As part of the blog tour for Mick Arnold’s latest World War Two saga, I’ll Be Home for Christmas, I’m having a chat with his character Penny Alsop.
Penny, welcome, please could you introduce yourself.
Sure. Hi everyone, my name’s Penny Blake…sorry, force of habit, I sometimes forget I’m married. My Name’s Penny Alsop and I’m a pilot and Second Officer in the Air Transport Auxiliary.
Forgive the interruption Penny. You just mentioned you forget you’re married sometimes? I’m going to have to ask you to explain that.
It does sound strange, now you come to say it, as I’m a little surprised to realise I’m married sometimes. It came a little out of the blue and I’m not looking forward to telling my friends. I’m certain Mary wants to be a bridesmaid! I hadn’t realised Tom and I were even courting. It wasn’t a conventional ceremony, though I only wish it were possible to live together as husband and wife. He’s a pilot, but that’s all I can tell you. ‘Careless talk costs lives’, and all that.
That’s quite alright, I understand. However, if you can, will you tell us how you met?
Oh, that I can do. It’s a wonderful tale, full of daring-do, aerobatics of the highest order and danger; and that’s only me! I expect you know what the ATA does, but just in case, I’ll first give you a quick run-through. Whenever our forces need a replacement aircraft, either new or from repair, we deliver it; and we have to know how to fly every type. I was assigned to deliver one to his unit. I was met by an aircraft I didn’t recognise and took violent evasive action. Eventually, I saw the RAF roundel, followed him down and I think I made an impression on him; I gave him a right mouthful!
Forgive my asking, but why didn’t he contact you by radio?
When we pick up a new aircraft, there’s no radio. We also don’t have any armament. So a good lookout is very important, because if we run into a Nazi aircraft, our only hope is to outrun or manoeuvre them. We also navigate by looking out the cockpit. It’s all visual.
Does weather affect how you fly then?
Not really. Despite the vagaries of the British weather, if an aircraft needs to be delivered, then ninety nine times out of a hundred, we’ll give it a go. We’ve dispensation to disregard normal restrictions on flying. You won’t believe the weather we fly in!
I believe you were quite well known before the war started. Can you share anything with us?
Hmm. Well, as it’s you Jane. I was in the magazines quite a lot, because of my exploits in my little Tiger Moth. I was part of the ‘IT Crowd’, landing at the Henley Regatta and such like. There always seemed to be someone from ‘The Sketch’ or ‘The Picture Post’ ready to take my picture. My father didn’t like the exposure though; it was one of the things which forced us apart.
Would you like to talk about that, Penny?
No, no that’s a part of my life I’d rather not too many people know about. Would you mind if we called it a day now? I need to go on duty.
Of course not. Once again, thank you Second Officer Penny Alsop for joining us.