Fair Stood the Wind for France by H.E. Bates


Warning:  this is an addictive book. It is the story of a British World War II pilot whose plane goes down with four other crew members when an engine fails. They land in Occupied France on their way to a mission in Italy. Everyone survives though the pilot John Franklin badly hurt his arm. The five make their way to a farm where they are taken in by the family. I had known that much would happen, but nevertheless was put into a state of fear for their safety while reading even that far. I am not a fan of reading nerve-racking books, but I never even considered putting this one aside.

I won’t recount the mesmerizing story, but want to record a couple of poignant quotes:

Franklin looked at the revolver and saw it suddenly as a pathetic and useless thing. He saw his own belief in it as pathetic. He had become so used to handling a weapon as big as a house, and carrying enough power to wipe out a small town, that he had forgotten there are other sorts of power. He looked at the three people sitting in the lamplight waiting for a sound. He saw them, the three generations of one nation, as part of a defenseless people, as part of the little people possessing an immeasurable power that could not be broken. He saw them suddenly as little people who had lain on the ground and had their faces trampled on but whose power was still unbroken. He knew it clearly now as a more wonderful, more enduring and more inspiring power than he had ever believed possible:  the power of their own hearts.

And another:

The rain woke in him, as nothing else had woken in him, all his feeling for England. It woke in him the misery of an exile and the longing to be home. It was a longing deeper, at that moment, than his feelings for the girl; deeper than the mere desire for escape; deeper than the war, the things the war had done, and the desire for the war to be over. As he stood there all the memory of rain in England washed down through his blood and steadily increased the ache of homesickness until he was suddenly and utterly tired of the mill, the house, the river, and the flat French plain, tired of the smell of France, of speaking and thinking another language, and above all of the complications.

The title comes from the poem The Battle of Agincourt by Michael Drayton (1563-1631) about the victory early in the Hundred Years War of England over the French at Agincourt.

H.E. Bates, Fair Stood the Wind for France, orig. published in 1944 in the US by Little, Brown and Company, 270 pages. I read it on kindle, published by Eumenes Publishing in 2019 that was a little wonky. Available from Ivy stacks at UVa and from Amazon.

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