Recently I watched the movie, The Monuments Men. It was good, nothing extraordinary in the cinema world. But, the story itself was fascinating. I wanted to know more so I headed for the internet.
It was one of many untold stories of WWII. The real Monuments Men (and one woman) were largely forgotten or at least a very few knew of their efforts. Had, Lynn H. Nicolas, an art scholar/author, not come upon an obituary we probably would not know about them now. She devoted ten years researching her 1995 non-fiction book, The Rape of Europa. Then, Robert Edsel’s 2009 book, The Monuments Men, took the story to another level.
I had a similar serendipitous moment to Nicholas’ happening upon the obituary. While driving home from school one late afternoon I heard a story on NPR about a group of women pilots during WWII who were called the Night Witches. They were Russian, flying nightly missions in open-cockpit biplanes. I was hooked and couldn’t wait to get home and hit the internet.
The 588th Night Bomber Regiment was composed of young women (late teens, twenties). It remained entirely female throughout the war. They flew approximately 24,000 operational sorties during the period of May 1942 to May 1945. The whole regiment was decorated and 23 airwomen were awarded the prestigious Hero of the Soviet Union title. At the end of the war the units were demobilized. They were summarily thanked for their service and sacrifice and told to go home and have babies.
That’s it?! I was shocked. Granted, Russia needed to repopulate itself after the devastation and carnage. Perhaps the thinking was that a woman’s greatest contribution was her ability to bear children. But, that’s it? This is part of the reason that no one has heard of this group of women nor their counterparts in the 586th Fighter Regiment and the 125th Guards Bomber Regiment.
In my mind their story needed to be told. My labor of love, Night Witch, was born. I often found myself completely sidetracked by research…not that that is a bad thing…but I was supposed to be writing a story, not a scholarly paper. I have learned so much in the process….certainly about Russia, WWII, biplanes. I was surprised to find that in creating my protagonist, Raisa Tarasova, I learned a great deal about myself.
There is so much that I want to squeeze into each blog. My journey as a writer has been/is so interesting and revealing. My humble advice to those of you who read this to glean writing tips would be to keep your eyes and ears open. Story ideas are everywhere (find the untold ones). Have a pad and pencil with you so when that news story, chance encounter, unusual person lands in front of you………..take notes.