Reading the first four Worrals books (set in World War II) some ten years ago made me realize that the two world wars of the first half of the 20th century gave a considerable boost to women’s liberation. It is a well-known fact that women took over jobs from men who had to go to war. Less well-known, perhaps, but nevertheless historically true, is the fact that women also joined the British air force during World War II. Although they did not serve in combat, over a hundred women were wartime pilots in the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA), and many members of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) operated behind enemy lines with the Special Operations Executive, sharing the same dangers with their male counterparts.
It is the mixture of good old-fashioned adventure and physical as well as verbal action carried out by young, independent women with ability and courage, set against a historical background, that still, after seventy years, makes the Worrals books such pleasant reading. Forget mobile phones and the Internet, forget James Bond: when, in Worrals flies again, Worrals and her colleague and friend Frecks are stuck in occupied France through the loss of their plane, there is no ‘Q’ to save them with ingenious gadgets…Instead they use carrier pigeons to get in touch with the home front in order to save their lives. In spite (or perhaps because…?) of the lack of modern technology, the book is a page turner, from the sudden encounter with a Messerschmitt during their flight to occupied France, to the moment Worrals’ plane crashes on her return flight to France, after personnally quickly delivering a message to England.
Worrals flies again is the third war adventure of the air heroine created by Johns, at the request, by the way, of the British Air Ministry. Flying Officer Joan Worralson (Worrals) is the female counterpart of Johns’ air hero Biggles, whose adventures I devoured as a kid. Quoting Johns, ‘she has a leaning towards dangerous duties’, and ‘an extraordinary aptitude for Intelligence work of the most perilous kind’. She prefers a direct approach, giving even her superiors a piece of her mind if necessary, particularly when she feels discriminated as a woman. Worrals is a feminist avant la lettre! Her colleague and best friend Betty Lovell (Frecks) is to Worrals what Algy, Ginger and Bertie are to Biggles. Although she is a little less courageous than Worrals and usually leans on her friend, when the circumstances call for it, she can hold her own.
Worrals flies again actually is a spy novel, where no one is what he/she seems to be. At the request of MI6, the two girls, posing as fruit pickers at an old castle near the River Loire, are to bring information, collected by British agents, back to England by plane. At least, that is the original idea… As it turns out, they find themselves surrounded by persons working for the French Resistance or the Gestapo, all using their own disguise. Worrals even ends up as a double agent for the British as well as the Germans … A wine cellar serving as a hiding place for the girls’ aircraft adds a French touch to the story.
Every boy or man who likes the Biggles books will appreciate the Worrals stories just as much; every girl or woman who likes to read Biggles-books in spite of missing a female protagonist will find what she always wanted in the Worrals series!
By Tineke Sommeling
Do you want to know more about Worrals? IndieBooks have also republished Worrals of the WAAF and Worrals carries on. And they have plans for the whole series. You can find all the stories here.