The summer of 1940 was not turning out to be Jackie's year nor anyone's year in Biggin Hill for that matter. The bombing campaigns were intense. Red Group had seen more than its fair share of combat within a few short weeks.
The group spent the time escorting bombers across the channel for midnight raids as well as defending London and the surrounding villages from enemy bombers retaliation raids. She and Ralph learned quickly the vulnerable areas on the German bombers…The tail section was the best target to aim for. If you take out the tail it makes the craft hard to control.
But nothing quite prepared a pilot for actual dogfights, going toe-to-toe with another plane, flying over the skies of the surrounding villages and orchards like in a dance…A deadly dance!
It was quite the performance for those on the ground to watch as planes flew gracefully above only to be disrupted by the sound of gunfire and straining engines. The sound of a plane hitting the ground was like nothing that could be compared to, a sudden thud and then silence. Sometimes the crash was followed by an explosion but more often just a sickening thud and then…Nothing.
There really wasn't much time for her to think about what she was doing at the time she was doing it. Once the target was in sight she had to open fire. Her aim was to bring the opposing plane down before the other pilot shot her down. Deep in the pit of her stomach she knew once she opened fire it would be the death of the other pilot.
Kill or be killed and no time to think about the situation, a knee jerk reactions of calculated violence. The act of gauging the best position to take out the enemy fighter without much thought to the life of the other pilot, it seemed barbaric and cold, a waste of human life as well as resources.
But even before the war started aviation was a dangerous and deadly business. Many have died in accidents and one famous aviatrix just simply disappeared. With full understanding Jackie was placing her own life in danger as she forged ahead with the mission and hoped to prevent the next bomb from falling on the city of London.
Yet, the Blitz campaign seemed unending and ruthless. Never before had war come so close. Her youth in the military was fun and games. It was a peaceful time with no real enemy to fight. Combat was nothing more than playing with wooden sticks. But actual war was a different story for it was brutal on all fronts. There was nothing glorious about this war. War is deadly, destructive and shocking to the people who became engulfed in its appetite.
So far Biggin Hill was attacked by bombers six times. This attack was no different. The bombs fell on the women's barracks and warehouses. They were too busy keeping the airstrip from being bombed to stop all the bombers from getting through.
Thus far, nearly a dozen ground personnel have been killed in the bombings including one woman from WAF. It was heartbreaking see noncombatants being killed, usually crushed under rubble but sometimes shattered to bits.
Red Group had made it into the air, a miracle in itself due to the heavy fighting. Percy led them in an attempt to push back the oncoming slaughter though in reality it was more of the retaliation than a push back.
The German heavy bomber had lined up for the airstrip and tower. Red Group was all that stood in their way with three fighter planes against a heavily armed bomber.
Percy spoke to his group, "Eaton, draw the fire towards the cockpit. Jackson, sweep under and I'll go for the tail."
"Yes sir," Ralf replied targeting the cockpit of the bomber.
As Ralph went for the front of the plane, Jackie used herself as bait to confuse them and fly under the plane in full view of the side gunners. During this maneuver, Percy tried for the tail to knock out the controls.
It worked for the German pilot found controlling the plane very difficult but maintained the course for the field. They would need to take another sweep at the bomber to knock it off course enough to miss the control tower.
Jackie gave a suggestion, "Sir, I can go for the nose and you and Eaton both go for the rudder."
Percy agreed, "Eaton, that's an order."
As the two Hurricanes swung around for the tail run, Jackie distracted the crew by going for the nose of the plane, nearly taunting them with her flying skills and creating turbulence and even a few barrel rolls before them; which merely angered the Germans and was seen as "showing off" by her fellow pilots.
As Jackie distracted the German's, Percy and Ralph took out the remainder of the tail controls, the plane released the bombs early trying to get some target before going down. It caused some damage to the landing strip but thankfully left the tower intact.
The control tower was Jackie's primary concern for that tower was vitally important for the planes. Without the tower it would be chaos and the landing strip would be blocked.
The planes could land on field, on level grass easily but the strip made taking off, loaded with heavy weapons and fuel much easier. Not only would the enemy target the tower but also the hangar that housed the planes, the planes themselves and fuel depots. Every vital aspect of running the airport would be a target.
Ralph Eaton was the rookie of the squad and very much felt like it even though he taken a kill shot for it was Jackie that was usually used as bait. She could easily out-fly anyone, pull off barnstorming maneuvers that was intended to distract and land any kill shot as good as any male pilot.
Over all Ralph was bit envious of her abilities, though Ralph still no idea that she was even a woman for Percy was the only pilot aware of her gender.
Most pilots thought as Ralph, that Jackie was a spoiled son of an American general and had such connections in the Royal Crown that she simply could gain more privies than they could. Jackie had her own bathroom, private bedroom complete with a desk. It was like she was a VIP!
They couldn't understand how this young kid got so much and rumors soon followed. Rumors of being wealthy, being connected and being MI-6 followed. None were true but no one could complain about her flying skills. She was extremely talented in cockpit to point where the Red Group enjoyed a very high success rate.
The attack was soon over and the pilots landed their wounded planes, limping back to the field. They climbed out and looked over the disaster before them…Burning buildings, burning fuel and destroyed vehicles. It was just a mess.
Looking over the destruction Jackie felt like she had somehow failed. The field was still hit despite her best efforts. Her heart sank at the sight.
Percy gave a nod in thought, "We did a good job, men."
"How?" asked she. "It's a disaster. The field is just a mess."
Percy corrected, "The flied is still operational…That is a success."
"I suppose," she agreed.
Ralph let out a sigh, "All that work and they still bombed us."
Jackie nodded, "This is kind of like being in an air race. You put all this work and fly till you drop of exhaustion only to come in last. Rather depressing."
Percy laughed, "But we won, we did not come in last my little Air Racer. We won. They didn't take us out."
She grinned, "I guess you're right. Winning a battle and winning a war are two different things."
Ralph tried to lift their spirits as well as his own, "We're gonna win this war…I know we will."
She agreed, "It may take time but I think we can. Even without the States we can win this."
Percy countered, "If the States enter, it would be over much sooner. And if this war goes on long enough they will enter."
She shook her head, "Not unless there is some sort of an attack on the US. We don't want to get involved in this war…Not the citizens anyways."
Ralph asked, "But you're here? Why aren't other Americans coming to join the RAF?"
She shook her head, "The RAF asked me to join them, Ralph. If the RAF had an American squad like we do in China, we would get more American fighter pilots here…But you guys will have to pay us a hell of a lot better."
Looking for anything to lighten the mood Percy squawked, "We pay you plenty well, Jackson. Americans…Over paid, over sexed…"
Ralph kidded as he nudged Jackie, "And over here."
She rebutted, "I'm underpaid to do this and I haven't had sex."
As Ralph chuckled Percy warned her, "And you better not. I need healthy pilots." He looked at Ralph, "You too, Ralph. No VD. I need healthy pilots."
Ralph chuckled, "I have a girlfriend, Sir. Do you have a girl, Jackie? You have two girlfriends, right?"
"Bambi and Sadie?" she asked. "They worked with me at the ATA…Nothing more than that."
"I understand," stated Ralph assuming Jackie might be a homosexual. But it didn't bother him for Jackie inspired him to be a better pilot. They would often review maneuvers together, maneuvers that could save a life.
Having time away from war was welcomed. After weeks of flying patrol, shooting down enemy craft she was given a three day pass to visit the city of London. Taking the time to meet with her two friends in a small flat the trio had rented together.
Bambi and Sadie had not heard a word from her, just a brief statement that Jackie was doing a job for the RAF from their superior.
She finally arrived at the flat still in uniform. She wasn't sure just how she was going to explain the disguise to her two roommates. Using her key she opened the door to the flat.
The flat was rather modest, a sofa in the center of the living room. Small windows located near the top of the walls allowed some natural light to enter what would otherwise be a dark basement. The cement floor was covered with a thin carpet and a small kitchenette was tucked away in the far side of the room. A round table with four chairs positioned off center of the area. A set of cupboards were roughly made and hung by hand on the wall. Three bedrooms served the girls, each stocked with a full size bed and a dresser.
Sadie sat on the sofa reading a magazine. She gazed up as the door opened. Jackie stood at the top of the stairs but dressed in an RAF uniform and a visor cap propped up on top her head.
"Um, Jackie?" asked Sadie.
She nodded as she closed the door behind her, "Yeah, Bambi home?"
"She's taking a bath," replied Sadie. She then asked, "What the hell are you wearing?"
She looked down at herself, "An Royal Air Force uniform."
Sadie rose to her feet with a disturbed look and asked, "What?"
As Jackie descended the stairs she removed the hat, and unbuttoned the jacket of the uniform.
"That RAF has assigned me to a secret mission due to my flying skills. I can't say what it is but I have three days off," she informed trying to keep her secret oath.
Sadie approached her, looking the uniform over and inspecting the hair cut, "What the hell, Jackie? Did they dress you up like a boy and put you in a cockpit?"
She grinned nervously and nodded, "You can't tell anyone."
Her eye grew wide, "You're kidding me!"
Jackie shook her head wide eyed, "No, the RAF needs fighter pilots so bad they were willing to assign me."
Concerned Sadie's hands flew up to her face, "They have you going up there? You don't know how to dogfight!"
Jackie admitted, "My father taught me how in the Kadet. I took down a German spy plane that was on patrol and the next thing I know, I'm up there fighting. You can't tell anyone. Please, it's top secret."
Her friend wondered, "Does your father know that you are doing this?"
Jackie shook her head, "No…It is top secret. Not even my dad knows. It's really bad and they need all the help they can get. Please, Sadie, we can't tell anyone."
She motioned towards the bathroom, "What about Bambi?"
"Well, we will have to tell Bambi. I need your help. My dad thinks I'm still flying for the ATA. He will blow my cover if he finds out. Please, collect my mail and if he calls just cover for me."
Sadie gasped, "Your father is a general and he doesn't even know! You want me to lie to him? Jackie, you're way over your head here."
"I can't turn my back on the Brits now. They never would have enlisted me if they didn't need all the help they could get. It's really bad, we're barely holding it together up there."
"You shouldn't be doing this," Sadie insisted.
Jackie rebutted, "Neither should any of those boys going up there who are getting shot down. Sadie, it is hell up there! I don't want to do this either but the Brits have their backs against the wall. There's this farm boy I'm flying with. His name is Ralph and he's only eighteen years old. He's fighting for his home. I agreed to fight with him, to help him. I'm not turning my back on him or anyone else risking their lives to protect their home."
"This isn't our war," Sadie told her. "It's the Brits' war. Men fight wars, not us."
"They are losing it, Sadie. And you know something, this war could go global. We could have another world war and then…It will be our war. If we can end this now, it will save untold lives. Not just Brits' but Americans' too. And the sooner we can end this the better. German civvies are getting killed too, we try not to, but it's not perfect. I've seen too much to back away now; I need to see it through to the end."
"You really think it will go global? That America will enter?" asked Sadie nervously.
Jackie sighed, "We're already involved. We're sinking German freighters. We are sending money and supplies to Britain. The Army Air Corps is getting ready with funding and men. It's coming and I don't know how long London can hold out. But they asked me to help and I said that I would. I'm not turning my back on these boys now. Boys like Ralph, who just wants the war to end so they go home. I can't walk away when they need help."
Sadie took a deep breath. She saw the signs that the war expanding but hoped against all hope the Brits could end it quickly. Jackie's words torpedoed that hope.
"Okay, I will help you anyway I can. What do you need me to do?" she asked.
"Just make sure my father doesn't find out. He will kill me," insisted Jackie.
She argued, "If the Germans don't get you first?"
Jackie shook her head. "You don't understand. My father will dig my dead body up, bring me back to life and then kill me again."
Unenthused Sadie rebutted, "Your father isn't that bad."
A few more weeks had passed and the fighting was getting more intense. Jackie proved her worth as one of the best fighter pilots the RAF had and one of the youngest according to the false records. Mission after mission, Biggin Hill sent up a formidable fighting force to meet the oncoming German planes. Not only taking on German fighters in dogfights but also taking down large heavy bombers.
With much anticipation Jackie received a weekend pass to go to London for rest. While most pilots would use the time to do anything but rest, Jackie looked forward to a long weekend off, hot soaks in the bathtub and sleeping late. Unlike her counterparts, Bambi and Sadie, her hormones were far from driving her into the arms of the opposite sex. She was a romantic at heart and dreamed about flowers, chocolates and dancing to slow music. When those items were not viable, then a hot bath and sleeping late would do just fine.
Bambi and Sadie had other plans for their roommate. They didn't have the option of dressing her up in a fancy dress but did convince her to attend a movie and dinner with the pair.
My how Jackie got envious looks when she walked into a pub, dressed in RAF blues, with two very beautiful women. People assumed this young man had two girlfriends and they were engaged in some sort of threesome romance.
Jackie would receive occasional comments and winks from the older men as the evening went on. The comments didn't make her feel good, just embarrassed.
As they sat at dinner Bambi looked about the pub and checked out the men. She compared them to her friend disguised as a boy.
"Jackie," she whispered, "I hate to say this, but you're probably the best looking guy here."
She groaned, "Gee, thanks."
Sadie snickered, "She's right, you are…You're father trained you a little too well."
"Percy trained me," she told them. "Percy Quill gave me acting lessons. I supposed if all else fails I could go into acting," she jested.
"Percy Quill," Bambi gleamed, "he's gorgeous...You have got to get me his autograph."
"Yeah," Jackie muttered, "I'll work on that when I'm not being shot at."
A loud whining sound came from outside. It was the air-raid signal. The three looked at each other in surprise.
Jackie moaned, "Don't the Germans ever take a break?"
The staff started to scramble about the establishment. Their waiter came over to them.
"Better get to the shelters, I hear it's a big one," he told them and soon went about his way.
The girls rose from their seats, Jackie gave instructions to her friends, "Get to the underground, it's around the corner."
They hurried out the door, as her friends went for the subway she looked up at the sky and found the searchlights lighting up and array of heavy bombers. Jackie paused in thought of the situation, debating if she should go back to base.
Bambi pulled her arm, "Come on, Jackie."
"You and Sadie go, I need to get to my plane," she started to pull away.
Bambi hollered, "You're gonna get killed."
"I'm needed," she retorted, "get underground."
Bambi stood and watched at the entrance to the subway as her friend disappeared into the darkness. Her heart sank in despair and she spoke as if her friend could hear.
"Be careful," she whispered then disappeared into the underground.
Jackie found a motor bike not far from the pub. She decided to borrow it for she would never arrive to the field in time otherwise. She rode the bike weaving in and out of the alley ways, trying to stay ahead of the bombers to not become crushed under a pile of rubble from the bombs that dropped across the city. She had a few near misses but was determined to get to the field at all cost.
Ralph understood Jackie would come back to her plane in such an event, she promised him she would a number of times. Biggin Hill airfield was under attack and Jackie's plane was sitting like a duck. Ralph was determined to keep that plane in one piece for his friend. He found himself going right for a group of bombers heading towards the field.
Ralph radioed Percy, "Jackie will get his plane. We just need to give him time."
He agreed, "I know he will. We need to keep the airfield from being destroyed."
"Were outnumbered," Ralph told him.
"It's just you and me against three heavy bombers, Eaton."
"What you think our chances are?" asked Ralph.
Percy laughed, "Have to ask Jackie that, he's the math wizard. My opinion is…You really don't want to know."
"I think not," the wingman agreed.
As the pair engaged the oncoming bombers the fighting increased intensely. The flash from the gunfire streamed across the blackened sky. It was surreal in reality. Almost like a dream, a nightmare with no end. The minutes turned to hours in battle, two small hurricanes against three large bombers determined to take out Biggin Hill as the rest of the fighters were drawn to the massive aerial campaign against London.
The Germans hoped the nearby airfield would be left defenseless as the majority of the bomb group headed towards the city, sending in three bombers to take the field out while baiting the RAF with the attack on London. It worked all too well. The majority of the fighter craft were too busy protecting London than to protect their own base of operations.
Ralph spotted a single motorcycle light coming down a dirt road towards their field. Only person he could think of would drive with the headlight on and for only one reason, to be seen. It was Jackie, it had to be her and she left the headlight on for them to see to signal she was in route.
"I see him," Ralph shouted, "I see Jackie riding to base."
"Keep his plane in one piece the airstrip from getting bombed," Percy ordered. He went right for the cockpit of the nearest plane. Hoping to disable the controls and force the plane down.
Before Ralf a large bomber had lined up to run the airstrip. Next to the strip sat Jackie's plane, waiting for its' pilot. He needed to protect both strip and plane. He went in for a soft spot on the bomber's defenses and tried to open fire. Nothing, nothing happened, his gun had jammed.
"My gun is jammed," Ralph stated as he banked his plane around.
Percy shouted, "Just get out of here."
He shook his head, "I'm not leaving you to protect this field alone." He lined up the sights of his plane onto the critical tail section.
"What are you doing, airman?" Percy asked.
"I'm gonna ram him and then eject," Ralph said his plan.
"That's suicide," Percy retorted. "Stand down, that's an order."
He shook his head, "I can do this."
"You're gonna get killed," Percy warned.
"I can do this," he sounded confident. Perhaps, a bit too confident for his squad had enjoyed better than average luck thanks to Jackie and Percy's talents. He figured it was his turn to prove he could be just as talented of a fighter.
The nose rammed into the tail of the bomber, causing the Hurricane to flip over on end. Ralph lost consciousness due to the force of the impact and was unable to pop the canopy off. His plane cart wheeled out of control, impacting full force in the middle of grass field.
Jackie stopped the bike at the entrance of the field and looked upon the burning wreckage. She wasn't sure who was in the plane but her heart sank for feared it would be Ralph. For the boy seemed eager to prove himself as good a pilot as her and Percy.
"Oh no," she gulped and then put the bike in gear and arrived to her plane. She climbed into the cockpit, and started the engine. Placed the radio microphone around her throat and blurted out, "Who just crashed?"
Percy's voice came back, "It was Ralph. His guns jammed, he tried to ram the plane."
"Oh gawd," Jackie wanted to cry for she adored Ralph. She wanted him to live, to return to his farm, to grow up and have a family. Not die in such a horrible manner.
"We are the only ones here to defend the strip. I'll cover you until you get airborne," reported Percy.
"I'll be airborne in a minute," she replied, doing a very fast system check, trying very hard not to look at the burning wreck.
She glanced up at Ralph's plane, she knew could defend the base against the small handful of bombers, she just couldn't understand why Ralph had to die. It seemed like such a waste to her. The whole war was becoming a waste of resources and lives. It seemed like the only one profiting from this war was the money men making the loans to finance the war, the men building the guns, tanks and ships.
Her mind wandered back to General Smedly Butler and his famous statement: "War is a racket." And at that moment it seemed that so many had suffered while so few prospered. War certainly was a racket and the one who paid the heaviest price where the young men who sacrificed their lives.
As she became airborne, she readied herself for engagement, as the words of the highest decorated marine, Smedly Butler, rang through her head about how war was nothing more than a racket, how few would prosper and many, many more would pay. A racket designed to extract wealth from another nation, a gaming system of the super-rich and powerful.
The very Germans she fought were just as expendable as Ralph for the wealthy that would rally up a nation with speeches and a façade of righteousness on both sides of the conflict had nothing to lose. They used terms such as "we" when they, themselves, did not join in any fights. It was truly a racket, a money making scheme where one country would gain the wealth of another at the expense of human lives.
They were all pawns in some horrific chess game and nothing more. Any hatred she would have had for Germans wore thin as her hatred for the war profiteers started to bubble through. They were all pawns, the Germans as much as she, as much as Ralph. A feeling of being used for someone else's gain started to resonate inside her. She pushed the feeling back for right now her concern was survival. To survive this war and hopefully it would end before it dragged America into the war next.