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Release Day for "A Letter from Pearl Harbor" by Anna Stuart

Author Bio:

I wanted to be an author from the moment I could pick up a pen and was writing boarding-school novels by the age of nine. I made the early mistake of thinking I ought to get a ‘proper job’ and went into Factory Planning – a career that gave me some wonderful experiences, amazing friends and even a fantastic husband, but didn’t offer much creative scope. So when I stopped to have children I took the chance to start the ‘improper job’ of writing. It's not been easy but I love it and can't see myself ever stopping.

The Berlin Zookeeper is the first in my new series of WW2 novels. It's a dual timeline novel set in Berlin Zoo in the present day and at the climax of the war, as the keepers battle to save the lives of both their animals and themselves in the face of terrible hardships. Coming this August is The Secret Diary, exploring the troubles facing a bold group of young women trying to integrate back into 'normal' society after life as a tight-knit team of 'gunner girls' - and trying to hide the secret that binds them...

I also write medieval fiction as Joanna Courtney.

I'd love to hear from you!

Twitter - @annastuartbooks

Book Blurb:

Ninety-eight-year-old Ginny McAllister’s last wish is for her granddaughter to complete a treasure hunt containing clues to her past. Clues that reveal her life as one of the first female pilots at Pearl Harbor, and a devastating World War Two secret.

1941, Pearl Harbor: On the morning of December 7th, Ginny is flying her little yellow plane above the sparkling seas when she spots an unknown aircraft closing in on her. She recognises the red symbol of the Japanese fighter planes almost too late. Somehow, she manages to land unscathed but the choices she is forced to make in the terrible hours that follow have tragic consequences…

2019, Pearl Harbor: Heartbroken Robyn Harris is reeling from the death of the strong, determined grandmother who raised her. Her only comfort is a letter written in Ginny’s distinctive hand which details a treasure hunt, just like the ones she used to set for her as a little girl. Except this time, the clues are scattered across the beautiful island of Hawaii. Despite her grief, Robyn finds herself intrigued as she follows the trail of letters, revealing the truth about Ginny’s service during the Second World War.

But Robyn’s whole world is turned upside down when she’s faced with a shocking secret which has the power to change the course of her own life…

Inspired by true events, this is a heartbreaking and unforgettable WW2 novel about love, loss and bravery. Perfect for fans of The Alice Network, The Nightingale and Kathryn Hughes.

Article from Anna:

Early on the morning of Sunday December 7th 1941, with the first rays of the sun glinting off the wings of her Interstate Cadet monoplane, Cornelia Fort, aviatrix and flight instructor, had the misfortune to be the first person in Pearl Harbor to catch sight of the incoming Japanese planes. The ‘Zeros’ came past her on their way to bomb the American navy into (as they hoped) non-existence but they had time to shoot at Cornelia as they went. She had to seize the controls from her hapless pupil and guide the plane down to John Rodgers civilian airport then make a dash for the cover of the Hanger as the true horror of the devastating surprise attack unfolded around them.

It was a terrifying start to the dreadful day that brought America into World War II, but for those of us looking back on it now, it is perhaps something of a surprise that a female instructor was up in American airspace at all. In fact, there were quite a few dashing aviatrixes who had become the darling of the American people in the years before the war and who would go on to serve their country. The most famous of these female flyers was Amelia Earhart who filled the headlines with her records through the late twenties and thirties and was the first woman (and second person after Charles Lindbergh) to pilot a plane solo across the Atlantic. Sadly she lost her life attempting to circumnavigate the globe in 1937, but there were plenty more cut in her mold.

Marguerite Gambo was a young Hawaiian who’d achieved her commercial pilot’s licence in 1937 and established the Gambo Flying Service out of Pearl Harbor. She was also in the air on the morning of December 7th and had to navigate her little plane through a seldom-used mountain pass to land safely out of the way of the Japanese.

Then there was Jacqui Cochran, a remarkable young woman from a poor family of millworkers in the Florida panhandle who, with commendable tenacity, worked her way up to a job in Saks department store in New York and invites to top parties. It was billionaire Floyd Bostwick Odlum who offered to pay for her pilot’s training if she passed within six weeks; she did it in three weeks and three days. Floyd paid up and then married her! She went on to promote her own line of cosmetics, Wings to Beauty, from her aircraft but also flew competitively, winning the prestigious Bendix race in 1938,

setting records in both speed and altitude, and securing five Harmon trophies, a prize awarded to outstanding pilots.

From the very opposite end of the social spectrum was Nancy Love who came from an old-money family and gained her pilot’s licence at sixteen. She celebrated this by flying her brother dangerously close over her school and only avoided expulsion because they had a policy banning girls from driving cars but not planes… After gaining her commercial licence, she was offered a job at Inter-City Aviation demonstrating planes to customers to show they were so easy to fly that even a woman could do it! The company was owned by Robert Love and the pair married in Jan 1936, after which – unusually for the time - Nancy continued to work as a commercial test pilot.

The aviatrixes (just 1% of all pilots in America at the time) knew they had to stick together and in 1929 they founded the Ninety-nines under president Betty Gillies, a tiny woman, who led a successful fight against the Air Commerce Department’s proposed ban on women flying during their period. But as war loomed on the horizon, it was clear there were important issues ahead.

Both Nancy Love and Jackie Cochran were keen to get women serving their country, ferrying planes between factories and bases around the US to free up male pilots for active combat. Jackie was the more vociferous, talking to Eleanor Roosevelt about the idea as early as 1938 and, when she couldn’t persuade the military top brass to agree, taking a troop of talented female pilots over to Britain in 1942 to serve with the Air Transport Auxiliary.

Britain was, in this instance, ahead of its US counterparts, having taken female pilots into the ATA from November 1939 under Commander Pauline Gower. At first they only flew Tiger Moths but they soon moved on to virtually every type of plane used by the RAF, including the heavy bombers that even the male pilots had initially thought too hard to handle. Hurricanes were first flown by women pilots in July 1941, and Spitfires a month later.

As the war progressed, one in eight ATA pilots were female and 166 women flew in total. It was a very open, inclusive unit, taking volunteers from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the United States, the Netherlands, Poland, Argentina and Chile. One of their more notable

achievements is that, under a ruling of 1943, they were the first to receive equal pay to their male counterparts.

It was not a reward that the American female pilots were going to be able to repeat. Throughout the war they were given as little as 65% of the pay of their male equivalents and no military honours or benefits. For example, when Cornelia Fort was killed in an air accident on duty in March 1943, the army didn’t pay for her funeral expenses and her widowed mother only got a $200 Civil Service Commission death benefit, rather than the $10,000 she’d have got if her daughter had been recognised as a military pilot. It was one of many great unfairnesses doled out to the brave women who just wanted to serve their country.

Another such unfairness was to Jackie Cochran. Whilst she was over in Britain doing her bit, Nancy Love was able to use her moneyed contacts to finally talk Lieutenant General ‘Hap’ Arnold into authorizing the formation of the Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS) under her command. Needless to say, Jackie was furious and returned almost immediately to confront him. Arnold caved and formed the Women's Flying Training Detachment (WFTD) under Jackie to train more female pilots. The two services were merged in August 1943 to create the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP).

Jackie worked hard to bring new women into the program, fighting to create a training program, initially at the Howard R Hughes Airport in Houston, although much of the set-up there was borderline farcical. With the commanding officer on site being hostile to his female recruits, it was left to Leoti ‘Dedie’ Deaton, a housewife, scout leader and general community volunteer who’d been railroaded into looking after the girls by Jackie, to sort things out.

The first recruits had to keep their jobs a secret and were encouraged to state that they were part of a basketball team which was very tricky for those women who were barely above five feet tall! Their only canteen and toilet facilities were at the Houston Municipal Airport Terminal, a mile away. They were issued with no uniforms and even the silver wings they received at their much-delayed graduation were paid for by Jackie herself. There were no barracks for them on site so

they had to find billets in the nearby town and, unbelievably, the bus Dedie found to transport the girls to the airfield had previously been used for a Tyrolean orchestra so was white with red and white striped awning and decorated all over with Edelweiss! These highly-skilled, volunteer women were only trying to serve their country and were treated very poorly.

They didn’t give up though and in the end ten classes of recruits graduated and many women flew planes around America as the factories churned them out in their thousands for service in Europe and the Pacific. But there were still battles to be fought as both Jackie and Nancy continued to try and persuade the government to pay female pilots the same as men, a proposal that was viciously opposed in senate and never passed during the war. Indeed, after D-day on June 6th, 1944, PR in the states switched away from encouraging women out to work, to getting them ready to return to their “real roles” of healing men’s physical and emotional wounds when they came back from war. There was much rumbling about women taking men’s jobs and On Oct 1st 1944 General Arnold wrote to Jackie telling her that he was ready to disband the WASP as the brave women ‘will soon become pilot material in excess of needs’.

The service was shut down by Dec 20th 1944 to give all the women time to get home for the holidays and for many years their contribution to the war (not to mention the far greater contribution they would willingly have offered) was suppressed. Luckily there are many good books now correcting that (I especially recommend Katherine Sharp Landdeck’s The Women with Silver Wings) and I hope this article and my novel, A Letter from Pearl Harbor, can also do their bit to bring these amazing women’s stories back to life.

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