The Long Flight Home
In September 1940, England’s war with Germany is a year old. France has surrendered, British soldiers evacuated from Dunkirk in June, and in July the Nazi navy began to blockade British shipping. However, Epping, near the mouth of the Thames River, has been spared. Peace ends on September 7, when Luftwaffe bombers roar over Susan Shepherd’s farm in one massive wave after another. London is only twenty miles away, and at night Susan watches the hellish glow from hundreds of fires set by incendiary bombs. The Battle of Britain has begun.
When Ollie Evans of Buxton, Maine hears of the blitz, he sneaks onto a Canadian steamer to join Great Britain’s Royal Air Force. A fistfight leads to his arrest and rejection by the RAF, but pure luck leads him to parole on Susan Shepherd’s farm. Susan and her father Bertie breed and train homing pigeons and have been recruited by the British government. Their pigeons will be parachuted into France, in the hope that partisans with information on Nazi movements will find them. The birds, with instinct nurtured by breeders for hundreds of years, will return to the Shepherds’ farm with that vital intelligence strapped to their legs.
The Long Flight Home is a charming historical novel by Alan Hlad. With clear, vivid prose he recalls the mostly-forgotten, but intriguing RAF experiment, and sensitively explores the growing relationship between Ollie and Susan. As one who has spent thousands of hours watching birds, I was equally touched by Hlad’s depiction of the bond between his characters and their pigeons. The Long Flight Home is Hlad’s debut novel, and he did a terrific job!