BOOK REVIEW: CHASING THE WIND: A STORY OF BRITISH AND GERMAN PILOTS IN THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN BY HELENA P. SCHRADER
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World War II was a dramatic and terrible war. Any of us that lived through it knew somewhat of the terror and constant danger to those that lived on the home front no matter in what nation you lived. If you lived in the United States as I did, being a seven-year old boy the day Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, you knew of the horrific event that was started on December 7, 1941. We lived in uncertainty daily, never knowing if our mainland would be attacked next.
For those in Europe that were in this war long before the United States was drawn into it, their “uncertainty” was written in history by those that served in the military, but mostly by those that lived, or tried to live, their daily lives not knowing if the next German bomb was going to hit their house, neighborhood, place of employment, military installation, or historic locations throughout their nation. Helena Schrader did her research very well in telling this story of the people on the home front and the members of the military of Great Britain, and just a slight portion of what they went through during less than one year of this horrible war. Chasing the Wind also tells some of the most important jobs that women performed as a part of the military or as volunteering civilians, both groups always in danger performing their work in so many places, permitting more men to do their jobs actually fighting for their nation.
The story starts in May 1940, with Flying Officer (at that time) Robert “Robin” Priestman and a group of flyers taking to the air to attempt to bomb German bridges and military installations in France. The land offensive had not succeeded in stopping the German assault, thus the air sorties for the raids. These pilots loved to fly. Most of them did not at first realize the danger they faced in those light airplanes that, for the most part, were made of wood and canvas and not for strength. Robin had been an aerobatics pilot so he was taken into the military to see if he had what it took to pilot a war airplane and not just put it through its acrobatic paces. Robin did have what it took. He became one of the many to fly for Great Britain in this epic battle to keep their nation from being taken over by Germany.
Robin and many others joined the military to fly. Most could fly but some had to stay on the ground to maintain the fragile airplanes. They needed much maintenance after a sortie when bullet holes opened up the skins and glass of the airplane, sometimes taking off parts of the wing or fuselage, making a safe landing unsure. These pilots got to depend on their ground crew almost as much as their planes.
Chasing the Wind starts out with so much action that I could not put the book down until my eyes made me. Helena Schrader packed the beginning so chock full of action that contained so many dogfights (air battles against an enemy airplane) that the reader wonders how anyone survived the constant whirl and swirl through the air of German and English fighters chasing each other as the Germans tried to protect their bomber planes while they dropped their bombs on England. Needless to say not everyone survived these battles on both sides. Some were killed outright; some bailed out when their planes were shot out from under them or the damage was so bad that to live, the pilots had to bail out whether over land or water, friendly or enemy territory. And, some were mortally wounded or outright killed and just crashed where they were pointed.
I must add at this time that the non-stop action during the beginning of the book did not let up throughout the entire book. Whether on land or in the air, there was terrific action throughout.
If I have not piqued your interest in this book by now, you must not like a great war, action book. Besides the great battles in Chasing the Wind, the many characters you meet make the book even more interesting. Robin’s love life is a great part of this book, as are the German counterparts, male and female. The Germans also had women working in their military as assisting members and civilians. Both England and Germany had to depend on these women for the many chores that they could perform, not being part of the military action. They were still in much danger when the German air raids came closer to interior England, especially areas around London.
Klaudia became a part of the German women’s movement by working in the fields raking hay in the fields. Klaudia couldn’t wait to assist her nation by performing more meaningful tasks and that time came when her superiors noticed her. Klaudia’s love life also becomes a part of the story as she meets pilots, as well as some other German officers she would rather not have met! The author has done the telling of the personal side of the war on both sides masterfully. She mixes action of the squadrons, individuals, and lives, both private and military, while in action and during the little down time they received. The book tells also of the civilian actions while under fire and how they coped with day-to-day living.
You will not be disappointed with Chasing the Wind if you like war, love, action, adventure, flying, and especially trying to stay alive under the stress and danger of extreme battle.