In the '90s you could find old Biggles books in the library, but WE Johns's other works were scarcer than hen's-teeth. It wasn't until we got access to the internet that I found out Johns had written other books, too. Among these were two other series, a little like Biggles spin-offs, launched when WWII made flying-aces and war stories popular again. The Gimlet books were about commandos wreaking havoc in occupied France. And Worrals, the distaff Biggles, was invented to give the Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) a little positive publicity.
I found this book in a church library in Melbourne. Hawthorn Presbyterian: great sermons, WE Johns laid on. Where was I?
Flight Officer Joan Worralson and friend Betty Lovell—more commonly known as Worrals and Frecks—work with the WAAF flying airplanes from one place to another, a job Worrals is getting tired of. After her Spitfire-flying RAF friend Bill Ashton teaches her to fly a fighter plane, Worrals is asked to fly the plane over to another aerodrome where it is urgently needed. Along the way she spots a German aircraft and shoots it down, but not before picking up a few clues. German bombers have been hitting their targets pretty easily lately lately and all of a sudden Worrals thinks she knows how. Not even Bill will believe her, so Worrals and Frecks decide to investigate themselves—and stumble upon something far bigger than they imagined.
There was very little to distinguish this book from a Biggles book, save that Worrals is a lot less experienced and, being a girl, is not allowed to be a fighter pilot.
“Think what propaganda the enemy would make of the incident if it were learned that—er--ladies were now manning British fighter aircraft.”“It might give them ideas in the same direction,” suggested Worrals. “The guns fired just as well for me as if a noble Wing Commander had pressed the button.”
This surprised me somewhat, because Johns usually keeps the girls out of harm's way in his books--understandably, since they are written for boys that don't want "beastly girls" getting in the way of the action. But unfortunately, that seems to be the only reason: Worrals is as good as a man, and from what I've heard of the sequels, doesn't seem to be afraid to mention it.
This, combined with the similarity of the writing style and plot to every Biggles book I've read, makes the book a little surreal. In moments of absent-mindedness, one forgets that the protagonists are women at all.
Worrals of the WAAF was a quick, fun read. I wouldn't necessarily avoid it because of the feminist slant—after all, books like Pollyanna and LM Alcott's Rose in Bloom are far more insidious—but I would be aware of it and discuss it with young readers.