Bigger isn’t always better or more effective. The small, unassuming body of a pigeon carrying coded messages behind enemy lines, avoiding capture, detection or death by falcon, can end up wreaking as much havoc as a bomb. In The Long Flight Home, Alan Hlad tells a dramatic, fictionalized story about the real use of pigeons during World War II. British intelligence hoped that the pigeons, dropped by the thousands into Nazi-occupied France, would be found by resistance fighters and used to return messages containing vital reconnaissance.
Long before the United States enters the fight, Oliver “Ollie” Evans from Maine smuggles himself into Britain with dreams of a different kind of flying. Before he can join the Royal Air Force, he is obligated to help Bertie Shepherd and his granddaughter, Susan, with their role in a top-secret pigeon mission. Unsurprisingly, Ollie and Susan’s proximity leads to romance, and when Ollie gets stranded in France, the coded messages contain more than just German troop movements. Hoping to return to Susan, Ollie tries to assist the resistance effort until he can escape, while Susan awaits messages from him, carried by her remarkable pet pigeon Duchess, who accidentally got conscripted with the trained birds.
In his debut novel, Hlad tells a compelling if somewhat predictable story. The engaging plot and fascinating details of the National Pigeon Service make it a rewarding read. Many civilian pigeon-keepers volunteered to try to turn the tide of the war, not knowing if it would work or be worth the loss of their birds in the dangerous process. The Long Flight Home captures the contributions of the average citizens who, in a time of peril, rose to meet the challenge in heroic ways.