Meet Into The Unknown’s Kate Sheridan

Kate Sheridan

Kate Sheridan is an only child, born in Co Galway, Ireland to an Irish solicitor father and an English mother. Her father had wanted Kate to go to America in search of work and live with his cousin but her mother persuades him to let Kate go to London to live with Kate’s aunt and uncle, despite the threat of war.

Although Kate is only eighteen when she arrives in London on the morning of 3 September 1939, she is very independent, having been sent away from home to boarding school at the age of twelve. She has recently completed a course in a Commercial College so she knows short hand, typing and book keeping, which she hopes will help her in her search for work.

Unfortunately, Kate’s nationality and accent hinder her job search, as many people resent the Irish Free State’s decision to declare itself neutral. It is quite a while before she is employed by a local butcher, who thinks she’s Welsh, as his book-keeper. Mr Graham turns out to have wandering hands and by Christmas 1939, Kate has had enough of having her bottom pinched. She decides to leave and join the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, known as the WAAF.

Kate meets Flight Lieutenant Charlie Butler on Christmas Day when they both have the same idea to walk off their Christmas dinner. She is immediately attracted to him and agrees to go to the pictures with him but is put on her guard when her aunt and uncle tell her Charlie is a womaniser who only lives for the here and now.

When Charlie asks Kate out a second time, her aunt and uncle are shocked. Charlie Butler has never asked the same woman out twice and Kate’s aunt forbids her to go. Should Kate heed her aunt and uncle’s advice and turn Charlie down? Or should she trust her own judgement and risk a relationship with an RAF pilot whose life will probably be in danger? Find out what she decides in Into The Unknown.  

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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?

Excerpt:

“What?” His head jerked up, making her jump. “You’re only nineteen?”

He seemed so horrified, her heart began to thump for all the wrong reasons.

“Yes. Why? What age did you think I was?”

“Twenty-two, twenty-three, at least,” he gasped. “Oh God.”

My clothes and make-up, she thought, getting to her feet. “Charlie, we seem to have been very much mistaken about each other.” She reached for her gas mask case, hoping she wouldn’t cry, and cursing herself for not believing Helen and Bob and letting her guard down. “I’m very sorry.”

“No, Kate, please?” He stood up so quickly his chair toppled over backwards, just missing his own gas mask case, and grabbed her arms. “Please stay?” he pleaded, his hands sliding down to hers and squeezing them. “Please?”

When she nodded, he released her hands, and she re-took her seat. Picking up his chair, he sat down, rubbing the side of his nose, and she waited for him to gather his thoughts.

“Kate, I’m sorry. I did think you were older. I mean, I’m twenty-seven. You don’t look or act like a nineteen-year-old.”

She gave him a weak smile. “When I arrived in London, I looked like a scarecrow and Helen refused to be seen out with me. As soon as she could, she bought me clothes, shoes, and make-up, and got my hair cut and styled. We thought it would help me to get a job but looking back I realise it was very over the top. I did get a job, but it brought me the trouble with Mr. Graham, so now I’ve modified my style so I don’t look like a scarecrow or a clown anymore.”

“Mmm,” he replied, and she frowned. “I saw you,” he explained. “I was driving back to base. I saw you getting out of a cab. I only saw a glimpse of you, but it was enough for me. Kate, can we start again? Please?”

Kate looked down at her hands and heard Charlie sitting back in his chair. It creaked, and he sighed. How should she answer? What about Bob and Helen’s warnings? What about what her father would say? What about her feelings for Charlie? There was no denying she had some and she bit her bottom lip. This was only the second time they had gone out together. Was this all happening far too soon?

“Be careful.” Bob and Helen’s words echoed around her head and she couldn’t ignore them so she leaned forward. “Are you really sure you want to go out with a nineteen-year-old girl from Ireland?” she asked.

Seeing indecision in his eyes, her heart sank. “I need to know, Charlie. I’ve let my guard down once and I’m not doing it again unless I know.”

“Bob warned you about going out with me again, didn’t he?” he asked instead of answering. “No, it’s all right, I’d be amazed and disappointed in him if he hadn’t. Charlie Butler—be careful, he gets through more women than hot dinners. Kate, if you just want to be seen with a pilot on your arm, who makes you feel all grown up, then I will find a cab and send you back to Dunstan Street right now.”

“Bob warned me the first time, it was Helen who warned me about going out with you again. And I can also hear my father shouting at me in my head. You’re British, Charlie, and you’re in the British armed forces, so he’s going to hate you.” His dark eyes widened in shock, but she continued. “Charlie, I don’t need someone like you to make me feel all grown up. I’ve been all grown up since the age of twelve when I was sent away from home to boarding school. I’m here, despite Bob, despite Helen, despite my father, and despite my own reservations because I like you very much and I want to get to know you better. So, if you aren’t all grown up enough to handle that, then I will be the one calling a cab and sending you home.”

He stared at her. She returned his stare defiantly before he leaned forward, resting his arms on the table. “Yes, I am grown up enough,” he said. “And, yes, Bob’s right, Helen’s right, my father’s right, I have been with a lot of women, but none of them have ever had the effect that you have on me. So, Kate Sheridan, aged nineteen, from Ireland, would you like to go out with me?”

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Meet Into The Unknown’s Charlie Butler

Charlie Butler

Twenty-seven year-old Charlie Butler is the eldest of two boys born to Dr Malcom Butler, a Harley Street gynaecologist, and his wife, Audrey. Having always wanted to fly airplanes, he joined the Royal Air Force straight from school and has recently been promoted to Flight Lieutenant. He is handsome, he knows it, and it doesn’t bother him one bit that he has a reputation as a womaniser.

He first sees Kate Sheridan the day after her arrival in London from Ireland. Her aunt had brought her to Oxford Street to smarten her up and Charlie finds himself mesmerised by the ‘film star’ who gets out of a cab across the street from him.

It isn’t until he’s granted Christmas leave that Charlie has the opportunity to ask her out to the pictures. He behaves himself, the date goes well and, despite misgivings about getting involved with a woman during a war, he asks her out again – this time taking her to his favourite jazz club.

There, he gets the shock of his life when the beautiful woman seated opposite him lets slip that she is, in fact, a nineteen-year-old girl. Clearly dismayed by his reaction, Kate gets up to leave. Should he let the girl he is beginning to feel very strongly about walk out of the club and his life? Find out what he decides in Into The Unknown.

cropped-into_the_unknown_by_lorna_peel-fbbanner.jpg

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?

Excerpt:

A couple of hours later, Charlie sank back into one of the leather armchairs which ran along a wall in the Officers’ Mess at his fighter base, his mind still on Kate’s legs and lips. He was pretty unnerved that a mere glimpse of this girl could affect him like this.

“Oi, Charlie?” He jumped as someone’s goggles hit him on the head and dropped into his lap. He looked around as Pilot Officer Billy “The Kid” Benson grinned at him. “Had a good leave?”

“It was the usual, but then…” He tailed off and frowned.

Billy laughed. “War is declared, yeah, great. It’ll be all go from now on.”

“No, it’s not that.”

“What? You don’t think the Luftwaffe deserve a good old thrashing?” Billy’s voice had risen and Charlie began to tense.

“Of course I do. It’s just that I saw this girl…”

“Ah,” Billy roared and the others sniggered. “Yet another female about to fall for the Butler banter.”

“I didn’t even speak to her.”

“Just as well, or you’ll have Doris after your balls. Bloody hell, is no woman safe? You must have little blighters running about all over the country!”

“No, I bloody don’t,” Charlie snapped, wishing he hadn’t opened his mouth. “I’m careful, which is more than can be said for you.”

“My father isn’t a bloody Harley Street gynaecologist who knows where to get condoms from.”

“Well, you should at least try and get some from somewhere. A barber’s, perhaps?”

“Charlie’s right.” A calm voice spoke from the door and they all turned in surprise. No-one had heard Squadron Leader Ralph Clarke come in and they all got to their feet to salute him. “Now we’re at war we can’t afford any…accidents. We’ll all be under pressure from now on. We all have our needs, but we don’t want to be leaving them with something to remember us by. Try, lads, I’m sure they’re not that hard to find.”

“Yes, sir,” they all mumbled, and Charlie sat back down in his chair with some satisfaction.

“Now, look.” Clarke leaned back against the door. “No lectures, but I’ll give you all an idea of what to expect. Everyone here and at Fighter Command expects your full support in whatever operations you are sent on. The plan is that we carry out two weeks of maximum effort, one week of sustained effort, followed by one week of rest. Our first objectives are raids against German warships in Heligoland—which is just off the north coast of Germany—and the dropping of leaflets, but we are not to raid Germany itself.”

There were mumblings at that and Clarke raised his hands. “Patience,” he told them, then smiled at Charlie. “Congratulations on your promotion.”

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Why I Chose This Setting and Era

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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.

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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?

Read An Excerpt…

“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.”

“I’m sorry.”

“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.

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Entertainment and News During World War Two

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TV broadcasts from the BBC began in 1936 from Alexandra Palace in north London. Only a small area in and around London was able to receive them but all TV broadcasts stopped on 1st September 1939 at the outbreak of war as the Government was worried the transmitter would help enemy aircraft target London for bombing raids. They did not begin again until June 1946.

With television off the air, people relied on radio and the cinema for information and entertainment. Eighty percent of families in Britain owned a radio (known as the wireless) and besides the news, there were music programmes, talk and comedy shows. “ITMA”, short for “It’s That Man Again”, was a wartime comedy which began in 1939 on the BBC Home Service starring the comedian Tommy Handley. Its name came from newspaper headlines of the time, where the phrase “It’s That Man Again” was regularly used as an ironic reference to Hitler. Making fun of Hitler (and the German war effort in general) was the basis of the series.

Before the war, no news had been broadcast on the BBC before 7pm as a result of an agreement with the newspaper industry. From 25th August 1939, with war looming, the BBC began broadcasting daily morning and lunchtime news bulletins and a war report at the end of its evening news bulletins.

Cinema audiences grew from 20 million to 32 million making ‘going to the pictures’ the most popular form of entertainment during the war. In between the films, the Pathé News was shown to keep the public informed (and misinformed) on how the war was progressing. Government information films were also shown at the cinema to explain to people how to behave and act during wartime.

Music played a huge part during the war in keeping up morale with big bands and swing music all the rage. One of the most admired singers of the time was Vera Lynn, known as The Forces’ Sweetheart, whose songs included, ‘We’ll meet again’ and ‘There’ll be blue birds over the white cliffs of Dover’.

Into The Unknown’s Charlie Butler loves big bands and swing music, especially the Glenn Miller Band, who were hugely popular on both sides of the Atlantic. Kate Sheridan is unfamiliar with this style of music, or even how to dance to it, when Charlie brings her to his favourite club but is soon won over.

cropped-into_the_unknown_by_lorna_peel-fbbanner.jpg

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?

Read An Excerpt…

Giving him her hand, they walked around the corner and into a dark and smoky nightclub. They sat at a table with an unlit candle in the centre, overlooking the crowded dance floor as a band played a style of music she hadn’t heard before. Kate stared through the gloom at one energetic couple as the man lifted his scantily-clad partner off the floor and swung her around. This was certainly different from the sedate afternoon tea dances she was used to in Ballycarn and she couldn’t help but feel a little nervous.

“What kind of music is this?” she asked Charlie.

“Jazz,” he replied, sounding a little surprised she hadn’t recognised it. “What would you like to drink?” He asked as a waiter approached their table.

“A glass of red wine, please. And to have the candle lit, too, please.” She glanced up at the waiter, speculating wildly on whether Charlie had brought her to a dark table on purpose.

The waiter lit the candle, Charlie ordered her wine and a whiskey for himself, and they sat in the candlelight listening to the music for a few minutes. Will he ask me to dance, she wondered as the drinks were brought to their table, and, more importantly, was she going to make a fool of herself trying to dance to this jazz music?

“To peace, and soon.” He held up his glass, and she touched it with hers.

“I hope so,” she replied. They sipped their drinks.

“Would you like to dance?” he asked, putting his glass down and holding out a hand as the band began a slow set.

She nodded, rising, and taking his hand. Dancing with a man while wearing a pair of trousers felt peculiar, but moving slowly around the floor amongst the other dancers, she found herself savouring his closeness again. One of his hands clasped hers, the other was in the small of her back holding her against him. He smelled of a mixture of soap and cigarettes. This was dangerously nice.

“We don’t have clubs like this in Ireland,” she told him. “Well, not where I came from, anyway. So this is lovely.”

“I’m glad,” he replied and, to her relief, led her back to the table as a more up tempo set began. She saw him fighting to gather his thoughts together by the way he gripped his glass tightly in one hand, while rubbing the side of his nose with the other. “Would you like to go out with me again, Kate?” he asked, sounding surprisingly nervous.

“Don’t you have plenty of other women you could take out?” she joked, instantly regretting it when hurt sprang into his eyes.

“I want to take you out,” he said and put his glass down. “I’ve really enjoyed this evening. It’s been the first time in ages that I’ve been to the pictures and actually watched the film.” He grimaced, and she knew it was his turn to regret hasty words. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean for it to sound like that.”

“I know, but you pleasantly surprised me.”

“I did?”

“Yes, by not trying to kiss and touch me,” she explained. “Thank you.”

He sat back in his seat and sighed. “I was warned not to. I wanted to kiss you.”

Picking up his glass, he drained it. “But I thought I’d better not; I might give you the wrong impression of me. I have to admit that I’m no angel.”

It was the first time he had acknowledged that he had a reputation and she couldn’t let it pass.

“In what way?” she asked.

His eyes widened at her bluntness. “Well.” She saw him glance at his glass, clearly wishing he hadn’t emptied it. “I’m rarely short of a date, let’s put it that way.”

“Oh, I see. So I really am just the latest in a long, long line of women?”

“Well, er, yes, you are,” he confessed, his face contorted in embarrassment.

“I’m curious, that’s all. You ask me out, Bob warns you not to do anything improper, and you think, ‘This one’s going to be too much trouble—just be nice, watch the film with her, and get the date over and done with—then move on’.”

“It was my father, actually,” he told her frostily. “Not Bob. And I don’t want to ‘move on’.”

“Your father, my uncle.” She shrugged. “What does it matter? Is this ‘date’ just a complete waste of time for both of us?”

He shook his head. “I hope not. I asked you out because you’re beautiful. I never intended to do anything inappropriate this evening and I didn’t need to be warned. I may be no angel, but I do know how to behave with a lady, and I certainly don’t see you as being ‘too much trouble’.”

“I’m very glad to hear it.”

“I really do want to see you again, Kate.”

“Despite being warned off me by your father?” she asked.

“He didn’t. He told me to treat you properly, which I have, and you’ve appreciated it.”

“Yes, I have.”

“Kate.” He leaned forward, having to raise his voice against the music. “I would like to take you out again on New Year’s Eve. We could come here, if you’d like? I’d be happy to teach you to dance to this music.” He jerked a thumb in the direction of the jazz band.

“Yes, thank you, that would be very nice,” she replied straight away.

“Great.” He looked and sounded taken aback at her lack of hesitation. “Well.” He sat back in his chair. “That’s settled, then.”

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Make Do and Mend

make-do-and-mend-1940s-ration-fashion

At the outbreak of World War Two in September 1939, almost a quarter of the British population was entitled to wear some sort of uniform. The increased demand for uniforms put enormous pressure on Britain’s textile and clothing industries and rationing was introduced in June 1941. Silk was one of the first fabrics to go as it was needed for the war effort, so Into The Unknown’s Kate Sheridan was very lucky to have been bought two sets of silk lingerie by her aunt Helen to replace her embarrassingly old-fashioned underwear.

Rationing worked by allocating each type of clothing item a value in points. Every adult was initially given an allocation of 66 points to last one year, but this allocation shrank as the war progressed. Eleven coupons were required for a dress, two needed for a pair of stockings, and eight coupons for a man’s shirt or a pair of trousers. Women’s shoes meant handing over five coupons, and for men’s footwear seven.

Despite these shortages, people were encouraged to keep looking fashionable in order to keep up morale and the ‘Make Do and Mend’ campaign was launched to encourage people to make their existing clothes last longer. The ability to repair, alter and make clothes from scratch became increasingly important as the war went on. Kate would have studied needlework at school in Ireland, so she wouldn’t have found making clothes from a pattern too daunting a task.

Over 40 million gas masks had been distributed around Britain by the outbreak of war. The population were told to carry them at all times in the standard-issue cardboard box tied up with string. Fashion designers quickly saw a gap in the market, turned the ugly boxes into handbags at the top and a space at the bottom for the mask, and these were snapped up by many women like Kate.

Make-up was never rationed, but was taxed and very expensive. As with their clothes, women found imaginative ways around shortages. Bright red lipstick was a way to look glamorous, even if you couldn’t afford any other cosmetics. And when it just couldn’t be found, beetroot juice was used instead of both blusher and lipstick and boot polish instead of mascara. When stockings were in short supply, an eyeliner was used to draw a ‘seam’ up the back of the legs—which may also have been carefully painted with gravy browning to appear like a tan shade of stockings. So, instead of being moth-balled for the duration of the war, fashion became more inventive and individual—the colours brighter and the colours bolder.

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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?

Read An Excerpt…

Following Helen into a department store’s lingerie department, and into a changing room, Kate stripped right down to her embarrassingly old-fashioned underwear. Catching sight of the shop girl’s smirking face in the mirror, Kate wanted the ground to open up and swallow her. The girl measured her before bringing a selection of bras and knickers for her to choose from. Kate stared in consternation. How could she choose? They were all beautiful. Thankfully, Helen decided for her.

“We’ll take the peach set and the white,” she said. “Would you like to wear the peach set now, Kate?”

Kate had been running her fingers over the silk in awe and jumped. “Yes, I will. Thank you.”

She changed into the lingerie and stared at herself for a long time in the mirror. Silk. She had never felt anything so soft before.

“Let’s see, Kate.” She heard her aunt’s voice, opened the curtains, and both women stared at her. “Good Lord.” Helen seemed astonished. “You do have a figure, after all.”

Passing a boutique a little later, Kate stopped and gazed at a suit in the window. Helen had walked on but returned to her and smiled. “That’s very smart, isn’t it? Do you want to try it on?”

“Oh, no, it looks very expensive.”

“It doesn’t cost anything to try it on.”

So the suit was tried on and Kate paraded up and down the shop examining herself from all angles. The suit was deep green and flattered her curvaceous figure.

“Do you like it?” Helen asked.

“Oh, yes, it’s lovely.”

“That’s just as well because it’s yours.”

“Mine?” Kate’s mouth fell open. It must have cost a fortune. “Oh, thank you.”

“Nonsense, you’re starting to look feminine at last. Shoes and a handbag next.”

They found a black handbag and matching shoes in a shop across the street. Again, Kate paraded up and down, but this time to get used to the high heels. Standing up in them for the first time, she had almost toppled over. Kate tottered along the street, finding herself much taller than Helen, and followed her into a hair salon.

“Your hair isn’t too bad, actually,” Helen told her before turning to the stylist. “A trim, and style it, please.”

Within an hour, Kate’s hair had been swept back from her face into a chignon. Her aunt leaned forward.

“Cheekbones, too,” she murmured and nodded. “Beauty salon next.”

A further hour passed with various powders and lipsticks being tried and tested before Kate opened her eyes and gazed at the film star in the mirror, hardly recognising herself.

“Oh, Kate,” Helen breathed. “You’re beautiful.” She turned to the three women standing behind Kate’s chair. “Whatever she’s got on, we’ll take it.”

Out on the street, Kate found herself being stared at and even attracted wolf whistles from a group of soldiers. It felt strange—embarrassing—but flattering, too.

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The Women’s Auxiliary Air Force during World War Two

waaf

The Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) was established in 1939 by King George VI and was linked with the RAF so that RAF personnel could be substituted for women whenever possible.

Originally the roles of the women in the WAAF were domestic duties such as cooking and driving. Women were not allowed to fly and their general capabilities were often doubted in the early stages of the war. During the Battle of Britain, however, the RAF were under huge strain and this led to a change of role for the WAAF. It became crucial for the WAAF to take on more technical tasks, and they were trained in operating teleprinters—like Into The Unknown’s Kate Sheridan—radar plotting, the maintenance of barrage balloons and the interpretation of photographs.

There were approximately seven thousand WAAFs based at Fighter Command airbases such as Biggin Hill during the summer of 1940. These bases were targets in raids by the Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain and without the diligent work and bravery of the WAAF, the RAF would have struggled to cover all necessary roles, which could have had a bearing on the British victory. Through their outstanding work the women in the WAAF proved that women were fully capable of aiding and contributing to the British war effort but also to the general role of women in British society.

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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?

Excerpt:

At the Sector Station, Kate sank down on her bed and groaned. Jean had followed her into their hut and stared.

“You look awful, Kate,” she commented.

Kate rubbed her eyes. “So would you if you had on average only three hours sleep per night in a week.”

Jean nodded. “I heard it was bad.”

“It was awful. The first night, Charlie and I were nearly killed. A bomb landed only a couple of gardens away.”

Jean winced. “How is Charlie? Still as handsome as ever?”

“Yes.” Kate smiled, remembering that night in the shelter. “But he’s so tired now. Any gossip here?”

“Daniel ‘Paddy’ Connelly’s gone.”

“Gone?”

“Posted away. He tried it on with Wilma, Rachel and Teresa. He’s in bombers now, somewhere in Group Twelve, but away from here, thank God.”

“Yes.” Kate closed her eyes. “I thought he was dead.”

“I thought you hated him?”

“I do, but I wouldn’t wish him dead. Oh.” She groaned again. “What time is it?”

“Half past seven.”

“Right, I’m going straight to bed,” she told Jean. “I need a good night’s sleep, I’m all in.”

“All right, we’re going to need all the sleep we can get. I think we’re going to be put on nights.”

Kate stared at her friend in dismay before flopping back onto the bed, too tired to even swear.

Unfortunately, Jean was right. They were put on the night shift. Reports flooded in on the teleprinters, and Kate found herself too busy to be tired.

“We’ll be on the go tonight.” Squadron Leader Brown reached over, taking a bundle of reports from her, and hurried into the Operations Room.

Inside the room, she could see the map of her sector, then a couple of rows of raised seating where messages were passed down to the map plotters. Behind those seats sat the officers who made the decisions. Where was Charlie, she wondered as another report began to come through. The report was from Fighter Command HQ. “Here, sir,” she called to Brown as he came out again and handed him the report.

He scanned it, then frowned. “Damn,” he muttered, but smiled at her anxious face. “Take a break, Sheridan.”

She nodded and gave her seat to Wilma Pinner. She went outside, taking a breath of fresh air, and glanced to the horizon. She stared, her heart leaping into her mouth. The horizon was lit up by an orange glow. It was as if all of London was on fire, and somewhere in the middle of it all was Charlie.

The night was long and demanding. By six in the morning, Kate and Jean were exhausted, but they concluded there had been worse nights, before falling into bed.

Night after night at the teleprinter followed before Kate and Jean were put on day shifts and told, to their delight, that they had leave due.

Into_The_Unknown_by_Lorna_Peel-500

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