This was in the spring of 1940—the war was still in Europe. It was before the disastrous May when the Allies fled, retreating to the French beaches, before the siege that was the Battle of Britain, before the thunder and flame-filled nights of the Blitz. In the spring of 1940 our skies were alert and armed and uneasy. But they were still safe. (1.9.XI.43.93)
This is part of Julie's flashback to the story of how Maddie became a pilot—she's also flashing back to a safer time even as she tells us it didn't stay that way. Julie does this throughout Part 1, taking us somewhere relatively safe and then reminding us that things aren't that way anymore.
The WAAF officers were quartered in the gatehouse lodge at the edge of the estate grounds that the airfield had been built on, and Maddie and her bunk mates were so dead asleep they didn't hear the sirens. They only woke up after the first explosion. They ran through scrub woodland to the nearest shelter in their pajamas and tin hats, clutching gas masks and ID cards. There was no light to see by except the gunfire and the exploding flames—no streetlamps, no cracks of light in any doors or windows, not even the glow of a cigarette end. It was like being in hell, nothing but shadows and jumping flames and fire and stars overhead. (1.10.XI.43.89)
Here we have the description of an air raid, which sounds like absolutely no fun at all, especially because it gets everyone out of their nice warm beds to go running around in the dark.
Most of the protective concrete barrier and the sandbags surrounding it had been blown to bits, taking with it two of the army gunners who had been valiantly trying to keep the runway fit for the Spitfire squadron that would have to land there after the battle. One of the dead gunners was easily younger than Maddie. A third man who was still standing looked like a butcher without the apron, soaked from neck to thighs in blood. He turned wearily and said, "Thanks for the relief. I'm beat." Then he sat down on the ruined platform and closed his eyes. Maddie cowered next to him, her arms over her head, listening to the hideous rattle of the gunner sucking air into blood-filled lungs. (1.11.XI.43.41)
Didn't think an air raid could get worse than making you go running around the woods in your pajamas? Think again: it gets much worse.
When one of Queenie's Top Ten Fears materialized and her favorite brother Jamie the bomber pilot (the real Jamie) and his crew got shot down. Jamie spent a night floating in the North Sea and afterward had to have four frozen fingers and all his toes amputated. (1.16.XI.43.111)
This is on the list of times Maddie and Julie see each other during the year they are separated. Put spending the night in the North Sea up there on the list of things that are about as much fun as an air raid. It's like the worst game of "Would You Rather?" ever. Would you rather spend the night in the North Sea or operate an antiaircraft gun in an air raid? Ugh. No thanks to all of it.
"You know what they call this place?"
I raised my eyebrows, shrugging.
"Le Chȃteau des Bourreaux," she said.
I laughed rather too loudly again, crossed my legs, and examined the inside of my wrist.
(It is a pun, you see. Chȃteau de Bordeaux, Chȃteau des Bourreaux—Bordeaux Castle, Castle of Butchers.) (1.20.XI.43.27-31)
Proof that even in war, everyone appreciates a good pun. Extra points if you get or make a pun in a language you're not a native speaker of.
"It's not a nice job," Queenie whispered. "It's not like your job—blameless."
"I'm not blameless," said Maddie. "Every bomber I deliver goes operational and kills people. Civilians. People like my gran and granddad. Children. Just because I don't do it myself doesn't mean I'm not responsible. I deliver you."
"Blond bombshell," Queenie said, and spluttered with laughter at her own joke. Then she began to cry. (1.22.XI.43.166-168)
Here we're reminded that no one is completely blameless in war, and everyone gets roped into the killing, which is perhaps a good thing to remember when it's time to pick up the pieces.
Being a kid and worrying that a bomb might kill you is terrible. But being a kid and worrying that the police might cut your head off is something else entirely. I haven't words for it. Every fresh broken horror is something I just didn't understand until I came here. (2.13.3)
Yeah, all our childhood fears pale in comparison to the Gestapo. We feel pretty silly for worrying about those monsters in the closet.
That is the man who interrogated Julie, the man who will order her execution—or who already has. I don't know what I expected, but he just looked like anybody—like the sort of chap who would come into the shop and buy a motorbike for his lad's sixteenth birthday—like your headmaster. But also—he looked like he was on his knees. Dog tired, absolutely haggard with it. He looked like he hadn't slept for a week. The pilots all looked like that in September of '40, during the worst days of the Battle of Britain—the vicar's lad looked like that, running out to his plane, the day he was killed. (2.14.16)
Maddie gives us an interesting comparison here between von Linden (a Nazi officer) and the vicar's lad (a British airman). These aren't characters we'd expect to see exhibiting similar traits. What is the effect of the comparison on our feelings about both characters?
Paul picked them off like ducks at a funfair with his Sten submachine gun. While that was going on I was curled uselessly in a ball with my arms over my head and my teeth clenched, so I missed a bit of the action. Born to be a soldier, my foot. A raid is actually quite a lot like a battle. It is war. It's war in miniature, but it's still war. (2.17.20)
You don't have to convince us it's like a battle, Maddie: we're with you. It sounds awful, and the smaller, more personal nature of a raid as compared to a large battle might even make it worse. What do you think?
He drew a long, shaking breath. "'Killed in action' was what the first wire told us, and 'killed in action' the verdict shall remain," he said firmly. "She was killed in action by this account, and given the number of people who died under fire that night I don't think we need to give out details of who shot whom. Your story shall not leave this building. You've not told anyone here what happened, have you?" (2.26.29)
Poor Maddie. She does what she can to keep her friend from suffering needlessly, and then she feels the need to confess to murder for it. Why does Maddie feel the need to confess? What would you do in the same situation?