PROLOGUE October 1940, Leconfield, Yorkshire, ENGLAND
What it was about the large farmhouse Hawk did not know, but from the first
moment he crossed its threshold, he felt at home. Its thick stone walls embraced
him; its low beams protected him.
Homesickness or nostalgia couldn’t account for his feelings because the place
was very different from its counterparts at home. Nothing in England reminded
him of Poland.
‘Come in, come in, don’t stand there like statue,’ the farmer demanded, his
gruff Yorkshire accent softened by his friendly tone. He looked to be in his
fifties, although there was the fragility of old age about him, too, as if his
body had worn out earlier than it should.
‘You do understand me, don’t ye? I know ye’re foreign an’ all…’
Hawk grinned and nodded. Although the man’s accent was strong, he understood
it well enough. ‘I speak English. We had to learn before they would let us up in
The farmer nodded sagely, still waiting for him to move into the house more
fully. Hawk wanted to savour the moment like a fine liqueur, letting the taste
remain on his tongue, breathing it in through his nose.
There was mustiness in the air of a damp space kept closed up for too long.
He could smell furniture polish and wet dog. There was also the odour of manure
that had accompanied them in from the farmyard. None of the individual scents he
identified gave him sensations of pleasure, but in combination, they affected
He’d grown up in the city. Rural life was alien to him. Mostly, it worried
him with its isolation, but not here, not in this farmhouse. Here, the rural
setting suited him. Here, the isolation felt comfortable, as if he could be
wholly himself for the first time without the intrusion of others. The sound of
aircraft landing and taking off nearby only added to the feeling of home.
‘Is it shell shock ye’re sufferin’?’ The farmer was staring at him now, his
deeply lined brow puckered with concern.
Hawk gave himself a mental shake and smiled at the man again. ‘Sorry, no. It
is just this house. I feel like I know it… or it knows me. I sound like a crazy
person, I know. Would you prefer I left?’
He didn’t want to leave – not now. Not ever, a little voice in his
head said. If the man began to worry about Hawk’s sanity, however, it might be
better. They didn’t want to get a bad reputation with the locals. Already, the
man might see him as an intruder. After all, Hawk had wandered up his long drive
to the farmhouse for no reason other than he wanted to know what was at the end
of the road. He hadn’t been invited onto the property until the farmer had seen
him and offered him welcome.
‘Nah then, lad, don’t be daft. I invited thee, didn’t I? And our Mildred’ll
give me a right say-so if I let thee go before tha’ve had a cup o’ tea. We’ve
heard about thee lads, the 303 Squadron?’
The man had turned and had begun walking down the dark hallway, talking all
the while. Hawk couldn’t draw the moment out any longer. He had to follow along
behind the farmer or be considered rude.
He took several long, striding steps to catch up with the Yorkshireman. ‘Yes.
We were rotated out to Leconfield from Northolt for a break. Six weeks we have
been in the air.’
‘One hundred and twenty-six kills in six weeks, they’re sayin’. Impressive,
and we aren’t impressed by foreigners easy in these parts.’
‘We lost eighteen Hurricanes, seven pilots and we have five more badly
wounded. That is not so impressive.’
‘If I told thee the losses we took at the Somme, thee’d think twice about
that.’ The man’s voice was hollow, as if it came from a long way away, a
‘You survived the Great War?’
‘Aye. Lucky’s what I was, nowt but lucky. The mustard gas got ta ma lungs,
but nowt bad. Now ‘ere’s our Mildred…’
They’d made it to the back of the house by now and entered the big country
kitchen with its wooden table in the centre and flagstones on the floor. A big
black range burned hot against the far wall. He could feel its heat from where
he stood. A small window over the sink was open, as was the back door, probably
because it was midday and the sun was shining. The cool air from outside also
balanced the heat inside a little.
He could see autumn leaves, golden and beautiful, on the oak tree just
outside the window. They seemed to glow in the sunlight.
Mildred was a matronly woman with grey, straggly hair and a friendly smile.
Her face was flushed red from the heat of the stove. She wiped a strand of hair
away from her face with the back of a floury arm.
‘Ayap, who’s tha wi’ ye then, our Alf? A ‘andsome airman fromt’ looks of