Book Synopsis

In May 1999 Rose Sweetman dies peacefully in her sleep at her home in the New Forest. The shameful secret that she has kept from her family for over fifty years has finally been revealed to her grandson and now she is ready to move on.

A few weeks prior to her death, her grandson, William Sweetman, goes to Guernsey to fulfil his lifetime ambition, to train as a professional helicopter pilot. Just before William leaves for Guernsey his grandmother surprises him by disclosing that she had been born in Guernsey and lived there until 1945, and that although everyone knew her as Rose, she had actually been christened Rosette, a name her father liked.

At the military cemetery on the island he meets a German girl, Stella, who has travelled with her ageing father, Pieter Vogel, on something of a mercy mission, so that he can visit the grave of one of his former comrades before he becomes too infirm. Fifty five years ago her father was based in Guernsey as part of the German Occupation garrison. Stella is a successful businesswoman, running the multinational Vogel Group, the firm which her father started straight after the War.

William and Stella’s romance develops against the backdrop of William’s daily flying lessons, from his initial comical attempts to co-ordinate all four limbs at once as he tries to hover a helicopter, through to the exhilaration of finally achieving his first solo flight.

Interwoven with contemporary events is a sub plot set during World War Two. This begins by describing how in early 1944 a batch of defective anti-aircraft shells are shipped from a factory in the Ruhr and transported across northern Europe, eventually reaching the German garrison in Guernsey.

In late May 1944 the RAF plan an attack on Brest harbour, part of the preparations for D-Day which will follow one week later. Against the backdrop of a simmering conflict between an experienced pilot and his new replacement navigator the pair become lost over the Channel, inadvertently straying over Guernsey.

At the same time, on Guernsey itself, two young German soldiers are reporting for another tour of guard duty. Decades later one of these soldiers will become Stella’s father. The RAF plane that has strayed over Guernsey finally gives the two soldiers the action they have been craving. Unaware that the ammunition they have been supplied is defective as they fire at the incoming plane their gun explodes, killing one of the soldiers instantly and seriously wounding the other.

A new exhibition, dealing with the taboo subject of ‘Fraternising With The Enemy’, has just opened at the island’s Occupation Museum and during a visit William and Stella are shocked to discover passionate love letters sent by a local Guernsey girl named Rosette in 1944 to her German soldier sweetheart, Pieter. There are photographs at the museum too which show the young couple together and Stella is convinced that the man in the pictures is her father.

Both William and Stella agree that they must uncover the real truth about what really did happen in 1944 between William’s grandmother and Stella’s father and that the best way to do this is to travel to the New Forest to discuss the matter with William’s grandmother.

During a highly emotional afternoon she relays the whole story. She confirms that she had taken a German soldier called Pieter as her lover, but as a seventeen year old girl she didn’t see the Germans as the enemy, because to her ‘they were not the enemy.’ She describes how on the very day she and Pieter became lovers he was wounded in an air raid and evacuated from Guernsey. Several weeks later she realised she was pregnant and was cruelly banished from the family home. As soon as the War was over she left Guernsey with her baby and had never returned. Stella is concerned that somewhere she has a half-brother or sister, but Rose explains that her baby died aged just nine months old on Christmas Day 1945.

Although he doesn’t know it as he leaves, William will never see his grandmother again. She dies peacefully three days later, released from her guilt.

Having discovered so much Stella realises that she must now confront her own father, and she travels home to Germany to hear his version of events. In an unexpected twist Stella is stunned to discover that although her father has lived for the last fifty five years as Pieter Vogel that is not his real name. The real Pieter, who genuinely was Rose’s lover, died in the air raid in late May 1944. Stella’s father, whose real name was Max Steiner, had been seriously injured by the blast that killed Pieter. In the confusion of his evacuation his identity had been swapped with Pieter’s. After the war, with no family alive, it had just been easier to continue his life with his new identity. He therefore confirms to Stella that he was never Rosette’s lover or the father of her child after all.

William and Stella talk on the phone, but she has to travel on business and he completes his flying course and attends his grandmother’s funeral whilst they are apart. Ten days later William takes his flying test and passes the first milestone on the road to becoming a professional helicopter pilot. As he emerges from the Flight Centre, clutching his pass certificate, he is surprised to find Stella there to meet him.

The novels concludes with an epilogue which contains the following documents:

  • William Sweetman’s Commercial Helicopter Pilot’s Licence - February 2000
  • A letter offering William Sweetman employment as a helicopter pilot in Cologne – March 2000
  • A copy of an invitation to William and Stella’s wedding - March 2001
  • A press cutting from the Financial Times detailing the sale of the Vogel Group of Companies for $280 million - October 2001
  • A press cutting from the Cologne Herald celebrating the birth of William and Stella’s first baby – January 2002