Authors: John Wilson
Also by John Wilson
YOUNG ADULT FICTION
Graves of Ice
Shot at Dawn
Written in Blood
Death on the River
Adrift in Time
Ghosts of James Bay
Across Frozen Seas
YOUNG ADULT NON-FICTION
Desperate Glory: The Story of WWI
Failed Hope: The Story of the Lost Peace
Bitter Ashes: The Story of WWII
Righting Wrongs: The Story of Norman Bethune
Discovering the Arctic: The Story of John Rae
Norman Bethune: A Life of Passionate Conviction
John Franklin: Traveller on Undiscovered Seas
AVAILABLE ONLY AS EBOOKS
The Alchemist’s Dream
The Final Alchemy
The Heretic’s Secret
Where Soldiers Lie
Flames of the Tiger
Four Steps to Death
And in the Morning
Lost in Spain
The Weet Trilogy
Flags of War
North with Franklin: The Lost Journals of James Fitzjames
Ghost Mountains and Vanished Oceans:
North America from Birth to Middle-Age
Copyright © 2014 John Wilson
All rights reserved. The use of any part of this publication, reproduced, transmitted in any form or by any means electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, or stored in a retrieval system without the prior written consent of the publisher—or in the case of photocopying or other reprographic copying, license from the Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency—is an infringement of the copyright law. Doubleday Canada and colophon are registered trademarks of Random House of Canada Limited.
Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication
Wilson, John (John Alexander), 1951-, author
Wings of war / John Wilson.
eBook ISBN 978-0-385-67831-5
PS8595.I5834W56 2014 jC813′.54 C2013-906366-8
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Cover image: Heritage Image Partnership/Alamy
Cover design: Rachel Cooper
Published in Canada by Doubleday Canada, a division of Random House of Canada Limited, a Penguin Random House Company
Dedicated to the memory of Lanoe Hawker, VC, DSO, the first British flying ace and, on 23 November 1916, the Red Baron’s eleventh victim
he snap of the high-tension wire giving way echoes like a gunshot over the flat prairie field. Abby, the chestnut mare I’ve ridden over from my folks’ place, twitches her ears and looks up. Above her an extraordinary contraption of wood, fabric and wire wobbles dangerously. I see where the wire’s gone—it’s about halfway along the right wings. Both twist oddly, and my uncle Horst, crouching on the old tractor seat in the middle of the plane, wrestles with the controls, fighting to find a balance between too much speed, which will rip the weakened wings off, and too
little, which will stall the flight. Either way the plane will plummet to the ground—certain death for my uncle from over seventy feet up.
I hold my breath and clench my fists as I watch. The rough coughing sound of the engine comes and goes as the machine bucks and turns. The plane clears the trees around the farmhouse and sinks slowly toward the stubble field beside the barn. Horst is winning his battle for control! I let my breath out as the large baby-carriage wheels touch down. Almost immediately, the contraption lurches to the right, the lower wing tip touches the ground and, with a loud snapping sound, the wings fold up like crumpled paper. The engine races wildly and the propeller shatters, sending knifelike pieces of wood slashing through the air.
I vault the fence and run to the wreck. By the time I arrive, my uncle is hauling himself out of the mass of broken wood, torn fabric and twisted wires. His jacket has a long rip in the sleeve, and there’s already a swelling bruise on his forehead. He says something in German, and from his tone of voice, I’m glad I can’t understand him.
“Uncle Horst!” I shout. “Are you okay?”
“Ya, ya, Edward,” my uncle says, brushing himself down and gazing mournfully at the ruins of his prized flying machine. “But Bertha, she is kaput.”
My uncle calls every flying machine he builds
Bertha. As close as I can figure, the pile of wreckage in front of me is
“She was a beauty,” Horst says, bending to lift the tip of one of his hand-carved wooden propeller blades from where it has embedded itself in the ground. “But too heavy. The two wings, they do not give enough lift.”
“Why not add a third wing?” I suggest. “I read in the newspapers that they have those over in Europe. Triplanes, I think they’re called.”
“Ya, ya. Another wing. Another wing. Another wing. Biplanes. Triplanes. With each wing I get more lift, but more weight also. And I have only twenty-five horses.” Horst aims a kick at the bulky engine that lies beside Bertha, crackling as it cools.
“Can’t you get a bigger engine?”
“Oh, ya. I will get one hundred horses and build a machine that will fly to Moose Jaw. But I buy this magnificent engine with what? You might as well say, ‘Uncle Horst, buy an aeroplane.’ I would work this farm for twenty years to save enough dollars to buy one of the Wright boys’ Flyers or a Blériot.”
“Blériot?” I ask. “Wasn’t he the famous pilot who was the first to fly across the English Channel?”
“Ya. Five years past. But, Edward, this is 1914. The world has moved on and still he sells the same plane. What use will old planes be in the war that is coming?”
“War? What war?”
“Do you not read the newspapers?”
“Of course I read the newspapers,” I say indignantly. “The only war they talk about is the trouble in Ireland. What does that have to do with Blériot’s flying machines?”
“You read the papers of the English. They are blind. They look only in their own backyard and their empire. They do not look at Europe. You should read the German newspapers.”
“I don’t read German. You know that.”
My uncle ignores my protests. “That man who was shot last month with his wife—”
“Archduke Franz Ferdinand,” I interrupt, eager to show Horst that I
know something about Europe. “He was assassinated in some place I’ve never heard of.”
“Sarajevo,” Horst says. “It is in the Balkans.”
“Yeah,” I say, “but the Balkans are a long way off, and besides, they’re always having wars down there. The assassination was almost a month ago, and nothing’s happened since then.”
“Much has happened, which you would know if you read the correct newspapers.” Horst waves the fragment of propeller to silence me. “And do not dismiss a place simply because you have never heard of it. Anyway, it is not this place that is important—it is the person. The man who shot the archduke is a Serbian,
and Austria would very much like to make Serbia part of her empire. There has already been some shooting along the border.”
“But there was a war in the Balkans last year. It didn’t affect us.”
Horst stares at the ground and sighs. “This time it may be different.”
“What do you mean?”
“The Russian bear is watching. She will help Serbia, and Kaiser Wilhelm will go to war to help Austria. Even France will be drawn into the insanity. Germany will be fighting two wars, front and back, east and west. All of Europe will be in flames.”
I stare at Horst, shocked by what he is suggesting. There has been no European war since Napoleon was defeated almost a hundred years ago. “It won’t happen,” I say. “And even if you’re right, this war won’t affect England and Canada.”
“Ya. Of course you are right, Edward.” Horst takes a deep breath and smiles. “It won’t affect us all the way out here in Saskatchewan. It is just one more squabble between those crazy Europeans.”
“Would flying machines be used in a war?” I ask, unable to shake the thought of marching armies.
“Flying machines should make us poor earth-bound humans free—like the birds. They should not be used for war and killing.” Horst looks at me, his pale blue eyes intense. “But ya, I think flying machines will be used. From up there”—he thrusts his arm straight up toward the sky—“one man will be able to see what an entire army is doing. There will be no secrets anymore. And some men—your English writer H.G. Wells for one—think that one day there will be great battles among the clouds, as well as flying machines that can carry bombs big enough to destroy whole cities.” Horst lowers his arm and turns his head to survey his farm. “But we are safe here. Who would wish to waste bombs on my poor fields?