Sisters at War
Publication Date: 1st May 2021
Publisher: Cranbrook Press
Page Length: 314 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
1940 Liverpool. The pressures of war threaten to tear apart two sisters traumatised by their father’s murder of their mother.
With her new husband, Will, a merchant seaman, deployed on dangerous Atlantic convoy missions, Hannah needs her younger sister Judith more than ever. But when Mussolini declares war on Britain, Judith’s Italian sweetheart, Paolo is imprisoned as an enemy alien, and Judith’s loyalties are divided.
Each sister wants only to be with the man she loves but, as the war progresses, tensions between them boil over, and they face an impossible decision.
A heart-wrenching page-turner about the everyday bravery of ordinary people during wartime. From heavily blitzed Liverpool to the terrors of the North Atlantic and the scorched plains of Australia, Sisters at War will bring tears to your eyes and joy to your heart.
Universal Link: https://books2read.com/sistersatwar
Amazon UK: https://amazon.co.uk/dp/B08Z473XG2
At some point his luck was going to run out. As a merchant seaman, Will Kidd was only too aware of the heavy losses sustained by merchant ships and yet, so far, he had come through the first months of the war with barely a sight of a German vessel. On the way south through the Bay of Biscay, towards Gibraltar, just two weeks ago, they had spotted the periscope of a submarine, only to find on closer inspection that it was a piece of driftwood. They had also identified a German warship off the south coast of Ireland but either it was running low on fuel and heading for home, unwilling for an encounter with a convoy, or somehow it failed to spot them. Either way, it sailed on without engaging. Such good fortune could not last forever.
This morning, Will was keeping watch as they headed back to England. The Christina was straggling along, heavily laden with cargo. Being low in the water, they’d been unable to sustain the eight knots the rest of the convoy were keeping to, and Captain Palmer had requested permission for them to continue alone. They were following a course as far from the Spanish and Portuguese coast as possible, as the risk of being sighted was less the further out to sea they were.
Will scanned the dark water around him with a practised eye, all too aware that somewhere out there, danger was lurking. The stretches closer to home were always the most perilous.
The Christina was an ageing tramp steamer. Will knew the ship like the back of his hand, having served on her between African ports before the war. The vessel was slow, cumbersome and would have been all too easily picked off trailing at the rear of the convoy. Better to take their chances alone, rather than slow the other ships down. But the problem of leaving the shelter of the convoy was that they only had a four-inch, low-angle gun, a relic from the last war. If a torpedo struck, they could be heading to the bottom of the sea before they had a chance to fire a shot back.
Night was falling. Will was near the end of his watch and looking forward to a few hours’ sleep. At first, he thought he saw a pod of dolphins, then realised it was moving much too fast – a line of bubbles crossing the bows from starboard to port. Grabbing the voice pipe, he sounded the alarm whistle and within moments Captain Palmer was beside him on the bridge.
‘Bring her about!’ Palmer ordered and the helmsman swung the ship through ninety degrees. The captain ordered them to increase speed but, even at full throttle, the Christina was too slow for a U-boat, even a submerged one whose speed would be constrained by battery power.
As the captain reached for the steam whistle to alert the rest of his sleeping crew, Will saw the unmistakable phosphorescent trail of a torpedo as it narrowly missed the Christina’s bow, closely followed by another.
‘Send an SSS with our coordinates,’ the captain instructed the radio operator.
The first officer appeared on the bridge. ‘Torpedo near miss off the stern.’
‘Turn her again. To port, hard about ninety degrees.’
The Christina turned again so that the stern of the ship faced the attacker. Will was astonished. Three torpedoes and none of them on target. He could barely believe their luck. It couldn’t hold out.
‘Full steam ahead.’ The captain was holding them on a steady course, hoping to put some distance between them before the U-boat fired another torpedo.
Will was the first to see the sub as it surfaced on the port side. He sent out an alarm as shells began raining down.
The radio officer was frantically sending out signals that they were under submarine attack; the Germans were targetting the ship’s aerial masts. The only gun, better suited to anti-aircraft defence, was little use at the angle required to fire at a surfaced submarine.
Palmer continued to steer the Christina on a random zigzag path, to make aiming as difficult as possible for the German vessel, aided by the cover of darkness.
But the shelling had only just begun. The Christina shook and groaned under the onslaught of fire from close range. Shells exploded everywhere across the decks.
Will looked at Captain Palmer, awaiting instructions.
‘Bastards.’ Palmer’s voice was grim. He grabbed the megaphone and gave the order.
The booming of exploding torpedoes continued. Water rushed down the companion ways. Steam shot up as a boiler exploded. Torchlights cut through the blackness of the night.
Everything was happening so fast. Will staggered along the deck to supervise the lowering of the port lifeboat, under the constant bombardment from shellfire.
Looking back, he saw the captain flinging the confidential books overboard, consigning them to the depths, safe from German hands.
As the bosun climbed into the port lifeboat to ready it for lowering, a shell exploded on the deck beside them. Will watched in horror. The explosion killed the first officer instantly and sent the bosun and the lifeboat plunging headlong into the roiling sea. Blinding lights, confusion, noise, pitching back and forth. Will looked over the side but there was no sign of the bosun. Just a mess of shattered timber floating on the black void of the sea.
The Germans must have known that they were abandoning ship, yet the U-boat had fired regardless. Will and the rest of the crew followed Captain Palmer over to the other side where they managed to lower the starboard lifeboat and clamber on board, fumbling in the dark, lit only by torchlight. The waves crashed against the Christina and buffeted the lifeboat as it went into the water.
The boat moved away from the ship and the men watched as the German U-boat continued to hammer shells into the now-blazing hull of the Christina. It was sport – like throwing balls at a fairground coconut shy. Shattering. Blasting. On and on, remorselessly.
The pounding of the old girl was painful to the whole crew. A slow noisy torture. They sat huddled in the lifeboat surrounded by the cold sea, watching transfixed.
It took a full hour before the Christina gave a few earsplitting creaks, roaring like an animal in the jaws of a lion, before she finally succumbed and slipped beneath the waves. No one spoke. But there was a collective sigh as the vessel that had been their home disappeared.
The silence was broken by Captain Palmer reciting the Lord’s Prayer. Thinking of their two lost comrades, the men joined in or bowed their heads respectfully, regardless of their religious beliefs.
Its brutal task complete, the U-boat slid away into the darkness. The destruction of the Christina had been performed with complete disregard for human life or the terms of the Geneva Conventions. The men, drenched with salt water, shivering from cold and shock, began to sing to keep their spirits up, before hoisting sail.
Will exchanged looks with Captain Palmer. They were the longest-serving on the Christina. Will could imagine what Palmer must be going through having lost his ship as well as one of his three officers and a valued crew member. Whilst not the fastest or most elegant of vessels, the Christina had been home to them for a long time and both men had many memories.
The lifeboat limped along, through mercifully calmer seas, in what the compass indicated was towards the north-west coast of Spain. Will sent up a silent prayer of thanks that his life had been spared in his first encounter with the enemy. He would be seeing Hannah again soon.
Clare Flynn is the author of thirteen historical novels and a collection of short stories. A former International Marketing Director and strategic management consultant, she is now a full-time writer.
Having lived and worked in London, Paris, Brussels, Milan and Sydney, home is now on the coast, in Sussex, England, where she can watch the sea from her windows. An avid traveler, her books are often set in exotic locations.
Clare is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, a member of The Society of Authors, ALLi, and the Romantic Novelists Association. When not writing, she loves to read, quilt, paint and play the piano.
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Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/Clare-Flynn/e/B008O4T2LC/