Book Blurb: The Beauty Shop by Suzy Henderson
England, 1942. After three years of WWII, Britain is showing the scars. But in this darkest of days, three lives intertwine, changing their destinies and those of many more.
Dr Archibald McIndoe, a New Zealand plastic surgeon with unorthodox methods, is on a mission to treat and rehabilitate badly burned airmen – their bodies and souls. With the camaraderie and support of the Guinea Pig Club, his boys battle to overcome disfigurement, pain, and prejudice to learn to live again.
John ‘Mac’ Mackenzie of the US Air Force is aware of the odds. He has one chance in five of surviving the war. Flying bombing missions through hell and back, he’s fighting more than the Luftwaffe. Fear and doubt stalk him on the ground and in the air, and he’s torn between his duty and his conscience.
Shy, decent and sensible Stella Charlton’s future seems certain until war breaks out. As a new recruit to the WAAF, she meets an American pilot on New Year’s Eve. After just one dance, she falls head over heels for the handsome airman. But when he survives a crash, she realises her own battle has only just begun.
Based on a true story, “The Beauty Shop” is a moving tale of love, compassion, and determination against a backdrop of wartime tragedy. – see below for an excerpt
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The Beauty Shop by Suzy Henderson – an Excerpt
Target: Saint-Nazaire. November, 1942
What do ten men sound like when they’re burning? Nothing, unless you listen in on the group radio. That’s when you hear it, etched into their yells and cries. Terror.
Lieutenant John ‘Mac’ Mackenzie glanced at the B-17 Flying Fortress on his port side. That had been Bill’s slot a couple of weeks back, waving Mac a thumbs up from the co-pilot’s window. Seconds later, flames had leapt from the engines, danced across the wings, licked the cockpit and engulfed the fuselage. A whole Fort powdered. Their luck ran out when that Focke-Wulf sneaked in from out of the sun’s glare, rolled over and came in head-on, gun ports blinking silver flashes. Then, in an instant, a bright glow and a bloody wound opened as chunks of flaming, twisted metal and tears of flame fell through the sky along with men blown to bits, caught in the slipstream.
Bill had lost his cross and chain that morning before take-off. He’d always worn it when flying missions. Mac’s gloved fingers reached for the St. Christopher around his neck. There. He sucked in a deep breath, exhaling slowly into his mask. The muffled thunderous roar of the four Cyclone engines cut in, the background thrum of four propellers spinning, constant and reassuring. He glanced again at the B-17 on his left. A rookie crew had that slot today. He didn’t know their names. He didn’t want to.
They had taken off from Bassingbourn at dawn, soaring into a veil of cumulus. Mist draped across the Channel, but above the cloud at twenty thousand feet, the blood-orange sun peeked over the horizon, bleeding hues of amber into a cornflower sky. Sure is beautiful, Mac thought. As they approached the French coast at Longues-sur-Mer, the blue void gave way to brown-black puffs of smoke which hung in the air like shrouds. He pulled the oxygen mask off his face for a few seconds and embraced the rush of the cockpit’s icy chill over his nose and mouth. He wondered if he’d ever adjust to the stench of rubber as he wiped beads of sweat from his brow. The mission, their tenth, bombing the U-boat pens at Saint-Nazaire, was hotting up fast.
‘Looks like they’re throwing everything they’ve got at us today.’ Mac glanced at his co-pilot, Dennis Wilson.
‘Can’t see a darn thing down there. It’s all closed in,’ Wilson said as he gazed out of the side window.
A flash of red caught Mac’s eye and their B-17, the Texas Rose, shook as a hail of flak peppered the fuselage. That was just the warm-up. They’d get the full greeting soon enough. He wrestled with the control wheel as he struggled to stay in formation, keeping his eyes focused on the bomber in front. He rapidly sucked in oxygen, and his pulse pounded as the Texas Rose bobbed around like a sailboat on a rough sea, but he held her tight, maintaining their place in the formation. ‘Pilot to crew. Keep sharp out there and remember to check your masks for ice. Spit freezes.’ Anoxia was a silent killer and up here at twenty-seven thousand feet, oxygen was the crew’s lifeline.
As they neared Saint-Nazaire, the brown-black puffs sprung up once more. ‘Pilot to navigator. How long to the IP?’ Mac pictured William Stewart, hunched over his desk down in the nose behind the bombardier, plotting their course.
‘Navigator to pilot. Bomb run in five minutes.’
‘Bogey, nine o’clock!’ Bud, the waist gunner, yelled into the interphone.
The staccato sound of machine-gun fire from Tex, the flight engineer in the top turret, drilled through the cockpit. The flash of a black swastika flicked past their port side, and Mac’s stomach lurched as the Messerschmitt scythed through the group.
‘Tail, you got him?’ Bud’s voice, high with excitement.
‘I got him.’ Birdie’s smooth, laid-back tone.
More machine-gun fire arced across the sky and with a flash of yellow and silver-grey, the Messerschmitt peeled away swift as a minnow, diving through the formation. As they approached the target, a blend of hazy yellow, brown and black smoke stretched out across the sky. Anti-aircraft shells exploded all around, some of it mighty close with a glow of orange. Red flak.
‘Here comes the coffin run.’ Wilson’s tense voice as they reached the bomb run. He eased back on the throttles, and the engines slowed in response. ‘Flak bursts ahead, heavy.’
‘Yeah, it’s flak city all right.’ Mac gripped onto the control wheel. The rookie pilot on his port side drifted a little too close for comfort and was bobbing all over the place, probably riding through prop wash. ‘Get on the ball, rookie. You’ve got to stay in there.’ He gestured to the co-pilot peering back at him and got the thumbs up. Within a minute, the rookies had hauled their Fortress into line and Mac puffed out a breath.
‘Bombardier to pilot – bomb bay doors open,’ Danny drawled.