Bobby’s War by Shirley Mann: Rich in period detail, nostalgia, intrigue, and romance - book review -
While the wartime male pilots scrambled for aerial battles and patrols, a small army of high-flying women were taking to the skies on critical solo flights that kept the wheels of the war machine turning. for aerial battles and patrols, a small army of high-flying women were taking to the skies on critical solo flights that kept the wheels of the war machine turning.
These plucky women of the Air Transport Auxiliary became known as the ‘glamour girls’ but their work delivering all kinds of planes to airfields across Britain during the Second World War was as dangerous as it was daring… and some never made it back home.
Derbyshire-based journalist Shirley Mann follows up her compelling debut saga, Lily’s War, with another exciting, drama-filled celebration of the role of women on the home front as we are swept into the remarkable, up-and-down life of ATA pilot Bobby Hollis.
Daughter of a troubled Norfolk farmer, Bobby’s story takes us behind the scenes of the everyday life of these expert fliers whose regular solo sorties – through weather systems, without radar, and often against the clock – really was the stuff of derring-do adventures.
Add on universal issues like love, loss, grief, the warmth of friendship and the bonds of family, and you have an adventure that is both revealing and inspirational.
In October of 1942, 27-year-old Roberta ‘Bobby’ Hollis has become an experienced pilot with the ATA, the amazing women who pilot aircraft to bases all around the country, delivering planes both large and small.
Bobby always wanted to escape her cold and fractured family life on the Hollis’ farm in Norfolk after growing up with a distant father and her haunted mother who has never recovered from the death at birth of Bobby’s twin brother Michael.
With her pilot’s licence, which she had been allowed to gain in order to spray the farm’s crops, the ATA seemed like the perfect opportunity for Bobby and after a whirlwind of training, her dream came come true.
Despite the rigours of the job, and a relentless timetable of flights which carry many risks, Bobby thrives on her busy routine and is much admired by the male pilots – not least her childhood classmate, handsome Guy Prince – for both her excellence and her auburn-haired beauty.
But there always seems to be something standing in Bobby’s way… like her demanding father who wants to marry her off to his wealthy friend’s son Edward Turner, a rather quiet, awkward man who works in the War Office, so that the future of the farm will be secured.
As Bobby navigates her way through work, love and some shocking family secrets, she learns that controlling a huge, four-engine bomber might just be easier than controlling her own life.
Mann reveals in her acknowledgements that much of the information on the personal experiences of an ATA pilot – and the different planes they flew – was provided by one of their most famous names, 101-year-old Mary Ellis, whose home she visited in the Isle of Wight and who died just six weeks after their meeting.
And our feisty heroine Bobby – determined to prove that being a brave, tough and capable woman in a man’s world is not just a flight of fancy but entirely possible – proves to be the perfect tribute to those wartime aces.
Rich in period detail, nostalgia, intrigue, romance and the realities of life in a perilous and unpredictable corner of the home front, Bobby’s War is a saga full of history, heart and our proud national heritage.
(Zaffre, paperback, £7.99)