Authors: Lilian Harry
There was no sound from the airfield; the fog made flying difficult and dangerous. One thing in its favour, Alison thought wryly. The darkness was almost complete, with only a faint glimmer from the leaden sky to help her along the way. With Hughie’s hand held firmly in her own, she hurried along the narrow lane.
Her hand was on the front gate leading into the tiny garden when a shadow detached itself from the bushes nearby and a voice spoke into the thick, murky silence.
‘You are home at last, Mrs Knight,’ said a voice in the clipped tones of someone speaking very correct English. ‘I have been waiting. Please may I come in and talk to you?’
BY LILIAN HARRY
April Grove Quartet
The Girls They Left Behind
Keep Smiling Through
Moonlight & Lovesongs
Other April Grove novels
Under the Apple Tree
Dance Little Lady
Tuppence to Spend
A Farthing Will Do
Corner House trilogy
Corner House Girls
Kiss the Girls Goodbye
PS I Love You
A Girl Called Thursday
A Promise to Keep
Other wartime novels
Love & Laughter
Three Little Ships
A Song at Twilight
The Bells of Burracombe
A Stranger in Burracombe
Storm Over Burracombe
A Penny a Day
Other Devon novels
Wives & Sweethearts
Lilian Harry’s grandfather hailed from Devon and Lilian always longed to return to her roots, so moving from Hampshire to a small Dartmoor town in her early twenties was a dream come true. She quickly absorbed herself in local life, learning the fascinating folklore and history of the moors, joining the church bellringers and a country-dance club, and meeting people who are still her friends today. Although she later moved north, living first in Herefordshire and then in the Lake District, she returned in the 1990s and now lives on the edge of the moor with her two ginger cats. She is still an active bellringer and member of the local drama group and loves to walk on the moors. Her daughter lives nearby with her husband and their two children. Her son lives in Cambridge. Visit her website at
AN ORION EBOOK
First published in Great Britain in 2006 by Orion
This ebook first published in 2010 by Orion Books
Copyright © Lilian Harry 2006
The moral right of Lilian Harry to be identified as the author
of this work has been asserted in accordance with the
Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted
in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of the publisher, nor to be otherwise
circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published without a similar
condition, including this condition, being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
All the characters in this book are fictitious,
and any resemblance to actual persons,
living or dead, is purely coincidental.
A CIP catalogue record for this book
is available from the British Library.
ISBN: 978 1 4091 3024 6
The Orion Publishing Group Ltd
5 Upper Saint Martin’s Lane
London WC2H 9EA
An Hachette UK Company
To my editor Yvette Goulden,
always patient, encouraging and willing to help.
As always I have received much help in the research and writing of this book, and I would like to thank the following and apologise to anyone not included:
The Harrowbeer Special Interest Group, who have been assiduously uncovering the history of Harrowbeer Airfield (you can find their excellent website at
); Richard White, who entertained me for an afternoon in his cottage with stories of Milton Combe during his childhood (and who makes a great Dame in our local pantomimes); ‘irene’, ‘SeaNymph’, ‘Basia,’ ‘Peet’ and all those others in Old Mustardland, who gave me so many ideas for titles, Polish names, etc, and even told me how to stop my computer printing out 350 copies of an entire book one day (I actually just wanted one copy of page 350); and last but not least all those at Orion who worked so hard to turn my typescript into a published book, with a lovely jacket.
‘So this is Harrowbeer.’
Alison Knight stepped out of the Morris 8 and gazed at the hastily erected collection of sheds, huts and hangars. At the far side, she could see aircraft standing on the runways or parked in bays, protected by grass-covered ramparts. Airmen, mechanics and WAAFs were everywhere, driving trucks, walking or cycling briskly along the paths or lounging in the autumn sunshine outside their huts. Lifting her eyes, Alison could see planes tumbling in practice aerobatics over the rolling Devon moors. The air was filled with the roar of their engines.
She stared up at them, wondering if the man who had confessed to her that he was growing more terrified every day was in one of those planes. Throwing it around in the sky with such apparent nonchalance; hiding his fears from his fellow pilots; living a nightmare in his mind.
‘Alison?’ Andrew asked, concern in his voice. ‘Are you all right?’
She shook herself out of her thoughts and smiled at her husband. ‘Yes, I’m fine. Just taking it all in. What was here before?’ She turned to help Hughie out of the back seat and he stood beside her, stocky and square, his thumb in his mouth and one hand clutching her skirt, gazing up at the aeroplanes. Alison brushed a fair curl back from his forehead and he twitched away from her with exactly the same impatient gesture that Andrew sometimes used. Although as fair as his mother, all his actions and mannerisms came directly from his father.
Andrew came round the car and stood with his arm across her shoulders. ‘Nothing much, as far as I can make out. It was just empty moorland. Nothing between Yelverton, over there –’ he pointed at a stubby grey church tower rising from a huddle of buildings ‘– and a few small villages on this side. Buckland Monachorum, where there’s a decent little inn, Buckstone, which is really just a hamlet near the perimeter, and Milton Combe down in the valley. Our cottage is just outside the village on top of the hill. The nearest town is Tavistock, about six miles away.’
‘Plymouth’s quite near too, isn’t it?’ she asked, and he nodded.
‘About the same distance in the other direction, but it was more or less flattened during the Blitz. I hope you won’t feel too isolated, darling.’
‘Of course I shan’t. Not with all this going on, and you coming home whenever you can.’
Andrew squeezed her shoulders. ‘Even if I can’t stay every night, we’re close enough for me to be able to come home pretty often. You’ll see plenty of me, don’t worry.’ He ruffled his son’s fair curls. ‘Have to keep an eye on this young man.’
Alison leaned her head against him. ‘I could never see too much of you.’ She looked out across the airfield again and watched the planes in the sky, repressing a shudder as she thought of the terrifying weeks of the Battle of Britain, with Andrew in the air almost all the time, fighting somewhere over the Channel or France. In the end, he had been shot down over Kent, so help had been swift in reaching him, but the broken leg and ribs and other injuries he had suffered had kept him in hospital for nearly three months, throughout much of the Blitz of 1940 and 1941. Although he hadn’t crashed in the three years since then, Alison could never quite forget that it might happen again.
Andrew, however, seemed to think that he was now invincible. ‘I’ve had my crash,’ he would say cheerfully. ‘I won’t have another one.’ And he had been back in the air the moment the doctors had given him the all-clear.
As she stood beside him now, looking out past the huts and hangars at the Devon countryside, Alison could feel the vitality quivering through him. She twisted her neck to look up into his face and saw that abstracted expression that meant he was already, in his mind, somewhere in the sky.
‘Are you going to show me where we’re living, then?’
Andrew pulled himself back to earth again and grinned down at her. ‘Of course, darling. I just hope you’ll like it. It’s not awfully big.’
‘I don’t mind that. It’s not as if we’ve got masses of furniture, anyway. Just our crockery and cooking things, and bedding. They’ll be arriving tomorrow, so I’ll need somewhere to stay tonight. Oh, and my bike’s coming as well, so I’ll be able to get about.’ She looked beyond the airfield towards the village of Yelverton with its square-towered church, and past that at the hills of Dartmoor, topped with their rocky outcrops. Nearer at hand was a sharp escarpment which seemed, like a brooding Sphinx, to be keeping a watchful eye on these noisy intruders. ‘I shall be able to explore the moor and villages. It’ll be fun.’
‘It’ll be hilly, too,’ he warned her. ‘The village itself is at the bottom of a really steep valley. And I’m not sure I like the idea of you cycling about all on your own, with Hughie on that little seat. Dartmoor Prison’s not too far away, don’t forget – and remember the Sherlock Holmes story. You don’t know what might be lurking out there!’
‘I don’t imagine there are giant hounds, anyway,’ she laughed. ‘But I’m sure I’ll find someone to go with. There’ll be other wives coming down too, won’t there? And you might get a bike and come with me sometimes, when you’re off-duty.’
Andrew went back to the other side of the car and slid into the driving seat. ‘Not if I can help it! As long as I can scrounge some petrol, we’ll use this little beauty. Anyway, a lot of the moor’s out of bounds now. Get in, and we’ll go down to the village pub for a drink before I show you your new home. And I’ve fixed for you to stay at a farmhouse until you’ve got the place sorted out.’
He started the engine and the car chugged off down a narrow lane between high, grassy banks with hedges growing from the tops. Behind the hedges, Alison could see tall trees, fields and the occasional cottage. They came to a sharp left-hand turn and shot down a steep road into the village, with rows of old stone cottages on either side and a narrow stream bubbling beside the road. An old inn stood at the bottom of the hill, with a low wall running along in front of it.
‘What a lovely village,’ Alison said as she stood in the narrow street. She could hear the sound of children’s voices coming from nearby and the singing of birds from the trees that towered above the steep valley sides. An old man was sweeping up leaves along the edge of the road and the innkeeper was rolling a barrel along in front of the inn. ‘You’d never think there was a war on, it’s so peaceful.’