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Authors: Barbara Erskine

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BOOK: The Darkest Hour
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Tony chuckled. He reached for one of the diaries then he pushed it back into the case. ‘I think I will save these for tonight on my own. Do you mind?’ He climbed to his feet. ‘I need to speak to those two good souls in the kitchen. Excuse me for a minute or two, will you?’

He disappeared into the kitchen closing the door behind him. Mike laughed. ‘The crafty old devil is leaving us alone.’

Lucy nodded. She didn’t know what to say.

‘I suppose it makes sense for us to get together one day, perhaps go out and have a meal?’ he said.

‘I would like that.’ She hesitated a moment. ‘What about Charlotte?’

‘Charlotte is no longer in my life. She threatened all sorts of mayhem when I last saw her but my spies tell me she has a new man in her sights. Whatever she said, I don’t think we need to worry about her.’ He leaned forward and took her hand. ‘It felt right, out there, with my arms round you.’

She nodded again. ‘Yes.’

‘Have you tried on the ring?’ His eyes were teasing.

She laughed. ‘Of course. What woman wouldn’t when she finds a sapphire lying around in an old suitcase?’

‘Did it fit?’

‘It did actually, but, Mike –’

‘No, wait.’ He held up his hand. ‘I know we mustn’t rush things. But we haven’t any need to delay either. Just leave it like that.’ He moved forward and, putting his hands on either side of her face, kissed her on the lips. He grinned. ‘Shall we let them come back in now?’

She nodded.

It was Maggie, carrying in the tea tray, who noticed the young man in RAF uniform standing by the window, watching them. He was smiling. As the others turned to see what she was looking at he raised his hand and gave a thumbs up.

‘Ralph?’ Lucy said.

But he had gone.

A few minutes later they heard the throaty roar of the Spitfire engine in the distance. Throwing open the French windows Mike led them out into the garden. They were in time to see the plane perform a victory roll overhead before disappearing into the sunset.

Two years later
Press Release

The launch party for
Evie: The Story of a Legend
was held in a hangar at Goodwood aerodrome last night. In its former incarnation as RAF Westhampnett during World War Two the airfield was the subject of many of Evelyn Lucas’s paintings and the setting for some of the most dramatic scenes in her biography. Lucy Standish, author of this outstanding biography, winner of the Samuel Johnson Prize, was present, together with Michael Marston, Evelyn Lucas’s grandson and various other members of her family and Evie’s former fiancé, Squadron Leader Tony Anderson, ninety-seven-year-old subject of many of her pictures, the only surviving member of 911 Squadron, which was stationed at Westhampnett for the duration of the Battle of Britain.


The book made no mention of murder.

Author’s Note

The chronology for Tony’s story and the framework for his career in the Battle of Britain come from my father’s experiences. He (a.k.a. Squadron Leader Nigel Rose) joined a Scottish auxiliary Spitfire squadron as a pilot officer in mid-1940. Briefly stationed at Drem, near Edinburgh, his squadron, 602, (City of Glasgow) was then sent to Westhampnett in West Sussex as the Battle of Britain was getting under way.

I have been privileged to have the use of his log books and letters to form the frame for Tony’s time line, but of course the story itself is pure fiction. My dad did meet my mother only a week or so after arriving in Sussex. He is rumoured to have performed victory rolls over her parents’ garden after returning from successful sorties (legend has it that the gardener would throw himself down on the grass when dive bombed by my mother’s suitor with the laconic words, ‘Mr Nigel has made it back then’).

I have also managed to extricate many stories of the kind not usually heard by the aficionados of the Battle of Britain from him over the last few months – the stories of everyday life, of sadness and of hardship as well as the tales of derring-do.

The squadron was posted back to Scotland on December 13th and Daddy had already decided he had found his future wife. Luckily for me (born a few years later) she said yes. Many of the background storylines are taken from events that he was involved in, including his voyage to Egypt as security officer on the
and the discovery of explosive strapped to the exhaust of his Spitfire, an action which was attributed to the fifth column at work on Clydeside. It was thought that one or two planes which had disappeared without any obvious reason on sorties over the sea might have been similarly sabotaged. My dad was lucky.

I have met many of his colleagues from the war in the course of my life, but one especially, the late Sandy Johnstone (Air Vice Marshall A.V.R. Johnstone) became a close friend. From my days at university when he was AOC Scotland and took pity on a student obviously in need of a few square meals by sending an official car to drive me in state back over the Forth Bridge to lunch at his HQ, to the days of his retirement near us in Suffolk, we saw quite a bit of Sandy and I listened spellbound to the stories with which he regaled us when he and my dad ‘opened the hangar doors’ as they called it, often, of course, accompanied by a wee dram (it was a Scots squadron).

Apart from that, my father, like so many of the men and women who fought in the last war, was reticent for many years about his exploits, and it has only been relatively recently with the various anniversaries of the Battle of Britain that he and some of his surviving comrades have been persuaded to talk about their experiences. It was as I began to hear more about them, and accompany him on his visits to the memorial events, and grow to recognise that inimitable roar of the Merlin engine for myself, that I began to think what a wonderful backdrop all that would make to a novel, and how it would be almost a sin to waste such an opportunity to write about it.

Thank you to everyone who helped me with advice and memories and generous encouragement. There are so many but I would particularly like to mention Ronnie Lamont, committee member of the 602 Squadron Museum in Glasgow, who invented Tony’s and Ralph’s squadrons and was the source of much extra information, and Group Captain Patrick Tootal, honorary secretary of the Battle of Britain Fighter Association and the Battle of Britain Memorial Trust, who first suggested I write a novel about the B. of B. and then asked several times if I had done it yet – always a good lever to inspiration!

Any mistakes and adjustments to fact (especially weather) are mine – sometimes I found it hard to fit the actual time line of the battle into the complications of my plot without a little tweaking of the dates. I hope this can be forgiven in the context of a novel. To write about such a thoroughly documented period is a challenge but I hope I have recreated the atmosphere and feel of the 1940s with sufficient accuracy to convince.

A special mention also goes to my son, Jon, for his sterling work in the office and on my website, and for his last minute all-night read-through of the manuscript, which showed him to be a proofreader born and bred.

Thanks as well, as always, are due to my agent, Carole Blake, and to my editors Kim Young, Susan Opie and Lucy Ferguson, and to all the wonderful people at HarperCollins. Their enthusiasm and support never ceases to be a huge bonus.

Also by Barbara Erskine

Lady of Hay

Kingdom of Shadows

(Short Stories)

Child of the Phoenix

Midnight is a Lonely Place

House of Echoes

Distant Voices
(Short Stories)

On the Edge of Darkness

Whispers in the Sand

Hiding from the Light

Sands of Time
(Short Stories)

Daughters of Fire

The Warrior’s Princess

Time’s Legacy

River of Destiny

If you enjoyed this Barbara Erskine novel, why not try some of her previous bestselling titles?

Two gripping full-length novels and a collection of riveting short stories by Barbara Erskine, now available for the first time as an eBook exclusive.

History seems bound to ruthlessly repeat itself in
The Lady of Hay
, when tenacious journalist Jo Clifford undertakes a session of hypnotic regression. What unfolds is an eight hundred year-old tale of secret passion and brutal betrayal.

Time’s Legacy
, Anglican Curate, Abi Rutherford, is forced to flee her parish in search of spiritual sanctuary when she is accused of witchcraft. She soon finds herself experiencing violent visions of a buried two thousand year-old history – one that could plunge her very life into unspeakable peril.

The Sands of Time
features two intriguing novellas in this captivating collection.

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Published by HarperCollins
Publishers Ltd

77–85 Fulham Palace Road

Hammersmith, London W6 8JB

First published in Great Britain by HarperCollins
Publishers Ltd 2014

Copyright © Barbara Erskine 2014

Cover layout design © HarperCollins
Ltd 2014

Cover images © Hazel McAllister/Alamy (swallow);
(all other images)

Barbara Erskine asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.

A catalogue copy of this book is available from the British Library.

This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this e-book on screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, down-loaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of HarperCollins.

Source ISBN: 9780007513123

Ebook Edition © July 2014 ISBN: 9780007513147

Version: 2014-05-12

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BOOK: The Darkest Hour
9.48Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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