Halifax bombers were edged out by the superior Wellingtons, so Halifax bombers were used to drop SOE agents behind enemy lines in the last years of the 2nd World War. They were big enough to carry a pay load, could defend themselves if necessary and, it has to be added, they were expendable as were the agents. I knew that my character, Anna, would have been flown across the channel in a Halifax bomber.
I needed to visualise the scene. It must have been terrifying. From my research I knew Anna had probably finished training only a week ago. Most agents had only done three parachute jumps: two in daylight and one at night. Even the night time jump was relatively domesticated because it was over an airfield she knew, and she wasn’t jumping alone. There were others in the plane and there was always an ambulance in attendance, should something go wrong. Her fourth ever jump would be a lonely affair into the unknown, so the journey out would be filled with tension. To write the scene I needed to see inside the plane.
There is only one Halifax bomber in existence in the world and it just happens to be at Elvington Air Museum, just outside York and close to where I live. I went there, explained why I’d come and a lovely man called Phil Kemp let me climb inside the plane.
A bomber is made to do a job of work. It does not exist for the comfort of the crew. There is only one way in and that was designed for dropping bombs through and its size was the size and shape of a large bomb. It is rectangular and quite narrow, difficult to climb through any way, at least I found that and I was not wearing a parachute. It must have been really tricky to parachute out of.
Once inside I saw the same utility. The walls are ribbed. There was a toilet in full view and no curtain. The agent sat on a chair nearby, quite alone, waiting. Above her head dangled the feet of the top gunner. A long way up at the front sat the pitot and navigator. I imagined it cold and dark, noisy and shaking. I imagined the crew exchanging terse information, Anna wouldn’t understand. There would be pallets on the floor loaded with weapons. There would be separate parcels, each with their own parachute. One of the gunners would push them out when the time came and push the spy out too if that was necessary. Inside that plane I felt like a school kid and again my respect for these agents and for their sheer physical courage grew enormous. I hope I’ve conveyed that. If those scenes don’t work I have no excuses.