I chose London and the south east of England as a setting mainly because I have no close family connection with either area and I wanted Into The Unknown to be a work of fiction and not a family memoir.
I chose the Second World War because my grandparents’ experiences of the war couldn’t be more different. In 1939, my maternal grandparents were living in The Netherlands while my paternal grandparents were living in the Irish Free State.
Opa (my grandfather) joined the Dutch Army. When it surrendered to the Germans in May 1940, he was taken as a prisoner of war to Bremen, Germany and worked on clearing and developing sites to be used as graveyards. Oma (my grandmother) spent the war in boarding school and in Rotterdam, which was almost destroyed by aerial bombardment by first the Luftwaffe and then the RAF and USAF.
Oma’s father was a baker and there is a family story that he and other bakers chartered a ship and brought flour back to Rotterdam from America. I have no idea whether the story is true and if anyone can dismiss or confirm the story, I’d love to hear from them.
When Oma’s family home was destroyed in a bombing raid, they moved into the bakery. The family photographs survived, having been given to one of Oma’s sisters for safekeeping while she was away at boarding school.
Meanwhile, in neutral Ireland, my paternal grandfather worked as an insurance inspector. My paternal grandmother’s parents were farmers and kept Granny and Grandad supplied with chickens, eggs, turf (peat) and also a goose each Christmas. Despite rationing and shortages of commodities, to them, the war must have seemed a very long way away.
London on 3 September 1939 is in upheaval. War is inevitable. Into this turmoil steps Kate Sheridan, newly arrived from Ireland to live with her aunt and uncle, and look for work. When she meets Flight Lieutenant Charlie Butler sparks fly, but he is a notorious womaniser. Should she ignore all the warnings and get involved with a ladies man whose life will be in daily danger?
Charlie Butler has no intention of getting involved with a woman. But when he meets Kate his resolve is shattered. Should he allow his heart to rule his head and fall for a nineteen-year-old Irish girl while there is a war to fight?
Private conflicts and personal doubts are soon overshadowed. Will the horrors of war bring Kate and Charlie together or tear them apart?
“It seems like I’ve known you for years,” she told him.
“A year since Christmas Day.” He kissed her. “I love you so much, Kate.” They both jumped as they heard a bomb fall some way off and more planes approach.
“Bastards,” he whispered. “Leave us alone.”
“I wonder if there are people like us in Germany, sitting in shelters like this—frightened—not knowing when it’s going to end. They can’t all support Hitler.”
He’d never thought of that. “I suppose not,” he conceded. “But Hitler has brought it upon them all. Kate.” He turned her face towards his. “Your father wants you home, doesn’t he?”
She nodded. “He wanted me to go to America. It was Mummy who persuaded him that I come here. Now he really hates Bob because he thinks Bob put me under pressure to join up.”
“Is your father…” Charlie began. How could he put this delicately? “A bit anti-British?”
“He doesn’t like the British, Charlie; there’s no point in me denying it. He conveniently forgets that Mummy is British. The censor has had a field day with his letters. Churchill isn’t his favourite politician in all the world.”
“So he does hate me?” Charlie asked. “Like you said he would?”
She sighed. “He’s never mentioned you, even though I write about you in all my letters. It’s his loss.”
“Oh, Charlie, don’t be silly.” She kissed him. “Mummy likes the sound of you, though. Even Granny Norah does. If anyone should be able to persuade Daddy otherwise it’s her. He’s a bit of a mammy’s boy at heart.”
But an idiot apart from that, Charlie thought angrily, but smiled to placate her. Bloody hell, the man could support the IRA, or be in it for all he knew.