. I'm above, and I think behind you."
Nikki frantically hailed ferry two while cockpit alarms blared at her. "Yvonne what is your status?"
"Claire what is going on with those engines? Can you still see flames?"
Yvonne and Denny had managed to get into reasonable trim. Yvonne was bleeding badly and couldn't see so good and most of the instrument panel was useless so it didn't matter much. Yvonne's gravel filled cockney accent called out.
"Ferry one. I have all my engines and I think the controls are ok. My instruments are a mess. About all I have is my compass. I can't see bugger all cause I have glass in my eyes. Did Silvia make it?"
"Ferry two, ferry three is on the deck and good for now. I've got flames in one, possibly two engines. Get down ASAP Yvonne and get Denny to land it."
Nikki turned her attention back to Claire. "How are my engines?"
"Starboard: No flames. A line of big holes across the wing. Port: No flames more holes and the inboard engine cowling is hanging on by threads."
"OK Claire. We need a course now. Get us to Prestwick fast."
"Turn to heading zero six five east; airspeed one nine five, altimeter two thousand feet."
"Ferry one to ferry three. Shell can you say how Silvia is. Can you make it to Prestwick?"
Silva was unconscious and it looked grim. "Ferry one, I'm bleeding hydraulic oil and I just barely made the coastal cliffs. I should be able to limp it in." The plane shuddered again.
"Silvia's still out. Something must have hit her in the head."
With her squadron accounted for Nikki radioed Prestwick Control.
"Prestwick Approach, Ferry one MADAY, MADAY, MADAY."
"Ferry one, say the nature of your Mayday."
"Ferry one, two and three under attack in the North Channel."
"Ferry one. Copy you are advising of hostile activity. Land at Prestwick using designated Very Signal procedures. No alternates available at this time. Prestwick out."
"Ferry two and three do you copy. Follow emergency procedures using Very Signals and Aldis lamps. Maintain radio silence. Good Luck. Out."
"Nikki, we have no idea where Silvia and Denny are. Who's going to land first?"
"Yvonne is the worst off right now. We get them in and hope Shell is ok."
Nikki finally had a visual on Yvonne and Denny. She steadily crept level beside them so Claire could use the lamp and send Denny into land first. Get the Very flares ready for emergency landing.
"Is Denny going to be ok Nik? She's never landed one before."
"First time for everything. I have a visual on Prestwick. Fire the Red Very signal Claire."
"Signal from Prestwick control clear to land."
Denny put it down on the button and got off the taxi way quickly.
Nikki called for their signal flare when Claire spotted the wave off flare.
"Nikki, Shell's approaching and she doesn't have her gear down."
Nikki groaned in horror. "They must have lost their hydraulics. She'll have to use the air attenuated landing gear. She only has one shot to get flaps and wheels down. I'll bloody mention her in a dispatch myself if she pulls this off."
Shell's nerves were like steel as she concentrated on the approach. Silvia had finally responded to her shrill yelling and managed to find the engineers panel. "Air now!" The gear slid down and locked into place. The indicator light remained green and Shell extended the flap lever and could feel the Lanc get heavy.
Nikki slotted in behind Shell who took a bad bounce but was on otherwise was on the ground and off taxi.
"Claire Very Flare now please. I want us down."
"Tower signal green flare. Go for landing Nikki."
"You strapped in?" "Yes ma'am."
Fire trucks, medics and ground crews rushed to secure the Lancs. Yvonne's eyes were bandaged and she was sitting ready to go too. Shell stood by the ambulance waiting as the medics helped get Silvia off the plane. They were all in shock and would now have to deal with the interminable process of debriefing.
Nikki surveyed her plane. "Well that was a bloody waste of time."
London 19 June, 1945
Victory in Europe should have been a happy time. For most people it was. Nikki's Ferry Pool squadron had survived intact. Silvia and Yvonne had received medical dispensation and early demobilisation. Michelle Dockley had received a Mention in Despatches for her actions flying the badly damaged Lancaster without loss of life or property. Denny asked for and received a favourable service discharge so she could help Yvonne convalesce and Claire was waiting for demobilisation and permission to return to Oxford and finish her law studies.
Nikki however had fallen into limbo. She retained her commission and was awaiting a posting when she received word from Trisha's mother to meet her at their Belgravia home in London.
Rachael had felt extremely guilty for not having contacted Nikki sooner. "I apologise Nicola I do, but there were considerations beyond my control."
The War Secrets Act had been invoked on Trisha's service record and only immediate family had been notified. Group Captain Rachael Harris, a stalwart woman, was so reduced by grief to simply handing Nikki the condolence letter from Buckingham Palace signed by King George VI, and asking her if she wished to attend.
The London Gazette
Of FRIDAY the 15th JUNE, 1945
CENTRAL CHANCERY OF THE ORDERS OF KNIGHTHOOD.
St. James's Palace, S.W.l.
19th June, 1945.
The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the posthumous award of the GEORGE
CROSS to: - Section Officer Patricia Harris Women's Auxiliary Air Force.
Section Officer Patricia Harris was infiltrated into enemy occupied France, and was landed by Lysander aircraft on 20th November, 1943. During the months immediately following, under the command of Major Dominic McAllister she built networks for communications within the Nantes Resistance groups vital to the planned invasion of Europe. Shortly after D-Day she was arrested. She refused however to give information regarding what had become a principal and most dangerous post in France. The Gestapo believing her to be an agent they sought, were most determined to confirm her identity, transferred her to their H.Q. in the Avenue Foch. There she was questioned and interrogated repeatedly, but she refused and gave them no information of any kind. She was then imprisoned at Fresnes Prison. The Gestapo remained most determined to discover the whereabouts of a wireless operator and of another British officer whose lives were of the greatest value to the Resistance-Organisation. In the face of extreme cruelty she refused to divulge her identity or that of any other agents. She was killed during interrogation 10th July 1944. Section Officer PATRICIA HARRIS displayed the most conspicuous courage, both moral and physical over a period of more than ten months and did the excellent work which earned her a posthumous Mention in Despatches.
The notice of the award was Gazetted in the month after VE Day.
The ceremony took place at St. James's Palace with Rachael Harris receiving her daughter's medal from King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. Nikki watched from the gallery as the King in full dress uniform spoke with Rachael. He looked as drawn and tired as Nikki felt. Still in shock herself, she took in the faces of heroism, sacrifice and loss around her. Off to the side she noticed a WRNS Officer whom she thought looked vaguely familiar, weeping quietly.
Curious, Nikki approached her. "Hello. Aren't you Claire Walker's friend? We met at Romano's years ago?"
"Helen, Helen Stewart." She offered Nikki her hand. "Nikki right?"
"Who you are here for Helen?" Nikki guessed by the depth of Helen's distress it was for someone close.
"Patricia? How do you know Trish?"
Before Helen could answer, Rachael found Nikki and gently placed the medal case into her hands. "Nikki darling," Her emotions barely contained. "She would have wished you to have this." She kissed Nikki's cheek, "Please excuse me Nicola I'm quite not well, and won't be attending the tea." She turned and walked away heavy with sorrow.
Helen watched the scene between the older blond woman and the tall dark hair woman. Tired though as she looked, still strikingly beautiful; it was at that moment Helen recognized Nicola Wade.
"You're the Black Raven." It was a statement not a question.
Nikki stood there frozen and Helen's voice sounded far away.
"Nikki is there somewhere we can go to talk?"
The two women found a quite bench in St. James's Park to sit at. The Scot looked trepidatious and Nikki wondered what could possibly be so burdensome.
"I won't bite you know." She smiled gently to ease the tension.
"Nikki what I'm about to tell you could get me in a lot of trouble, Official Secrets and all." Nikki nodded.
"I knew an agent code name Zandra Plackett. She was sharp, with a dry wit and very courageous. The details of her civilian identity were only known by a select few and I wasn't on the need to know. Her death was kept hush hush because the circuit was deemed to have high value. Only after Major McAllister returned to England did I learn the circumstances surrounding her arrest and imprisonment."
Nikki digested the information her eyes welling up. "You mean capture and torture?"
Helen retreated internally, recalling the devastation she felt when she learned of the brutality of Zandra's death. Dominic's debriefing had left no details of her courage out, including her last words "Tell her I love her" that echoed presently in Helen's consciousness. He had assumed were for Home Guard but even Helen was at a blank. On the bottom of the report just before the official secrets act stamp was the notation for recommendation of the George Cross posthumously.
An inaudible gasp escaped Helen and her eyes welled up too. "I'm so sorry, I can't begin to know how you must be feeling."
Nikki's silence implied consent for Helen to continue. "The name of the op was Black Raven. The way the Germans reacted, led us to believe they thought it was the name of an actual agent. To the end she made them believe the ruse and they squandered many resources chasing around Nantes looking for the Black Raven."
"I was Home Guard her wireless shore operator, and her last authentic transmission was 'Leeks for dinner Babes'. I'd always laugh when she snuck in something and especially that, because I'm not particularly fond of leeks."
The far off look cleared and Nikki smiled. "I was really proud of her. She'd decided to do something different for the war effort. You're right in that she was sharp, brilliant and very organised. She was also a great pilot, but felt too much pressure to follow in her mother's footsteps. I wish now I had convinced her to join the ATA, but she would have grown to resent it. Room for only one big bird in the house and all."
Helen had always been intrigued by the unusual op name.
"So she joined up and convinced someone to name an operation out of turn and personalize it?"
"Trisha could be very persuasive. It isn't really about me, but I can see how she would have hung on to that. We were each other's hope. Our first plane was a 1917 Curtiss Jenny JN4D she named it the Black Raven, sort of after me and my big squawking gob. We were so young." Helen nodded in understanding.
"She loved you."
Nikki needed physical contact to ground her so she took Helen's hand. "I never doubted it."
"No Nikki. I mean that was her last words. No one knew who she meant. Dominic, I mean Major McAllister reported her saying, 'Tell her I love her' just before she died."
It was all too much and Nikki broke into sobs. Helen comforted her and stroked her arm. "Es' alright sweetheart I'm here." Helen's Scots accent had thickened with compassion "Es' getting a little late and yer're chilled. We best get you home and I promise we'll talk again if you want."
Nikki looked into Helen's eyes with such fragile need. "Helen." In no more than a whisper, "I've been getting it from all sides." She touched Helen's face and brushed their lips together. The kiss was an affirmation of humanity and Helen responded by deepening the validation. Nikki pulled away. "I'm sorry I shouldn't have done that."
"Yes you should have." She brushed away Nikki's tears. "But I don't want it to be because you're confused. You're grieving and you hardly know anything about me at all." Nikki shivered at the honesty.
"Now I believe you were supposed to be gettin on your way home."
Nikki was buoyed by a new hope. Shyly she teased, "I think I love it when you're bossy."
Claire, Nikki and Helen were sipping drinks at Romano's in the celebratory atmosphere of post war London. The euphoria had yet to be been replaced by the stark reality of rebuilding the Nation. War in the Pacific had prevented a full return to the semblance of normality and now that it was all over, Nikki raised her glass in a toast.
"To those who couldn't be with us tonight. Cheers." They clinked glasses and drank to lost loved ones and absent friends. "Cheers."
"So Helen what will you do now?" Claire hadn't seen either of them in months and was eager to have a good tongue wag.
"I know I won't be working for those bastards at MI5. There far too quick to sacrifice young men and women for nothing. Simon, sorry, Colonel Stubberfield, mentioned working for the Home Office in His Majesty's Prison Service and he asked if I might be interested. He's a dinosaur but I think I could make a difference. I have a lot of experiencing helping desperate people navigate desperate situations and I think I'd like to have a job where I could see tangible results."
"What about you Nikki?" Claire knew Nikki had a lot to offer the aviation industry and she hoped her being a woman wouldn't impede her as the men re-took the jobs.
"Well I think I'll stay in if they let me. I've had a good career and I'd probably get my pick of postings. I'm not sure how but, I would like a family some day and I don't see flying commercial the way to get that, or I could always take up instructing."
Helen raised her glass. "Here, here I'll drink to that." Claire returned the toast questioningly. "Is this something new Stewart?"
Nikki reached for Helen's hand and rubbed the back of it with her thumb. "Turns out we have a few things in common."
Helen eyed her dreamily, "Aye and I've manage to convince her to court me."
"How's that working out for you Nikki?" Claire seemed truly surprised by the news.
Nikki grinned from ear to ear. "Well you know what they say about early days."
Dinner, recollecting stories and the occasional snippet of gossip, led to laughter and finally yawns in the wee hours. Nikki pleaded exhaustion to get Helen's attention.
"I do expect an invitation to the shack up." As Nikki stuffed Claire into a hackney carriage and shut the door. "The cheek Walker. I'm sure you'll be the first to know." Nikki smiled, why did best friends have the most troublesome knack of ferreting out the truth?
The night desk clerk at the Hotel Russell handed Nikki her key and watched as the two women walked hand in hand to the lift. Nikki had stepped off the lift a hundred times but tonight held a new clarity of purpose; clarity free of guilt, clarity free of longing and sadness.
"I want to make love to you all night long." Nikki's breathy confession pulled Helen through the door and into the room.
Helen reached the middle of the room and stopped. Nikki met her there and they held each other, embracing their freedom. "I'm afraid Nikki."
"Of what darling?"
Helen's voice dropped to a mere whisper. "It's so strong what I feel and what I need. What if I'm rubbish?"
Nikki drew her in tighter and kissed the tip of Helen's nose "That would be impossible. Shh." She tipped Helen's chin up to look her in the eyes.
"Helen, you're amazing, you are absolutely gorgeous and I'm totally in love with you."
They undressed each other slowly and with reverence. Helen couldn't imagine ever seeing such beauty in another person. Nikki clasped Helen's left hand and brought it to her naked breast, eliciting Helen to groan 'Jesus Christ'.
"That's what you do to me Helen. This is what it's all about."
Helen parted her lips and thrust her tongue forward to meet Nikki's. There would be no barriers, no taboos preventing her from joining with Nikki in every way possible. She let her hands roamed down Nikki's sides and pulled their hips together. The contact was intoxicating and Helen ground harder. "Take me." They fell to the bed and covered themselves against the draft of the room.
Nikki found herself unable to release Helen's eyes from her gaze; the gray green was spattered with gold fecks like the autumn trees in Canada. Helen guided Nikki's hand to her most intimate part and drew a breath against Nikki's kisses when at first she felt the exploration, then the strokes and then finally the exquisite pressure and stretch as she was entered. Nikki pressed her body and ground harder against Helen, causing them both to cry out with desire.
"What the fuck!" Helen's breathy response to Nikki having taken a nipple in her mouth nearly made Nikki come herself. She never expected Helen to be vocal let alone risqué. Nikki increased the speed of her pumping fingers and bore down with slightly more power. She kissed Helen's open mouth and plunged her tongue to its depth then skillfully rubbed her thumb against Helen's nubbin.
Helen couldn't get Nikki deep enough into her center, deep enough in her mouth or deep enough in her heart, until Nikki whispered close to her ear "Tell me you love me." The hoarse request caused her to tighten on Nikki's fingers, and she rode an orgasm that brought Nikki into the very depth of her body and soul; drawing out a prolonged "Yes, I Love you Nikki Wade."
Heady from the immense pleasure, Helen instinctively knew there was more. Still under Nikki, she reached for her, fingered her and explored her wetness. She enticed Nikki to put her tongue down her throat and explore, while her fingers worked Nikki's clit. Nikki ground and bumped her pelvis down with every stroke. Helen stroked the pulsing nub faster until all Nikki could do was remain static in a clench until the explosion rocked through her. The spasm was like a dive, crashing through one elevation after the next until she hit the ground with a shudder. Overwhelmed by the completeness of the release, tears fell unbidden from Nikki's eyes; Helen had captured her soul. "Shh. Darling s'alright I've got you"
"Helen, never leave me." She wouldn't have figured Nikki for the soppy type but there she was, asking for forever; something Helen was quite willing to give. "I won't, if you don't,"
Berlin Airlift, 1949
Nikki and Helen settled on Henley to shack up as Claire had so delicately put it. The choice was a smart compromise to accommodate Helen's assignment to the women's prison HMP Larkhall in Oxford and Nikki's posting to the West London Aero Club at White Waltham. Nikki had gotten an instructor position training young reserve aviators after she retired her commission from the regular forces. Claire was a frequent visitor to their home as she still had a year at Oxford before attaining a Pupillage in London.
Their lives remained intricately intertwined and the first happy news from Nikki's old crew had been the announcement of the marriage of Michelle Dockley to a young politician with aspirations to Parliament. The reunion at Shell's hen party had been a good piss up and Helen was introduced to most of the characters she'd heard so many stories about. She wasn't at all surprised by the affection displayed to their former CO.
Helen loved hearing about the hair-raising stories of bad weather and dodgy landings or the terrors of being give a plane type they had never flown before. Claire had them in stitches telling how she'd landed a cranky Spitfire on the bowling greens of a convalescence hospital in Essex. Helen was especially curious about the places they'd been to and where home was now. Yvonne and Charlie were living in London. Denny emigrated to Canada and last Yvonne heard, was in Montreal. No one had seen Silvia after her discharge from service.
As the evening wound down Nikki noticed Shell get a little quieter. "Shell you look as if your canary died"
"Nikki. Can I have a word?" Nikki looked around the nice little flat as Shell led her to the privacy of the kitchen.
"You've done really well for yourself Shell. It's hard to believe we were up to our arses in it just a year ago."
"It is, and if it hadn't been for you, I'd probably have three shelter shag kiddies now." Nikki chuckled at the colloquialism and the thought of Shell surrounded by three runny nosed kids.
"Go on. You earned your way just fine. You have a nice young man and you'll have a fine family one day."
"That day in the Lanc I was scared shitless. Silvia conked out and the bird in pieces, but this getting married stuff. I mean, 'ell what am I gonna do with myself?"
"Helen once said, 'she had skills helping people navigate desperate situations.'" Nikki leaned against the counter top. Her hands were fidgety. She'd never really had a heart to heart with any of the girls but Claire.
"You were a navigator and you were more than competent in dangerous situations. You can do lots Shell. Talk to that bloke of yours, maybe try a school program. You just have to fight the boys for what you're due, whether it's an education or a pension. Don't let anyone forget you are Veteran Flying Officer Michelle Dockley."
The chin wag seemed to be enough for Shell and Nikki was grateful her anxiety seemed to be quelled. Nikki wondered if they'd always be her little chicks with wings, and now there was going to be another one.
Nikki hadn't been up to snuff that night as she'd been puking with morning sickness for a couple of weeks. They never intended not to tell their friends but this was Shell's night so they confined the news to Claire. When Nikki was quite sure and settled they let Yvonne and Shell know about the baby. The openness of the pre-war years to Boston marriages and the like was waning and Nikki decided it was best to pass the pregnancy off to the world and the Air Ministry as the result of an affair. No one had been the wiser.
"Helen it's just expected. Women have children. Look around us, babies booming everywhere. So no one will notice two single women like us, if we have a couple."
"Are you saying I'm gonna do this too?"
"If you want, there are ways."
"Nicola Wade I swear I'll never get over you bein' the soppy one."
Nikki had been thankful she'd retained her connections to Trisha's bohemian friends, how vain they were and how happy they were to support the cause. She narrowed her volunteers down to a blonde barrister with gray-green eyes.
"Why on earth a lawyer? Helen hadn't been convinced. "Nikki why not chose a doctor or a writer, or even one of my bloody cousins?"
"Darling if his soldiers swim as well as he talks, I'll be up the duff on the first go."
Henley Standard Birth Announcement: 22 November, 1947 welcomed the entry of Patrick William Wade Stewart into the world, born to ATA Group Captain (Ret'd) Nicola Wade. Family friend Helen Stewart would especially like to thank the Nursing Sisters for their care and consideration. Mother and son are doing fine.
Helen had been amazed by the changes Nikki's body went through during the pregnancy. There were times when one look could bring on the most intense lovemaking or start a nuclear spat. Now he was here, their son. For the second time in her life Helen knew perfection when Nikki handed her their son.
"Meet your son Patrick William Wade Stewart."
"Hello Wean." Helen held him to her heart and closed her eyes. "Feel this? It's what it's all about.
Their son was beautiful and the happiest baby either of them had ever met. He rarely fussed and smiled constantly. Helen took the piss one day. "I'm a wee bit worried they switched infants in the nursery. He's got my eyes but none of your stroppy? Some poor woman's got home disappointed."
The world was changing at a lightening pace and Nikki was feeling left out as the greatest flying opportunity since the war unfolded. The Russians had forced the Allied occupiers of Berlin to fly food and supplies to their sectors. Hundreds of hours of experience on newly developed aircraft were passing her by as the crisis went on. Just after the New Year 1949 was when the frustration and restlessness hit Nikki hardest.
"Nikki, I understand what you're sayin," Helen's Scots thickened with emotion. "I really do. But I don't want you to go near that bloody place. It's events way beyond our control sweetheart and we owe them nothing."
Nikki recognized her own petulance and unconsciously acknowledged Helen's fears. Rather than voice it, she dipped her head to Helen's shoulder and let it rest there. Her impatient racing heart began to calm.
"Do you remember the very first time we met?"
"Yes. Romano's with Claire."
"Umm, and I knew then one look from your eyes could tame me."
"Och, I think you just want Wean off the teat so you can shag me blue and go off to the pub with the lads."
Nikki laughed, "And what makes you think I can't do that right now."
Helen breathed relief and lust all at once. "Bedroom now Wade."
"God I love it when you're bossy."
Helen groaned. Mornings were not her brightest moment. She tucked into the warmth of Nikki for a snuggle. She had been well and truly settled into her job with the Home Office for five years. Patrick was two and a half and her life with Nikki was beyond magnificent. Just a wee kip more.
"Morning darling." Nikki's husky morning bed voice inflamed Helen.
"Tis." She kissed her woman. Kissed her again and helped Nikki remove her night shirt. Flesh pressing luxuriously to flesh Helen began to seduce Nikki.
"You're going to be." She was cut off by another languid kiss. "Late."
"Sod work. I need to taste you."
Nikki woke up fully and broke away to run to the loo. Helen smirked and followed her to do the same and quickly freshen up. There was never such thing as a quick shag with Nikki.
"Sweetheart?" Helen waited for Nikki to answer. With Helen dipped between her legs Nikki could barely wait for Helen to touch her let alone start a conversation. "Helen please."
"I'm pregnant." Her tongue swept over Nikki's nub as she plunged three fingers into her. Nikki tried to breath, tried to remember anything as Helen increased the intensity and urgency of taking her. Her legs spread and totally vulnerable Nikki exploded, ceased to exist, rendered undone only to be re-created all at once as she shuddered through the climax.
Without a word she drew Helen up and kissed her, tasting herself there. Nikki groaned and Helen involuntarily made the little sound that signaled to Nikki complete want. The needed to be inside Helen was overwhelming but transformed as the thought occurred to her she already was, her baby. It caused her stomach to clench. Helen reached to touch herself, as Nikki sucked and worked her nipples. Their breaths became synchronous, short and shallow and with every caress Nikki sought to fill and satisfy her lover. Helen stopped and gave way to the urgent texture of Nikki's tactile desires. She hugged Nikki fiercely and ground on the fullness inside her as the waves of the orgasm crashed through her, leaving her dizzy and her ears ringing from the blood rushing to her head.
They lay in each other's arms. Quietly and gently Helen brought Nikki to awareness. "I'll see the Doctor this morning before I go to the office. I'm pretty sure though. That artist took his sweet time didn't eh?"
Crying or laughing was all the same for Nikki at that moment, as she took in the beauty of her wife. "I love you so much Helen."
Wing Governor Stewart entered the common room and was greeted warmly by the women. It was her policy to be as approachable and open with the women as much as possible. The English prison system had deep flaws where punishment was put before reform and women generally suffered deeper retributions for their crimes than men. Treating them like human beings was a matter of common decency to Helen. Two particularly genial women were in for theft and prostitution. The Julies as they were affectionately called ran then kitchen and tea carts.
"Good Morning ladies, how are you today?"
They answered in unison, "Morning Miss Stewart, Just fine thank you. Lovely day innit?"
"I believe it is. Ladies, I have a something to ask. There'll be a new woman on wing today and I think she'll need some extra care settling in. Her name is Barbra Hunt and I would see it as a person favour if you saw your way to help her smooth things."
"Yes Miss." "Surely Miss Stewart, our pleasure."
"Well I'm off to meet the new hire. You'll be getting a new PO on the wing today too." Helen knew gossip spread fast on the wing and they probably already knew the officer's hat size.
The Julies hurried off to get tea service ready. "Isn't Miss Stewart glowin today Jue?" "Yah Jule, innit she just glowin."
In her office Helen reviewed the personnel file of the new Prison Officer. A knock at the door by her adjunct officer let her know the hire was there. "Mrs. Hollamby ma'am."
PO Hollamby strode in and saluted. "Ma'am"
Helen repressed rolling her eyes "Mrs. Hollamby, please have a seat."
"I'm pleased to welcome you to HMP Larkhall. Within the confines of Home Office policy, I run a fair and as open a wing as possible. You'll find the women generally respectful and most keep to themselves. There are thoughts of programs to give them education and skills but so far it's still early days."
"Well sounds like a right country club if you ask me."
"I see you were with ATA Mrs. Hollamby. Were you this free with your opinions to your superior officer there?"
"Good. I like to be a little less ridged on formality so you are welcome to and I'd prefer it, if you'd call me Helen."
Helen shook her head, "Alright then. I'll see you down on the wing shortly, dismissed." As soon as Silvia was gone she keyed the intercom for Barbra Hunt to be sent it.
"Good Morning Mrs. Hunt. I'm Wing Governor Helen Stewart. Please sit down." She opened the prisoner's file looking for a positive opening point.
"I see you are a writer Barbara."
"Yes." She avoided eye contact and seemed quite disoriented.
"Barbara I know this all seems a bit much but given time you'll be able to make the adjustment. Your accommodation will be shared with Monica Lindsay. You'll have a personal officer to look after your interests on the wing. You'll be assigned work, I could see if there is need for help in the library if that suited you, or you might like teach literacy to the younger girls. It would go well toward your parole reports."
Barbara looked ready to flee or pass out. "This is barbaric, I haven't done anything wrong," and started to weep.
"I'm sorry Barbara I don't decide the law. The prison staff is employed to carry out the prescription of sentences as humanely possible. I assume you have access to the appellate court. If you need to contact your solicitor you can request it through your personal officer."
"If you haven't any questions, you'll be escorted to the wing. It's just about tea time so you will have a chance to meet some of the women." Helen tried not to overwhelm her.
There were challenges and as she had surmised the prison bureaucracy was well stocked with dinosaurs. Not the least of which was Simon when he tried to shuffle Helen off as her pregnancy started to show. Helen put him back on his heels when she pointed out there were less signs of depression among the women and there was a full class of remedial readers. She would stay at the helm as long as possible.
The desperation Helen mused about when she embarked on her career in corrections manifested in the form of poverty, immorality, illiteracy, ill health and on bad days, mental illness and addiction. Rarely were there resources to tackle effectively the problems of her inmates. She spent many days lobbying for funding and contacting charities to shore up the levies against despair.
In the days before she booked off to have her baby Helen made a point to see how Barbara was getting on. She was pleased to find her in the library sorting and stacking.
"Barbara can we have a sit down?"
"Of course Miss Stewart. What can I do for you?"
"I'm aware you're doing well with the remedial readers, and I was wondering how you were getting along with your writing?"
"Keeping a diary is frowned upon by the other girls, and I'm afraid one day looks rather like the next."
Helen tried to look for a loop hole to keep Barbara engaged with her passions. "Well I might know someone who's looking for a writer to do their biography. The only sticking point might be your being a prisoner of His Majesty."
"It has been known for writers to ghost or use pseudonyms. I think that might just be what I need to get through this awful experience. No offence."
"None taken. Well I let you know, it might not be until I get back from leave so sit tight. Had you ever thought about fiction writing?"
"No Miss Stewart but that is an idea. Thank you."
Helen remembered the second reason for finding Barbara. "Do you know, is Monica down the wing?"
"Yes I believe she is. Jolly good news isn't it." Helen smiled. "Yes it is for once."
Monica Lindsay had been an unfortunate patsy in her employer's fraud scheme. She was the sole carer of her handicapped son and the separation had been devastating. Helen looked around at the chipped paint and heavy doors of the wing. The gates and the iron locks. Of course in some cases the strength of security was warranted but for many it was just a stark reminder of the continuing oppression that followed them in from the outside. Monica wasn't one of them. She knocked on the doorjamb so as not to startle the older woman.
"Hello Monica, an officer will be coming to collect you in the morning to take you to the Court of Appeals."
"Yes I'm quite hopeful Miss Stewart. My solicitor said the Barrister thinks there is very good chance of getting me home." Helen couldn't conceal a small laugh. "Sorry an inside joke. I'm not laughing at you Monica."
"Well I just came to wish you luck. Any idea what you'll do when you win?"
"I still have Spencer to take care of but I was thinking a lot about the girls here. Like the Julies or Barbara some of the others who have never had any advantages. It seems like there should be more help out there; a halfway house perhaps."
"Let me know when it comes to fruition. I know some ladies that would love to volunteer and raise money over afternoon tea and finger sandwiches."
Monica smiled she was very fond of Helen. "Have you picked a name for the baby?"
"Yes, if it's a girl Isobel Patricia Wade Stewart after my mother and if it's another boy were not sure yet. Our first is Patrick William named after a close family friend."
"Those are lovely names Helen. Thank you again. You're one of the only people I've come across during this whole ordeal who thinks there are other ways beside prison as punishment."
"Well I try. Take care Monica and good luck."
Helen finished out the week and officially began her maternity leave. It was lovely spending the afternoons in the garden with Nikki and Wean. Patrick chased butterflies and giggled over everything. He was a beautiful happy boy and Nikki beamed watching him sleep nestled against Helen on the lawn settee.
"Nikki love, come to the radio." The BBC news was reporting the release of Monica Lindsay.
"That's grand darling. You always said she didn't belong there."
Helen took a moment to think about how she really felt. "Not so much she didn't belong in prison, that's not for me to judge, but the type of prison or the type of punishment was wrong; not befitting the crime. I think she means to set up a halfway house. Maybe Michelle would be interested in meeting her."
Henley Standard Birth Announcement: 26 June, 1951 welcomed the entry of baby Isobel Patricia Wade Stewart into the world, born to Helen Stewart. Family friend Nicola Wade would especially like to thank the Nursing Sisters for their care and consideration. Mother and daughter are doing fine.
It was more than quite a while after Helen returned to Larkhall that Nikki found time to think about her biography. She was also not convinced she had done enough to warrant one but there were always calls for interviews and curiosity from the public in the post war years would not relent. Two years later she started the ball rolling again and contacted Barbara Hunt.
Nikki didn't know how to take the petite but rotund Barbara at first. It hadn't helped that Silvia Hollamby was presiding over visitation that day. When Silvia spotted Nikki she just stood gawking.
"Silvia, cat got your tongue? Guess you never thought you'd see me again."
"Do you have prohibited items on your person Miss Wade?"
"I don't think I like your tone Silvia, but were all equal now aren't we. No prohibited items." She waited for the command.
"Spread um." Silvia looked her over with distain.
"Don't you wish."
"I'll be watching you Wade, one wrong move." Silvia hand signed her with fingers to eyes and back at Nikki.
Barbara Hunt was short, slightly plump, with blonde hair and she spoke softly with an almost affected sounding accent. Her eyes were wary and they tracked Silvia around the room whenever she moved.
"That woman would gas us in our cells if they told her. She scares me ridged."
Nikki dearly died laughing and Barbara was mortified when Silvis stomped over to shush them.
"Silvia we're only having a little laugh. How about giving me some safe flying distance, you're not my wingman now."
"No, but you are on my wing now; and you'll show respect for my rules." She spotted a couple touching and ran to break them up.
Barbara was intensely curious about the exchange she just witnessed. "So Miss Stewart told me you wanted to write your biography. Have you started a manuscript or jotted some ideas down?"
"Yes and I thought we could do a series of interviews so you could get to know me and have a better feel for my story." Nikki rolled her eyes and pointed to Silvia.
"As you may have gathered I know Silvia from my old Squadron. We were in the ATA Ferry Pool and I have a shoe box full of clippings. I'll bring it in for you to have a look at it."
"How shall we arrange the fee?" Nikki had inquired with Claire about freelance writers and their fees. It seemed reasonable offer Barbara a decent wage as Nikki was adamant on retaining the rights to her biography. "Does one hundred and fifty pounds seem fair?"
Barbara was gobsmacked. "I should say so." She wanted to delve in but didn't have means for making notes so settled on asking Nikki about her early child hood and interest in aviation. Before Nikki could even get to grammar school, Silvia was at the visitors' door. "Right you lot visiting time is over, time to clear out."
"Looks like visiting is over, I'll have my friend Claire send the contract to your solicitor. You might as well get an extra visit out of all this."
"Thank you Nikki I'm overwhelmed."
On her way past Nikki couldn't help one last comment. "You seem to have taken to this job frightfully well Silvia. Suggestion though, you might want to ease off the throttle. You'll burnout your carburetors."
Thursday 15 April, 1954
Yvonne Atkins, Former ATA Flight Lieutenant and wife of South London gangster Charles Atkins, was convicted at The Royal Courts of Justice of conspiracy to commit murder. Noted in the passing judgment was Mrs. Atkins history of good service conduct and character, and taken into account. She was sentenced to a tariff of four years.
Nikki threw the paper aside. "This is shit Helen."
"I'm sorry sweetheart. I know this is very difficult for you."
"Do you think she'll end up at Larkhall?"
"That I don't know, but I can assure you she'll be treated as fairly and impartially as possible."
Nikki groaned, "Oh God Silvia."
"Nikki please, don't go breakin your ankle jumpin to conclusions. We'll take it one day at a time. For all we know she could be housed at Holloway."
Yvonne arrived at Larkhall the following week. Her induction meeting with Helen had been delayed because of a lock down on the wing when one of the inmates was found to be under the influence of tranquillizer medication. Silvia had actually saved the woman's life when she found her passed out in the shower stalls. The trafficking of drugs onto her wing was a new development. The worst Helen had dealt with to date was detoxification from alcohol withdrawal.
Simon proved to be little help in the matter. "Helen you'll just have to run a stricter campaign from now on."
"Simon I respectfully disagree. The presence of prohibited substances in the prison indicates a security breach and possible corruption." She was incensed by his lack of motivation.
"Need I remind you of what happens when corruption infiltrates an institution? People in our care are put at grave risk, and our own integrity becomes suspect."
"Helen there are procedures." Simon was doing his damnedest to throw her off.
"Oh so you can be seen to be doin' your job, so it doesn't affect your retirement pension?"
"This is an isolated case and I want it handled as such. Don't go blowing this all out of proportion."
"That's it then, we're to just sweep it all under the carpet."
"For a while yet I'm still in charge Helen, whether you like it or not."
"I'll take that as a yes then Sir."
Helen could had done the man gross bodily harm at that instant. She was now reduced to investigating a possible drug problem without the support or blessing of her superior officer.
"Hold all incoming calls and have prisoner Atkins brought to my office please. Also have a tea cart brought up."
Helen checked her face in the mirror and cleared her desk. When the knock at the door sounded her stomach hit her knees. "Come."
"Good afternoon Yvonne." She went round her desk and stood before her wife's best friend. Helen did the unpredictable and took her into a heartfelt hug. "I can't imagine the circumstances that led you to bein' here b'fore me." Her Scots betrayed the depth of her concern.
"I don't think I'm speaking outta turn when I tell you Nikki was devastated." Yvonne was clearly conflicted by Helen's unexpected greeting.
"You can tell er' fer me I didn't get anythin I didn't deserve." She looked scared and ready to fly out the window.
"No Yvonne, don't get me wrong. Neither of us are disappointed and you'll get no judgment from us."
"I'd feel better relieved if you did. Everyone else has chucked me." Her voice barely hiding the betrayal she felt. The arrival of the tea cart interrupted the.
"I probably don't need to tell you; out there in the yard is just a small scale of the goings on ten years ago. You'll have to survive the next four years."
"Yeh an' with me bein' the wife of the big man who runs the docks everyone is going to be out for me, is that bout it?"
"Not exactly regular the induction talk I usually have. Look Yvonne if you keep your nose clean and under the old boys' radar I can probably help get you moved to open prison in two years."
Yvonne was grateful for the compassion. "What about Silv?"
"Mrs. Hollamby knows you are in our care and will behave in a professional manner. It would be advisable to either get along or stay out of her way though."
"Helen." She paused to find her voice. "Thank you."
"Yvonne one other thing; not that it matters one iota, but Mrs. Hollamby is unaware of my relationship with Nikki. It was just one of those things that never came up. Nikki actually pops in to see another prisoner; Barbara Hunt and work on her manuscript. If you want I can arrange for her to visit you when you're ready."
"If she'll have me, then ya, I wouldn't mind seein' her."
Yvonne straightened, avoiding eye contact. "I won't let you down Miss Stewart."
Helen recognised the shift back to inmate and gaoler as part of the survival mechanism. She keyed the intercom for a PO to escort Mrs. Atkins back on the wing.
Nikki received a letter by post requesting her presence at the Farnborough Airshow in July 1954. She was chuffed and decided to surprise Helen with a lovely dinner and the good news. She stuck her head out the back door calling for the children.
"Patrick, Isobel darlings, mummy has a treat." Patrick six was first to crash into her knees and Isobel almost three still slightly unsteady in her running form was close behind.
"What mummy, what is the treat?"
"I'm taking you and your sister to the market and we are going to cook a nice dinner for mum."
In town Patrick bounced beside Nikki one moment then hid shyly the next when the butcher asked him if he liked marrow bones.
"No, bones are what you give dogs."
"Right you are young sir. How do you like bangers then?"
"Just fine with mash thank you." Nikki smiled at her son's manners. "We'll take the bangers and the lamb shank. Thanks."
The rest of their day entailed playing in the park with toy lorries and dolls. Nikki prepared dinner with much assistance from Isobel and chuckle at her serious little helper.
"Iss, come give mummy a kiss." Nikki snatched her daughter up in the air giggling and wriggling. She kissed her and gave her a big hug. "You're getting to be such a big girl."
"Is Aunty Claire coming?"
"Not tonight, but I will see if she can come with us to see the surprise."
When the children heard Helen arrive home pandemonium broke out.
"Wean, Iss, what is all this? Let mum get her coat off before you set on her like a pack a wild highlanders."
"Hello darling." Nikki kissed Helen passionately.
"Ok what's goin on?"
"Mummy has a surprise." Isobel chimed.
They sat down for a wonderful lamb shank dinner. Patrick had done a bang up job of setting the table and keeping the secret. "Ok I won't keep you in suspense any longer." Nikki waved her hand with a theatrical flourish.
"I am invited to Farnborough in July and I thought we could make it a holiday. I'm going to fly a Spitfire and I might even get us a ride in a Jet. We'll eat ice cream and chips and you can sit in big airplanes."
Helen smiled in the way that always sent flutters through Nikki's heart; with her tongue just behind her teeth. "You're a bigger child than they are Nikki Wade. July is it? I'll look into booking holiday time off."
"Mum what's a Jet?" Isobel was barely able to keep her eyes open from the day's excitement. Helen picked up her little girl and took her to bed saving the long explanation for Nikki.
Late in the evening after the children were asleep Helen wrapped herself in Nikki's arms. "Yvonne looks ragged. She was putting on a brave face but you could tell she's still in shock. She said she'd be up to havin' you visit."
Nikki was quiet and Helen could feel the tears dropping on her shoulder and the muffled sob. "I won't let her rot."
"Shh, s'alright, you do your bit Nikki, tis all you can do." They held each other for the rest of the night.
There wasn't ever a time in the prison that was completely quiet and Yvonne found the restlessness contagious. In the morning thinking she was unfit from the lack of sleep, her breakfast turned sour and she barely made it to a bin before being sick in front of Silvia.
"Mrs. Atkins what's the fuss?"
Yvonne thought back through her arrival and induction, then back to the last court date. "I'll be buggered. Bloody 'ell."
"That will be enough of that language or you'll be on report."
"Silvia. Mrs. Hollamby, I need to see the Wing Governor. Please. I wouldn't bother you unless it was important." Silvia wondered what game she was running now.
"Gawd I have to go lay down." Yvonne turned and left. Her gray pallor and sunken eyes spurred Silvia to actually summon the Wing Governor.
Helen stood before the gate and looked around before using her keys to let herself on the wing. She found Yvonne in her cell looking tired and pale.
"Trouble settling in?"
Yvonne nodded at the door and Helen closed it.
"Helen I think I'm pregnant."
"We'll get you to the Doctor then. This is going to put a stich in things isn't it."
The Julies had been out of Larkhall for a year when Helen got official notice of their reentry into the system. They arrived back on the wing greeted by Silvia.
"Welcome home, my two favorite tea ladies. I think I we still have your names on your old door."
"Awfully nice of you Mrs. Hollamby. Oh look Jue, Barbara's lookin well innit she. Wonder who 'er new friend is?"
Barbara took the cue and introduced Julie J, and Julie S to Yvonne. "Hello ladies I'd like you to meet Yvonne."
"A bit under the weather girls so don't mind me if I ain't a ray of sunshine." Yvonne groaned, "I'm not much of a fan of bein' knocked up and banged up."
"Oh well if there's anything we can do, do call us."
The Julies got an idea at the same time. "Babs you ever think of writing them romance novels. We could give you a hand you know?"
For the first time in a week Yvonne smiled and chipped in. "Babes Behind Bars, the harrowing tales of sex starved cons." They all roared with laughter. "Call me Mrs. Hollamby the stern screw, disobedience will be severely dealt with."
Barbara looked serious. "Well it isn't call me Ishmael but I think I could work with it."
The English countryside was hot and humid, with puffy clouds hanging suspended in anticipation of releasing their thunder and rain. Farnborough Air Show was a weeklong affair with companies pitching to international buyers, in addition to the public displays and flying demonstrations.
As a VIP Nikki had access to the static aircraft and received personalised tours for Helen and the children. They met veterans and celebrities of aviation and Nikki half expected to see Rachael Harris around, but if she had been there, they never crossed paths.
Patrick sat in the cockpit of a Hawker Typhoon making flying noises as Nikki chaperoned
"It looks like a big shark mummy." The Typhoon had a huge air intake under the nose and propeller that made it look like a big fish with its mouth open.
"Yes it does, but now we need to come down and join mum and Iss, Ok?" Having noticed Helen chatting with someone.
Helen turned to her wayward family. "This is my wife Nikki Wade and my son Patrick."
She noticed the airman's eye brows raise slightly. "Bill Waterton, nice to finally meet you Nikki." Nikki shook his hand and grinned. "I'm not sure what you've heard about me but I can assure you it is all quite true."
"I thought I should find you and get you familiar with the jet we're going to be flying in."
Nikki's eyes grew wide. Helen recognised the moment and knelt and picked up Isobel.
"Wean give mummy a hug, were going to have tea and a rest in the caravan before we find our seats."
Nikki gave Iss a peck on the cheek and whispered I love you to Helen before heading off with the jet pilot.
"So Bill how did you get into test piloting?"
"I joined the RAF when the Canadian air force and army wouldn't have me. I crashed a Hurricane at Dunkirk and that put me out of the show. They were good enough to find a spot for me in fighter combat training and I even got back enough to fly a few transatlantic ferry runs."
Nikki connected with the fellow ferry pilot. "My squadron got jumped on our last transatlantic. It was a bit hairy." Bill nodded.
"After that I got into enemy air craft analysis and counter measure development. From there it was a short hop into test flying."
"So the thing about today is the Gloster brass want your face like the Yanks got Jackie Cochran. This is about Gloster showing up the North American F-86 when they put her and Yeager in a Canadair bird and sent them up. She went mach one. We won't be going mach one but you'll be the fastest woman in the UK for now."
"I don't give a toss about Jackie Cochran. She can go to the moon for all I care. Flying for me has never been about fame and records, it's been about service and duty and some occasional fun," she paused for a moment, "but that doesn't mean I'd ever turn down a spin in one of these."
Bill explained the operation of the G-suit and the basic maneuvers they would perform. As ATA pilots the crews were forbidden from stunting. Nikki had taken a couple of her charges to their maximum operational limits but that was still in more or less level flight.
The hanger doors opened and the Gloster Javelin shone in its black and silver livery. Nikki looked equally impressive in Bill's borrowed Group Captain flight-suit and the G-suit highlighting every curve on her tall frame. She was fitted out with a helmet and oxygen mask that attached once in the plane.
Nikki knew Helen and the children were sitting in the VIP seats for their demo as the Javelin taxied past the show line with the canopy back she waved to the crowd knowing they would see her.
At the end of the runway with the canopy closed and all instructions and checks complete Bill pushed the throttles forward and Nikki felt the crushing force of the speed only hinted at in propeller driven aircraft.
Once in the air they circled and flew straight down the show line and into a high G climb.
"30,000 roll out, how's that Nikki?"
They rolled at the top of a loop and then went inverted again and into a dive. The power was incredible and Nikki reached a controlled dive speed of six hundred and five miles per hour. The sound of the jet screaming down out of the loop past the grand stands and into a left circle of the field and another streak past down the show line. Nikki bore down and huffed as the high G turn threatened to black her out.
Helen couldn't believe the noise and speed with which the jet moved through the sky. Iss was crying and Patrick was jumping up and down clapping at every pass.
Nikki had the controls for two more high speed passes across the airfield and then Bill executed a slow pass with the wheels down that signaled the end to the fantastic display as he brought them down to a perfect landing.
Nikki glowed. "I never thought I would say this, but flying a Spitfire will never be the same again."
Bill laughed. "No it won't."
"Look my legs are still wobbling. Mind If I duck out for a moment? I want to pull a bird before I turn in the gear." Bill howled with laughter.
Nikki strode out to the spectator area and found Helen still in their seats. Patrick launched himself at her and she picked him up in a swirl and set him back down.
"How'd you like that Wean? I'm the fastest mummy in in Britain."
"You made Iss cry but I thought it was smashing."
Nikki hugged Isobel who was smiling and now more interested in Nikki's shiny helmet."
Helen wiped her tear streaked face and looked at Nikki with raw adoration. "You were amazing." She leaned closer and whispered in Nikki's ear. I'm so hot for you in that uniform but I suppose after a jet I won't measure up."
Nikki looked her directly in the eyes and moistened her lips, her husky voice laddened with desire. "What that jet? The thing is rubbish." Nikki knew the crowd wouldn't be ready to two shows so they headed back to the staging area where she could change clothes.
Their time at Farnborough had been a complete success. Nikki performed in the fly-past of war planes and veterans and arranged a last surprise for Helen. She borrowed a vintage Curtiss Jenny so she could take Helen up for a short spin.
The Jenny looked like a damsel fly ready to take off and flit here and there. It was parked at a private hanger on one side of the airfield. Bill was there to help and keep an eye on the children for the twenty five minutes it would take Nikki to fly a circuit.
"She'll be a trick to fly." Bill helped roll the plane out and do the wing and wire check.
The two seats weren't much more than wooden chairs with shoulder and lap harnesses. Nikki put Helen up front and she would fly from the rear seat. They each wore the requisite leather flying helmets and goggles. Bill helped them strap in and then went forward for the starting sequence.
Nikki turned the on switch and yelled, "Switch on, Contact."
Bill pulled the prop down and the engine sputtered to life.
Nikki opened the throttle and the Jenny rolled out onto the runway. When she was ready she applied the hand brake.
She gave Bill a wave then gave the plane full throttle. It bounced along and Nikki pulled back on the stick just a little and she swooped into the air.
A Flying Jenny wasn't about speed. Nikki trimmed the rudder right a bit as the plane kept wanting to pull to the left, and then adjust the throttle as they climbed steadily to cruise at about sixty five miles per hour. Nikki took the plane to two thousand feet and circled slowly around.
Nikki yelled over the roar of the wind and the engine. "Take the stick."
Helen did as Nikki instructed and put her hands on the controls.
"Ok, we're going to circle left. Push the stick gently toward your left knee. Push the stick forward a bit to keep the nose down." Nikki could feel the plane bite into the turn.
Helen felt the plane respond. "This is amazing Nikki."
"You're flying her sweetheart. Keep your feet steady on the rudder pedals, a bit less right pedal. Good"
Helen's smile beamed.
Nikki took back control of the plane and put it into a right turn, then lined up for landing. She gave the little bird some left stick and right rudder and the Jenny dropped altitude in a sideslip.
Helen yelled something as her stomach dropped out as Nikki straighten the plane and took her in keeping the nose slightly up. She throttled the engine back a bit and at forty miles per hour the ground closed under them. Stick back nose even, they dropped down and roll up to the hanger.
Bill was there and as soon as the prop was still and the switch off he let Patrick walk to the side of the cockpit. Nikki was first out of her harness and helped Helen dismount the plane.
"What was it like mum?" Helen was slightly glassy eyed but managed to instill envy in her son.
"It was like driving our car but very high up, higher than the mountains."
Helen took Isobel from Bill and herded the children while he and Nikki put the plane away.
Nikki held out her hand to shake and say goodbye. "You did well with the kiddies, you should think about having some one day."
"Only happen when I'm ready to trade in those jets. Good luck Nikki and thanks for flying with me." Nikki shook his hand and hurried off to get Helen and the children home.
"Happy birthday dear Patrick, happy birthday to you. Hip, hip, hurray." Nikki, Isobel and Claire helped sing as Helen brought in a cake flaming with seven candles.
"Ok Wean, make a wish and blow as hard as you can." Patrick got them all with a little assistance from Iss. Helen took a picture then helped him cut the cake.
"Well done. Now you can open your presents."
Nikki was enjoying her cake when she jumped up and danced around. "Oh look, I found the lucky pence. When do I get my lucky pence kiss?"
"Later," suggested Helen.
"And what would I have gotten if I had found the lucky pence?" Nikki leaned to Claire's ear and whispered "very lucky" causing Claire to blush.
Patrick tore into the first gift and looked slightly confused. "What is Scrabble Aunt Claire?"
"It is a game to play that will help you become a brilliant barrister just like me."
"Thank you." He gave her a big hug and a kiss.
His other present was from Nikki, Helen and Isobel. "Wow."
Nikki knelt down and held his new train engine up. "You have fun setting this up and show Iss how to play nicely with it too, Ok?" His eyes glistened, "Thank you mummy, thank you mum. Thank you Iss. This is my best birthday ever."
Helen mused, "Aye it is." as she watched the children play and felt the love in her home.
It seemed to Helen as if she hadn't been in Simon Stubberfield's job five minutes before the gates of hell opened up to swallow her. His box of odds and ends files no doubt saved up with greatest of satisfaction would have to wait for now as another potential bonfire came before her.
Barbara Hunt was in Governor Stewart's office for only the second time since her arrival five years ago. Helen's stalked back and forth behind her desk and glanced occasionally at a paperback novel that lay conspicuously between them.
Helen glowered. "What were you thinking?"
"I wasn't miss." The nervousness apparent in her shaky voice.
Helen was almost shouting. "Clearly you weren't. Babes Behind Bars?"
"How did you find out Miss Stewart?"
"It's for sale in all the shops and Nikki recognised Silvia straight away but she assured me there was little else to identify this specific prison. Truly Barbara couldn't you have made better use of your time?" She could see Barbara wilting.
"Look, I have other meetings I need to attend to, so I hope were clear. I don't want to see any more of this sort of literature escape from these walls." She softened her voice. "More to keep your parole prospects clean Barbara. I'd hate to see any hopes of early release scuttled because of larking about."
From the pile of files on her desk Helen knew the morning was going to be long. Her next appointment was with Yvonne who claimed the still warm seat opposite Helen.
"Yvonne I can't tell you how much I'd prefer to keep you here at Larkhall but we don't have a mother and babe unit like they do at Holloway."
"I was thinkin I could get someone to look after the sprog until I was either out all together or in open prison if that is still an option."
"Do you have family or someone in mind that could foster your child?"
"I thought maybe Shell Dockley."
"Well best ask her so we can start the ball rolling. Do you have a solicitor to handle the formalities?"
"I think I'll do what I should have in the first place and ring Claire up."
"Well good, that's you sorted. I'll have you taken down to parole so you can call out, and do have Claire telephone me directly so there are no foul ups."
"I'm not very good at this sort of thing but, thanks."
Helen nodded in understanding as Yvonne saw herself out, then keyed the intercom for her next appointment which was a new hire.
"Good morning, Miss Rose, I'm Helen Stewart Governor of HMP Larkhall."
"Yes ma'am, it's a pleasure to meet you."
"Your training record and service records are very good Miss Rose. What led to your choosing a career in the prison service?"
"I've always been the one to step up and sort things between people, like the police, but it's rare for them to hire women so I applied to the Home Office miss." Helen noticed Lorna was mature and well turned out.
"Why did you request a transfer to Larkhall?"
"It's closer to my family in London and I thought wardening women would be a good change."
"I'm going to have you learn the wing with Senior Officer Hollamby. We try as much as possible to make bad situations better for the women here by encouraging skill development and literacy. Personal officer duties incorporate that mandate as well as supervision. I'll have your assignments by the end of the week as I arrange the roster. Do you have any questions?"
"Please call me Helen. On the wing sometimes I find formality interferes with approachability. If you don't have any questions then, I'll have Silvia give you a tour and get you settled."
With Lorna settled, Helen worked her way through the pending files, adjudications, and one last memo beckoning to her from Home Office. The roster of condemned women prisoners in the UK: Pamela Jolly currently housed HMP Grendon, Caroline Lewis currently housed at HMP Holloway.
"Look at that Grendon Hall returning to haunt me." She tidied her desk and turned the lights out to go home.
Yvonne was due mid-January 1955 and Claire had gotten the foster care arrangements well in hand. Michelle was working with her husband on a private members bill to recognise women military veteran's pensions. She had two children of her own and had lost a third so she was looking forward to helping Yvonne was far from an inconvenience. Parliament was not in session over Christmas so there had been time to adjust and get ready for a new baby.
Christmas had seen the Julies released early on a good conduct license and the cheer of the New Year had subsided. Yvonne was feeling a bit sad and off so she turned I early. The new screw Lorna Rose paid a surprise visit to her cell. Yvonne had observed her from the periphery over the preceding month and hadn't thought much of her.
"Hello Yvonne, anything I can do for you? You look a bit tired tonight?" Lorna's voice was particularly sweet and calculated. "Any favour, just ask."
"No thanks. I don't need anything or any favours."
"A woman in your condition must need something or have concerns, anxiety?"
"I don't mean to be rude miss but I don't catch your drift." Yvonne was starting to feel uncomfortable. Looking around she realized she was very alone at the moment.
"Well Yvonne I didn't think I'd have to spell it out for a smart woman like you. Favours get done and thanks is given. I would think you would be very thankful for kindness and caring. Especially at night when you might have that baby in this cell after lock up."
"Yeh I get it now and you can piss off. I'm not very interested in sayin' thank you after bein' shook down."
"How long have you got left? Three years? Doesn't that man of yours care about you and your baby?"
"My tariff is my own and nothing to do with him."
"Suit yourself. It's lock up." The look in her eyes as the door eased shut behind the screw, made Yvonne afraid for the first time in years.
"Look I don't know who you are or what you think your business with me is, but we ain't doing business." Yvonne sensed the turn and knew she'd have to take whatever was about to happen.
Lorna stepped behind Yvonne.
"You still gonna do this even when I said no?"
"Yes." Lorna struck Yvonne over the left kidney with a cosh. "It sends a message regardless."
Yvonne dropped to her knees as Miss Rose opened the door and left.
"Cat got your tongue dear?"
Yvonne couldn't have screamed if she'd wanted to. Pain radiated through her side and she could barely breathe. The lock tumbling shut sounded like a gunshot.
"There all locked and accounted for Mrs. Hollamby. Atkins, I wouldn't bother with her. She was a bit anxious and will probably be on the bell all night. I think it would do her some good to bear it out."
"Yeh that one needs a reminder of what got her in here in the first place, not molly coddling. You have a good night now Miss Rose and I'll see you in the morning."
Yvonne did her best to breathe and relax. She got onto the bed and waited for the waves to subside. The slightest movement exacerbated the cramping and she felt the first contraction swell through her. "Fuck you to hell Lorna Rose if anything happens to my baby."
The contractions continued through the night and in the early morning hour, exhausted and covered in blood Yvonne felt the baby crown and delivered. Yvonne's scream went unanswered when little Lauren was born and with the last of her strength she tied a shoe lace on the umbilical cord and wrapped the baby in her warmest sweater. Weak from blood loss and passing the placenta, darkness took Yvonne into its selfish arms.
Morning unlock shift found Yvonne barely conscious and a baby on her bed. Alarms sounded all over the wing and an ambulance was called to rush her to A and E.
Helen summoned Lorna and Silvia to her office.
"Miss Stewart she was fine when I checked her at lock up. I let SO Hollamby know she was anxious but was otherwise fine."
"Yes ma'am she never used the bell once. The night shift should have noticed."
"Silvia a woman nearly died in your care. If I find one hint of neglect I'll sack you both. I'm going to the hospital now. I want full incident reports on my desk by noon and when I get back there will be a wing meeting."
Helen found Yvonne on the maternity ward looking quite awful.
"Yvonne, are you awake?"
Her eyes opened and immediately filled with tears. "Helen how's is my Lauren, they won't tell me how she is."
Helen held the sobbing woman. "Shh. She's fine. Yvonne I need to ask was there anything irregular about your care last night. Silvia and Lorna reported nothing unusual."
"Hollamby wouldn't have known I was feeling off because I hadn't seen her all day." Yvonne had the choice now; grass Lorna Rose up or take care of her later. Neither choice sat well because the time she had time left on her tariff would be in PO Lorna Rose's care and the thought of actually committing murder made her nauseous. She shouldn't even be here, this stretch in prison was covering for her wanker of a husband Charlie and now Rose had nearly killed her and her baby.
A nurse appeared and wheeled in a bassinet with Lauren in it and finally let Yvonne have her baby. Calm over took her.
"Miss Rose and I talked at lock up. You know getting to know each other. I never thought much of my stomach and I just put it down to indigestion."
Helen knew it was bollocks but couldn't force Yvonne to tell her what really happened.
"Michelle will be up from London tomorrow to collect Lauren." I suggest you rest up because it will be difficult emotionally and yer breasts are gonna feel like they're on fire."
Helen readied to leave. "Look I gotta get back to Larkhall. Try to keep positive for her. She's beautiful you know."
She would do this for Lauren. "Lorna Rose is bent as a bottle. She tried to shake me down last night and when I said no she hit me in the ribs over the kidney and sent me into labour. I'm pissing blood to prove it."
"Bloody hell Yvonne!"
"I ain't a murderer. Charlie daubed me in it good but I'm not that way. I don't know what'll happen to me but you have to stop her."
"Well first off I'll call the police and you'll bring assault charges against PO Rose. They'll listen to you if I'm here. Then I'm putting you in protective custody. Yvonne there may be rough roads ahead because of this."
"Helen I can't leave the other women in there with her. Go ahead ring the cops."
The wing was electric with excitement as PO Lorna Rose was escorted by two detectives and Governor Stewart through the main gate in handcuffs. Faces in the wing windows and voices shouting jeers and hoots sealed her humiliation.
Helen was exhausted but she felt she owed the women on the wing an explanation and news of Yvonne.
"Ladies can I have your attention. Now I'm sure you all know last night Yvonne Atkins went into labour and a serious breach of care occurred which was not discovered until first unlock. I have spoken to Yvonne in hospital this morning and can assure you the incident was investigated and all that can be done to prevent a similar occurrence will be set in place.
"How's Yvonne then miss?"
"I'm happy to report Yvonne had a baby girl. Mother and daughter are doing fine. I expect she'll be back on the wing shortly."
Helen carefully considered her remarks regarding Lorna. "I have interviewed all the officers concerned and PO Rose has been removed from the prison service until further notice."
"Discipline is pending with one other officer." She still had Silvia to reprimand.
"Thank you for your attention and I hope the wing can get back to normal as quickly as possible."
West End Musical
"Yvonne hurry up or we'll be late to dinner." Shell had her coat ready and shoes on. "You still fussin' with little Lauren?"
"Naw just finishin fixin my face, is the minder here?"
"Yes. Now can we go?" Shell had hired a baby sitter and sent her husband on a boys night out so he wouldn't feel out of place.
"Cor blimey, you'd think you hadn't seen them in years." Yvonne had earned her release from open prison and satisfied her parole conditions a year ago but this was the first time the crew were all meeting up together since Michelle's engagement party eleven years ago. Yvonne had divorced Charlie and lived nearby in a flat and visited often so Shell could spend time with Lauren.
"Well it's special innit, Isobel's first play. She's been dancing and singin since she was knee high, Nikki taking her for lessons and getting an audition. I wish my boys were interested in more than just football. Come on the cab's here."
Helen, Nikki, the children and Claire sat at the largest table at Romano's waiting for Yvonne and Shell to arrive. Champagne was cooling and the hors d'oeuvres ordered.
"Mum is this where you and mummy first met?" Patrick had asked and heard the story many times before, especially on Remembrance Day when they would take Trisha's medal out, talk about her and go to lay a wreath on her grave.
"Yes Wean I knew your Aunt Claire and she was on Mummy's crew. We met here in October 1943." Helen looked across the dining room at how little it had changed.
Iss continued the story, "And mummy said your eyes were as green as a glen and deep as a loch, just like mine."
"You all know there's no such thing as fairy tales, right Iss? Get a contract every time." Yvonne leaned over from behind her and kissed her cheek. Shell gave Helen a hug and they joined the table.
"Hello Aunty Von." Isobel was thoughtful for a moment before asking a question that stunned everybody. "Mummy if you hadn't met mum would I have been Aunty Trisha's baby?"
Claire had the presence of mind to answer. "Isobel that is question that is impossible to answered, but in a way because of her love and the sacrifice Trisha made for all of us, she helped make you your mum's little girl."
Helen mouthed a silent thank you to Claire, and Nikki found her voice. "I think a toast is in order, to my fair lady; Isobel Patricia Wade Stewart. Glasses clinked and Patrick laughed when the small amount of champagne he was allowed tickled his tongue.
The evening was in honour of Isobel's part in the new West End play My Fair Lady. Children from London schools and theatre classes had auditioned for the extra part and Isobel was one of the girls chosen. After dinner, they all walked the few blocks to the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. Patrick hugged his sister and went with the Aunties while Helen and Nikki got Iss to the back stage.
Nikki lifted her daughter up so she and Helen could smother her cheeks in kisses. "We'll be out in the house and we'll collect you afterward Ok?"
"Thank you. I love you mum, I love you mummy. I going to be an actress just like Julie Andrews someday."
"You better break a leg then Iss." Helen gave her one last squeeze and they left to join the queue for their seats.
"When did our daughter get so grown up and beautiful?"
The evening had been magical and the women shed many tears. In the theatre, that night Nikki saw a new star born and she knew nothing would stop Isobel from her dream. Iss had even asked for Julie's autograph as a keepsake of the night. And for the fourth time in her life Helen knew perfection as Isobel sang I Could Have Danced All Night, all the way back to the Hotel Russell.
They decided to all meet at Shell's for lunch next day so all the children could play and the adults could catch up. Shell's husband played football with the children and even little Lauren the youngest took turns chasing and kicking the ball.
"I thought you all should know I'm thinking of resigning as Governor of Larkhall." There were murmurs from all her friends. "We received Pamela Jolly onto the wing from Grendon."
The guilty verdict and death sentence for the mentally ill woman was an affront to Claire's sensibilities. "How she was even found fit to plead is beyond me and she hadn't even the necessary Mens Rea for conviction."
"That is exactly why I'll not preside over a hanging, let alone one that is utterly unjust. If I can't get her transferred to Broadmoor or her sentence isn't somehow commuted I'll leave the Home Office."
"Hanging should just be bloody abolished." Yvonne shuddered thinking how close she came to swinging because of her bastard ex-husband Charlie.
Nikki's strong sense of justice was deeply tied to the two women she had ever loved. "It's barbaric and there have been too many unsafe convictions recently. I've told Helen I fully support her decision. If you retire sweetheart maybe we'll get that holiday in Barbados you always dreamed of."
"We could file a file a petition for a writ of injunction to the Home Secretary. That might give her more time to seek clemency. If only there hadn't been a gas explosion, then her crime wouldn't even pass the test of the 1957 Homicide Act." Claire had reviewed some of the case material for Helen but Pamela's prospects looked bleak.
"Governor Bodybag over at Holloway will have Lewis done any day now and as soon as she's gone; Home Office will want Pamela off the books too." Helen sounded defeated. "I thought I was doin' some good, now I'm not so sure what will happen."
The children swarmed through the house looking for their mothers and sandwiches. "Enough of the adult subject for a moment shall we ladies." Shell herded the boys and girls all into the kitchen and set a tea tray out for them.
"Nikki how's is that book of yours coming along?" Yvonne had known of Barbara's ghost writing on Nikki's biography and was surprised it wasn't in print.
"Barbara finally paroled last year, but I have never really felt like I had done enough interesting things to fill a book. She has got it quite polished and now we just need a publisher."
"One would think the author of Babes Behind Bars would have some pull with a publisher or two." Yvonne winked at Nikki.
Helen glared at Yvonne. "By the way the Julies say hello. They're back in. I really thought this time they had made the turn."
"It not your fault Helen. Some out there have worse than prison, so bein' banged up looks like a three star holiday."
Nikki stretched. "Shell, Donald, that's us. We need to think about the trek home."
Helen collected hugs from Shell's boys and Lauren. "You're such a big girl now. You look after mummy Yvonne good Ok."
Claire hugged Patrick good bye. "Not too long and you'll be taking your A Levels. Keep up the good school work Patrick I'm very proud of you, and you too Iss. I expect to see you on a playbill next year."
Nikki beamed at her flock of chicks growing big and she had been right, they would always be hers.
Helen needn't have worried about the fate of Pamela Jolly. A public outcry regarding the rights of mentally infirmed in the justice system, help raise the profile of her case. The Home Secretary saw fit and agreed to transfer Miss Jolly to the Broadmoor Hospital where she was inducted into a medication trail for a new psychiatric drug, chlorpromazine.
Caroline Lewis had not been so fortunate and became the last woman hanged in England.
"Good afternoon ladies of the Berkeley Street tea society. I would like to thank you for your support of the prison exit program for women here at Spencer House. For ten years Monica Lindsay has provided safe living for women transitioning to productive lives after incarceration. I am pleased to report that with careful cooperation between Larkhall and Spencer House, in the time you have assisted; over a hundred women have regained their dignity and their lives. I must tell you though, the work continues as urgently as ever. Changes in our prison population are putting even greater demands on the scarce resources. Young women exposed to drugs and violence have few options to turn to and become trapped in cycles of release and re-offense. To that end I would like to announce a new peer based program of counselling that bridges prison and reintegration."
The ladies of the tea society politely clapped at the announcement.
Helen hoped that by having professional counselling along with mentorship by women who had succeeded in breaking the recidivism cycle, there would be better chance of reaching this very vulnerable population.
"Thank you Helen. Criminal women are not monsters or lunatics. The women passing through the doors of Spencer House could be your daughter, your friend, your neighbour. Most of the women we have seen are warm, intelligent and funny. Some have had their whole lives wasted by repeated incarcerations. I believe prison as punishment only makes bad situations worse. Women who suffer from addictions need rehabilitation and victims of abuse need safety and support. I hope you continue your generous patronage of Spencer House and Helen's new initiative." Monica was looking forward to wrestling one of the hardest challenges to prisoner rehabilitation.
Helen had arrived to work her usual minute or two late and had just sat down when the intercom buzzed.
"Send them in thank you."
"Miss Johnson, Miss Saunders, please be seated. As you know you are to be released again in two months. You have attended classes and career counselling on all of your tariffs yet circumstances often see you back in prison within a fortnight. I would like to recommend you for release to Spencer House and into the Peer program."
"Well Miss Stewart it always just been blind stupid bad luck that gets us back in her."
"Like how were we to know, that beauty pageant was a front, or that Mr Edwards bloke was a copper, or the answering service we worked for was right dodgy."
"The point is if you have help to make better choices after release, you stand a better chance of not getting into worse trouble." Helen notice the Julies glaze over and raised her voice to emphasise her point.
"Look the women coming to prison are getting younger and more violent. Most of your friends are now on the outside and it will only get harder for you if you continue returning to prison."
"Miss, life on the outside is so full of disappointment. Least here you know its shit and no surprises, nothin to get your hopes up then have em crushed."
"But don't you want to more from life than a roof and meals provided?"
"I suppose it's worth a try Miss, eh Jue?"
"Ya Jule it's worth a go."
"Good, you'll start the program at eleven a.m. today in the class room. I really want to see you two get on better on the outside."
Spencer House saw the graduation of the Julies in 1961 into an extended period of freedom and stability. Helen received letters and cards on special occasions from them and they eventually volunteered in the Peer program. Sadly Monica passed away in the summer of 1964 and Spencer House became a charitable trust continuing her work with former women convicts. Helen was particularly setback on her heels by the loss of her friend and was disconsolate for quite some time.
Nikki's biography Ago Pluma: Move the Feather was finally published for the Christmas book season of 1964 and she decided to try to plan a surprise and wake Helen from her doldrums.
"Helen could you book your holidays for two weeks at the end of March?"
"Yes I probably could, if you tell me why."
"I want to take you to somewhere sunny like Barcelona. We'll lie on the beach, eat, drink and we'll make love for hours on end."
"I can't believe it will be twenty years in June. Patrick finished sixth form and into Oxford and Iss doing so brilliantly at Guildhall. Do you really want to travel somewhere or would you like to stay close to home and do quiet things n' get the girls together. We could book our old room at the Russell for a weekend?"
"Would that make you happy love?"
"Anywhere that I'm with you, I am happy. Whether the sun is shinin or not, I couldn't ask for more." Helen saw Nikki start to tear up "Shh sweetheart, I didn't mean for you to cry."
"I Love you Helen." She rested her forehead on Helen's
"Och. Kiss me."
Nikki trailed tiny pecks down past the corner of Helen's eye over her cheek and across her lips. She parted her lips to receive Helen's searching tongue and felt the barest of whispers, "I want you." The frisson set off inside Nikki caused her to draw in a sharp breath and press her hips into Helen.
Unhurried she led her to their bedroom. They kissed again slow and searching. Nikki knew how to draw every want, every need and every desire from Helen. They immersed themselves in the sensuousness of each other's caresses.
When the sensations became too intense Helen gently took hold of Nikki's hand. "You're sellin' coal to Newcastle dear. Now I need you to set it alight."
With her mouth and fingers Nikki emptied the coal bin into the flames and Helen combusted in an incendiary climax.
Helen cradled Nikki in her arms her mood still rather introspective. "Do you think this will ever get old?"
Nikki encouraged Helen to give voice to her worries. "Helen as long as I'm breathing I'll want you and your kisses, and your hands on me or in me."
Trepidation had been clanging around between them for a while. "Why, do you want to try something different?"
"No," Helen rarely needed as much time to formulate her meaning. "I Dunno."
"I meant the Saturday afternoon shags and kips. Wean and Iss will be on their own soon and I want to spend more time with you. I am thinkin about retirin' and maybe go into teaching or volunteering. The prison system is one long crusade and I want to be done before I get bitter and angry or resentful because it keeps me from you."
She stroked Helen's hair and pushed a wild strand behind her ear. "Well you know my income and you don't have to work."
Nikki's brother controlled the family estate and she drew an income from a vile trust her father had saddled her with years ago. "I do find though that work gives me purpose, keeps me occupied and happy."
"That is my one misgiving, leaving the structure and stability of public service."
"Look. Patrick comes into the income Rachael left him on his birthday this year, and he'll begin drawing two hundred a year. Isobel is growing into a confident independent young woman. We have minimal encumbrances."
"Then you're ok with me taggin along like an outta work sheppard's dog."
"Don't worry darling, you'll find work that satisfies. You're a tough nut. I know you'll work it out."
1965 was the year that roared. The entire country celebrated the twentieth anniversary of the end of the war. Patrick was accepted into Oxford Law with A levels in French, mathematics, English literature and history. Helen was still contemplating retirement and looking at private sector consulting jobs but had not found any that suited her yet.
Isobel was studying drama and voice at Guildhall and boarding in London.
March had seen a particularly warm and sunny beginning to spring in Henley and the Wade Stewart's had all been enjoying a weekend at home when Iss out of the blue asked a question of Nikki and Helen.
"Mum, my friend Manon says he wants to touch me there."
Nikki could barely contain her shock. "You're far too young for that Iss."
Helen stepped in seeing the potential for hurt feelings right away. "When he can tell you where 'there' is without pointing then maybe you and he will be ready."
The deflections from over protective to vague answers confused Isobel.
"Mum ready for what? Snogging and hugging like you and mummy do all the time."
"Ya that and more." Helen's accent thickened betraying her concern. "When you're a woman you'll have feelings that make you want to be closer to a man, and let him be closer."
Helen saw Nikki shuddered. "En' that's enough from you Wade; we can't all be pure as the driven snow on that subject."
"Isobel there are responsibilities when you make love. The first of which is not getting pregnant and secondly, not undervaluing yourself or your feelings. You are a beautiful intelligent girl and you should wait a while and so should Manon."
"What if I want to be like you and Mummy?"
Nikki struggled to explain to her daughter something the entire world seemed not to be able to understand. "Being like us isn't something you choose Iss, it is something inside only your head and heart will know." How could she explain what was to love a woman.
"I never felt like I wanted to love a boy. I was lucky I met Aunty Trish when I was a bit older than you are now. We were inseparable friends. We did things together like going to the seashore. One day on the Brighton Pier we hugged and kissed. I knew I never wanted to be apart from her again."
"I was with a man and he died during the war Iss. The feelings I had for him were nice and I was very sad when he was gone. But the day I met Nikki in St. James's park, a cloud lifted off my heart. She was everything I ever wanted."
Nikki's voice hitched. "So you see why we would say to you; don't let what your friends pressure you to do, be the reason you let your knickers down."
"Nikki honestly." Helen rolled her eyes at the slang.
"Helen yes, honestly. Isobel deserves all the openness we can give her." She hadn't meant to sound flip. "Sex can be wonderful beyond belief, but right now is one of the rare times that it's a burden and not a grace. Give yourself some more time. I can assure you, love will find you sooner than later."
"Oh no Wade, you don't get off that easy. There's one more thing to explain, you know, that time of month."
"It's ok mummy the girls at school already told me about that pmt stuff so we can dodge gymnastics and dance class. You know, ooh miss I have a touch of cramps or not today please miss, I have a touch of pmt."
"Isobel Patricia Wade Stewart don't you dare be skippin your studies."
"I love you when your bossy mum, I know it means you care." She fell into Helen's arms relieved they hadn't gotten angry and relieved she didn't have to do what Manon had asked her to do. "I love you both, thank you."
Nikki lifted Isobel's chin. "Iss no matter what, we will always love you and be here for you. Do you understand?"
From the angst of first love to the top of the sky was the life Nikki's family lead and none of then took a second of it for granted.
Nikki received official notice of approval to a request she and Bill Waterton had submitted in 1963 to break the United Kingdom women's speed in flight record.
Dear Miss Wade,
It is with great pleasure the Minister of Defence; The Honourable David Trunscott has approved the exhibition flight of the RAF Lightening aircraft by Miss Nicola Wade and second pilot Squadron Leader Waterton during the 08 May, 1965 VE Day ceremonies fly past of Buckingham palace. Additionally Miss Wade is authorised to attempt to break the speed record for women's flight on a subsequent date to be announced.
Chief of the Air Staff
The girls gathered in London to celebrate and watch Nikki's formation of Lightenings. The fly past of Buckingham Palace was bittersweet for the ATA girls on the ground as it had highlighted the dwindling stock of World War II era planes. The Merlin engines had given way to bigger and faster jets and in the twenty years, thousands of planes had been off strength and scrapped, with mere handfuls of those beautiful machines surviving. Afterward Nikki drove back into the city from Biggin Hill to join Helen, Claire Yvonne and Shell at the lounge in the Hotel Russell.
Nikki lifted her tumbler of Scotch, "To those no longer with us and those not present. Cheers."
"Speaking of those not present, why did Silvia beg off again?" Claire never understood Silvia's absence.
Yvonne looked wistfully into her glass and answered. "Some would fly a burning bird to the ground and others would be first out the hatch. Us here know which we are. Silvia never got that."
Her face brightened, "Nik, what's it like flying those jets then eh?"
"Ladies it's like strapping a rocket between your legs and havin' your guts fall to your knees. She had a huge grin on her face. "And I gotta say it is fabulous."
Helen raised her glass. "Nikki is being modest, next month the MOD has her out breaking the speed of sound. Ask her then what it feels like."
Friday 18th June 1965
The year that roared positively boomed over the Irish Sea, when Nikki Wade, with Bill as only the check pilot, flew the English Electric Lightening to mach 1.65. Miss Wade said "It truly was a personal triumph setting a new speed record in the English Electric Lightening." Piloting the beast of an airplane took all her skill and nerve as she flew from transonic to supersonic speed. "I was a little glad when I handed control back to Bill." He took the plane through a victory roll and back into subsonic flight. Miss Wade took the opportunity to thank the MoD and announced her retirement from
"Well that's was a bit anticlimactic, you don't even hear the boom."
"Ya we miss all the good stuff in here. You remember that Javelin ten years ago. The bloody elevators fell off one day."
Nikki laughed. "I remember reading about your medal."
"It is quite the thing to stare at death, and calculate the strength and the seconds you need to cheat it."
In the officers mess Bill and Nikki had a round and traded stories with pilots half their ages.
"I guess this is it Nikki. I'm heading back home to Ontario and retiring from test flying. It's time to let the younger ones have a go."
"Well that's pretty much it for me too. Doing circuits with students is Ok, but Helen is thinking of private sector work and I'm ready to hang up the wings and take to gardening."
"Then cheers to hoofing it for the next forty years." They both laughed and said goodbye.
Nikki got in Helen's 59 Aston Martin and drove home feeling a little sad. She would always have the memory of hurtling through the sky in jets or the memory of her first flight in a silk and wood bi-plane. But she was done now risking not being there for the one thing that eclipsed all of those achievements.
"Helen I'm home." Nikki walked through to the kitchen but couldn't find her.
"I'm out here sweetheart." She found her in the backyard with a party in full swing.
"So what's it like flying that thing?" Yvonne's craggy voice called out of the crowd.
Nikki put her arm around Helen's waist. "I can honestly say nothing compares to having my feet on the ground and to be standing next to this woman." She gave her a squeeze.
"But if you must know, it was surprisingly quiet and all in all; extremely fast."
Claire clinked her glass and everyone drew quite. "To Nikki, the fastest bird without wings. Hip hip, hooray."
Nikki and Helen circulated among the guests and both nearly fell over when they spotted Silvia and Bobby Hollamby sitting on the rose bench.
Helen introduced herself. "I'm glad you could come Silvia is this your husband Bobby?"
"Yes ma'am. Bobby, Governor Stewart and Nikki Wade."
"Silvia how many times have I asked you not to stand on ceremony? It's Helen."
"Yes ma'am, Helen."
Bobby fawned and scrapped as he lured Helen into a clingy hug. "Well it's nice to finally meet you Helen, I've heard quite a lot about you."
Nikki presented her hand to him. "Yes I'm sure you have. Hello Bobby nice to see you again after all these years."
"Nikki." His terse greeting as he shook her hand.
Silvia started to twig. "How do you know Miss Stewart?"
Always suave, Nikki laid it on thick. "I'm sorry Silvia I thought you knew. Helen and I have been together," she looked at Helen lustily, "for twenty years."
Helen took Nikki's hand. "Married in thought if not in deed."
Big band music wafted over the guests. "I reckon Claire's got the phonograph playing now. Please feel free to join in the dancin."
She led Nikki away. "Come on wife, let's go dance and really put a twist in her knickers."
Bobby Hollamby managed to corner Helen later in the evening when Nikki wasn't around and was apparently unsatisfied over old wounds.
"It mustn't be easy running a prison, but don't you think it was a bit unfair of you not promoting Silvia to Wing Governor."
"I'm not sure what you've been told about me Mr Hollamby but I can assure you I don't talk out of turn about work, and I especially don't discuss my staffing decisions. I'm sure you can understand, and if Silvia has grievances there are proper channels to go through. Good night." She walked away not worried one wit about how rude it seemed.
Shell was pouring a dram when Helen found her and quickly downed one herself. "Don't worry Helen, that's Silvia for you. You always count on er' for a hard time."
Henley Standard Anniversary Announcements 19 June, 1965: Nicola Wade and Helen Stewart celebrated twenty years of friendship and companionship with close friends and family. All wish them happiness and health for the next twenty.
"Mum, Mom we're going to be late." Isobel paced at the bottom of stairs. When they finally appeared. Isobel took the piss. "From the look on Mom's face it must have taken you hours to get ready."
Helen blushed. "No comment."
"Ok stand close and I'll take a picture." The instamatic flashed and the first picture for Patrick's wedding book was taken.
More cameras flashed as Patrick and Amy exited the small chapel of Brasenose College where they had met as Oxford law students. With just a few friends and family attending they made their way to the hired car that whisked them away to the reception hall. Helen retrieved her keys from her clutch and opened the car door to drive her family to celebrate with the newlywed Wade Stewarts.
"In the Wade Stewart house there are no half measures for love of family or friends. No half measures for selflessness, and no certainly half measures of spirit or integrity. To this trove Patrick has brought his bride Amy. We wish you all the best, as you continue the journey started for you by your parents." Claire beamed over the gathering, proud and honoured to speak for her best friends' son. "Please join me and raise your glasses to Amy and Patrick."
The evening managed to follow some conventions beginning with the first dances
Isobel danced with her brother as Nikki watched their conspiratorial body language turn into giggles. She leaned closer to Helen. "Those two are up to something."
"Your fiftieth birthday perhaps?"
"I hope not."
"Why sweetheart? Except for a healthy cache of gray you're still the amazing woman I met and fell in love with twenty three years ago."
Nikki's eyes darkened, as they did whenever she had something serious to say, "I could never have done any of it without you Helen, you know that."
"That sounds like an awful lot of responsibility for one person."
"And you always did say I was the soppy one." Nikki kissed her on the cheek.
Isobel made her way over to her moms and tapped Nikki on the shoulder. "May I?"
"Of course sweetheart."
"Actually can we sit for a bit? I have something to tell you both." They moved from the dance floor to a close by table.
Isobel was animated and bouncy. "I got a job on Dr. Who, Daleks and all."
"Fantastic Iss, congratulations."
"Ay, that's spectacular. When do you start?"
"Next week. I'm an incidental recurring extra, so I'll be in three or four episodes. Then onto the next project."
"Brilliant and how did your theatre auditions go?"
"Hair was ok but I'm not so sure, it seems a little controversial. I'll have to wait and see."
Claire joined the group in time to hear Isobel's good news.
"Claire, how's that manslaughter appeal going?" Nikki had been following the story in the news and the appeal that Claire would be presenting to the Court of Appeals.
"It's been taking a lot of time. Patrick has been invaluable helping with the leg work and research." Can't say much else, but I am optimistic."
"Bloody shame the original trial lawyers hadn't done their jobs. What if someone tried to kill or rape Helen? Would that mean I couldn't stop it, or if I did, I would potentially go to jail for protecting my family?"
"Nikki remember you see your Boston marriage from the inside out, not from the outside like most people. What is reasonable to you is still seen as a perversion and has no standing in law. Use of force to defend Helen would not be judged the same way as a man and wife would."
Suddenly overwhelmed by champagne and the fierceness of her feelings for Helen, a mall sob escaped Nikki and she wiped misty tears from her eyes.
Helen leaned over and hugged her woman. "Och nothin's gonna happen to me. You're just feelin a wee bit fragile tonight. So I think a good piss up is in order."
Nikki composed herself, "I was hoping to avoid that. You know, the best cure for a hangover is not to get one in the first place."
"Can't argue with that logic even if it is a touch boring." Claire maneuvered to change the subject. "Any plans for your birthday then Nik?"
"You're going to laugh."
Isobel guffawed. "Don't be ridiculous we'd never laugh Mom."
Helen was curious because Nikki had been so moody over any mention of it. "Sweetheart it's your birthday; don't you think it's for you to say what you want?"
"Well the last big event we stayed pretty close to home. I think I'd like a warm sunny holiday long weekend somewhere. How about the Azores or the Canary Islands?"
"Ooh sounds frightfully better than London in October. What about Costa del Sol? I could swing a weekend away from the firm."
"I had thought about Spain ages ago, and it would be the easier option. Maybe Shell and Yvonne could join us? Get all the old girls done with in one go?"
Helen and Claire looked conspiratorially at each other and got to work planning the particulars.
There was never going to be an easy way to explain it so why not put the bikini on and get it bloody over with. She had cancer. They'd cut her breast off then burned her with radiation. Bollocks. She threw a white shirt on over the bikini and went out to the poolside to socialise with the women who were her best friends. Up until that moment in the weekend they had been none the wiser.
"Everyone get a drink, 'n gather round, I've got something to tell you all." Michelle sniffled and used a tissue to blow her nose.
"A few months ago Donald was fiddling round with me boobies and says, 'What's this then, there's a raspberry in there?' and I said frig if I know."
More than a hint of defiance tinged her voice. "So I went to the doctor and next thing I know it's off with it, and I'm getting burnt like chips from the radiation." She doffed the shirt and did a twirl.
"You got brass ones Dockley that's what I'll say. Is Donald ok then?" Yvonne wondered how supportive Shell's husband had been.
"He's good. The boys took it hard though, worrying if their mum was a goner. Had me worried too."
"So do they not have something that could help you feel more balanced and look natural, you know?" Claire put her hands to her chest indicating her boobs.
"Oi don't get me started on that. I expect the French might have some lingerie that would do the trick but I'll have to do mail order or get Donald to take me to Paris."
"Ya Shell you get him to splash out for a trip. You deserve it." Yvonne thought a bit of a wind up was in order.
"Oh I kinda like that idea." They all had a good laugh.
Nikki got up and went over to the deck chair Shell was sitting on and implored her to stand. She enveloped her in a protective hug. Helen held her next, then Claire and Yvonne. Her friends all understood the courage it had taken to tell them.
"Come on then, don't let me bugger a perfectly good birthday party. I ain't ready for no wake yet."
Nikki the natural born leader took the cue. "Right then who's for getting the chocolate cake and candles and havin all us old cows make our wish.
"You including me in yer old coos club?"
"Yvonne's been long through that gate, Shell and I just crossed the line so no, it's just you and Claire bringin up the rear in the young coo's club dear."
"Oh now I remember the cake I had to get a permit from the Marbella fire brigade because it's such a hazard."
"Yes that's probably the one."
Helen and Claire brought out a chocolate ring cake with a torch light stuck in the middle beaming away.
"Actually the fire brigade turned us down on the permit and we had to improvise."
"We did manage the lucky pence so do cut carefully."
"You two are nutters."
Nikki paused. "Before the cake gets cut, raise your glass to those no longer with us and those not present. Cheers."
To Be Continued
Life went on for the Wade Stewarts with grandchildren being born, jobs retired from and the occasional heart break. Isobel had a baby girl Rachael in 1971 but divorced her husband due to the irreconcilable differences in their careers. Helen left the Home Office and took up consultation for private charitable trusts. Patrick and Claire had a prosperous chamber and were employed by many excellent solicitors for high profile cases. Nikki was a woman of leisure and volunteered at the local garden club. Patrick and Amy had three boys and by 1993 there were four grandchildren.
Michelle had survived her cancer and become a voice for women breast cancer survivors. Longevity was very much dependent on economics and the poorest women still had appalling survival prospects. Access to appropriate pain control and palliative care lagged behind the standards set elsewhere in the EU. Her husband Donald had passed away and Shell lived in their family home with her youngest and his family.
Yvonne and Lauren still quietly lived in London. She never heard from Denny again but always harboured a kind thought for the mate she flew with during the war.
Silvia Hollamby made Wing Governor under Governor Betts but soon retire following a scandalous escape by three hardened Brixton girls. The ensuing investigation uncovered rampant bullying and violence by inmates involved in an organised drug culture.
Nikki's world; everyone's world came to a grinding halt August 18, 1996
Helen woke during the night with a blinding headache to find a terrified Nikki leaning over her then rush around talking on the phone. She felt very heavy and thought it was odd that when she asked Nikki what was wrong Nikki just stroked her face. She could see Nikki was crying and it made her sad. She thought she could feel a tear slide down her own cheek but wasn't sure. It was hard to keep her eyes open and she slid into sleep that eased the ache in her head.
The ambulance arrived to take Helen to Accident and Emergency. Nikki was frantic when Helen closed her eyes and didn't open them. The ambulance technicians loaded Helen onto the stretcher and whisked her to the hospital. Nikki made the call to Patrick and Isobel from the hospital but had little information to share.
The A and E nurses did their best to comfort Nikki as Helen underwent a barrage of tests and treatments while Patrick drove from London, with Claire. Isobel was on location in Scotland and wouldn't be down until the next day.
A doctor found Nikki, Patrick and Claire and explained the CT results.
"I'm sorry Ms Wade. Ms Stewart suffered a rupture of an artery that supplied the left side of her brain. The aneurysm then bled into her brain which caused a clot." He wasn't sure if the tall gray haired woman heard him when he explained there was no surgery that could correct or reverse the injury.
Claire stepped in and helped Nikki sit in a chair. "Helen has an advanced directive and Nicola Wade has lasting power of attorney. Can she see Helen?"
"Yes. Ms Stewart is intubated, she does not appear to be in any pain and she is currently stable."
"Her name is Helen. We've been together fifty one years and only inmates ever called her Ms Stewart." Nikki was on her last nerve. "Will she regain consciousness?"
"There is a low possibility of that occurring. It would be best to make family and anyone else you wish to know, aware so you can."
She turned and held Patrick not wanting to hear the Doctor finish what he was saying. Claire was shaken. She was a year junior to Helen and had not expected this at all. "We will want to consult you regarding the removal of the intubation after Helen and Nikki's daughter arrives tomorrow."
"Can I see her now please." The raw emotion of her voice caused Claire to finally let go and weep.
The Doctor showed Nikki to the intensive-care room. Helen's heart was being monitored and the ventilator was breathing for her. She might have looked peaceful were it not for the IV's and other equipment.
Nikki took Helen's hand. It felt so cool. "Helen?" It was all she could say before her voice constricted and tears fell unbidden. She brushed Helen's cheek with her lips and found the only words that mattered. "I love you sweetheart."
Patrick and Claire briefly visited and it was decided they would leave Nikki at the hospital and return in the morning possibly with Isobel depending on her flight. There would be little sleep for any of the Wade Stewarts.
Henley Standard Obituaries: 19 August 1996 With great sadness Patrick and Isobel Wade Stewart said farewell to their mother Helen Stewart of Glasgow. Helen is survived by her partner Nicola Wade of London and their four grandchildren Nicholas, David, William and Rachael. Helen's family wishes to thank the doctors and nurses who cared for her during her brief illness.
Three months after Helen passed Isobel's daughter Rachael delivered a baby girl Helen Juliet Atkins, the first great grandchild in the family. Lauren Atkins's son Mathew married Rachael the following spring.
2003 Interview with Isobel Wade Stewart producer of Bad Girls the Series.
How important was the lesbian story arc to you?
It was always my intent to produce an entertaining drama. That we were allowed to explore a lesbian theme so positively was a bonus. There really is a lot more going on in Bad Girls than just a lesbian relationship. There are pregnant women in prison, incarcerated mothers, depression and suicide, misogyny and patriarchy. The story arc and the whole show is meant to be entertaining of course, but I wanted to be able to explore issues that mum used to talk about, her board work, the programs she implemented, halfway houses, prisoner mistreatment and criminal women. Issues of poverty and literacy have never been solved completely.
What was it like writing the story lines?
I had these wonderful memories to draw upon, and I loved seeing my moms and their friends come alive in this alternative universe. The actresses were brilliant and sometimes it was difficult to watch because I do miss Mum and I know Nikki does too. Nikki is among the last of the ATA girls and that is also sad. There are so few of them living.
Who was Patricia Harris?
Most of the character names were altered; a few are real but no longer living. Patricia Harris is a real life war heroine and I can tell you how important Trisha was to our family. Of course I never met her but Nikki had a few pictures and her medal, and the way they both spoke about her we knew she was a special woman. I'm not sure who I'd be if she had lived. When I was a child we would go as a family to her grave and lay a wreath for her on Remembrance Day. My brother Patrick still does. She was a catalyst whose life touched and changed all of us in profound ways.
What does Nikki think of the show?
Nikki loves the show as do her grandchildren and the great grandkids. It was fantastic being able to combine it all into a story that shows how beautifully and thoroughly two people can love each other and not be maudlin getting that across. It really was extraordinary knowing two people who could recite Shakespeare across a room with their eyes.
Was Babes Behind Bars really a book?
Yes. I have a copy from Mum's clipping shoe box. It was very tawdry and definitely not Valley of the Dolls material.
Where did the ideas for the different points of law come from?
I consulted with my brother who is a barrister. He and Claire Walker also a barrister were called to the bar by the Gray's Inn. Early on she and Patrick conducted an appeals case similar to the one that formed the backbone of the Nikki and Helen arc. There have been other high profile self-defense and provocation trials but I wanted to focus mainly on the law from a marginalized woman's perspective.
You have worked in the theater and TV, which do you like to do best?
Television is interesting because of the depth you can bring to a character and amount of time you can spend with them. Theater is very immediate. Theater patrons often are well acquainted with a character but there are no reruns or repeats, each performance has a slight variation. To answer you I love live performance. I much prefer the production and creative side of television over acting.
Do you have a response to the criticism of the play gay for pay issue?
Visibility and positive stories are very important to the gay community. The lesbian story line was meant to be a complimentary vehicle for a broader exploration of women and in particular women in jail. There is always a risk of being typecast after playing a strong or particularly popular character. The issue becomes a problem when fans or industry insiders forget the actors are just that; actors. The entertainment industry pays huge sums of money to certain actors to remain closeted. What message does that send?
Are you friends with the actresses who portrayed Nikki and Helen?
No not really, I worked with them professionally. They gave the production their full attention for three seasons and have since gone on to other projects. That is the job but many people confuse the actor with character.
14 May, 2009
Helen Juliet Atkins sat somberly and ate little sandwiches with her cousin Nikki.
"Momma why are adults always so sad? Why are we having sandwiches and tea this afternoon when Granma went away? Why did everyone cry today?" Rachael decided it was best to answer one question at a time.
"Gramma Isobel's mummy died. Gran Nikki was very old and she's with Nana Helen. There together forever now. Uncle Patrick and Gramma Isobel loved them very much and will be sad for a while, but Nikki didn't want anyone to stay sad long. She always said they'd be together forever as long as we remembered."
Cast of Characters
ATA Squadron Leader Nicola Wade Nikki
ATA Flt Lt Claire Walker ATA
Flt Lt Yvonne Atkins
ATA Flt Lt Lady Silvia Hollamby
ATA Flying Officer Michelle Dockley
ATA Flying Officer Edwina Blood Denny
WAAF Section Officer SOE Patricia Harris Trish code name Zandra Operation Black Raven
WRNS First Officer Helen Stewart
Major Dominic McAllister SOE (Einwohner resident captive) code name Adonis
Hauptsturmführer Doktor Waugh
Corporal Sharon Wylie
Patrick William Wade Stewart, Wean
Isobel Patricia Wade Stewart, Iss
Rachael Atkins, Isobel's Daughter
Helen Juliet Atkins, Isobel's Granddaughter
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