Ted and Florrie were childhood sweethearts who in 1936 married at the church on top of the Hill where they both lived, unaware of the dark rumblings from Europe, which in a few short years were to change their lives for ever. Ted is called up in 1940 and joins an elite Airborne glider force tasked with attacking, capturing and holding bridges in enemy-held Normandy, vital to the success of the D-Day invasion. At sixteen minutes past midnight on 6 June 1944, he and his comrades clamber from the wreckage of their gliders and successfully capture and hold the Pegasus and Horsa bridges.
From there he continues to fight at the bloody Rhine Crossing, across Germany until finally meeting the Russian Army on the Baltic. The casualties are terrible. In 1946 Ted is demobbed and returns to Florrie and his young family unscathed. Or apparently so, for Florrie doesn’t know the man who returns and soon the trauma of constant death and battle takes its toll and both struggle to understand and come to terms with such a destructive problem in the buttoned-up society of the 1940s and 50s. To make matters worse Florrie’s mental health deteriorates. How will Ted deal with this?
With the same heightened sense of duty and loyalty that won the war or will that same stubborness turn on him and destroy him? Based on a true story, Pegasus to Paradise is an ode to both the extraordinary efforts of ordinary men and women during the Second World War and a moving portrait of trauma, survival and the power of love in post-war Britain.
While one might expect the soldier’s heroic figure to dominate a war tale, here, it’s the soldier’s wife who steals the show. The novel opens with Florrie’s unorthodox tomboy childhood and then portrays the burgeoning relationship between her and Tappenden (then a soon-to-be soldier).
Soon they’re married: he’s called to war, and Florrie is left to navigate the trauma of repeated bombings and uncertainty at home. Meanwhile Ted miraculously survives his part in the D-Day assault on the Pegasus and Horsa bridges. The actual events of the war skate by fleetingly in the first third of the book, but they colour all the rest of it, which is dedicated to Ted and Florrie’s attempts to reignite their connection.
He comes home physically unscathed but emotionally absent and while she at first appears to be the more sound if the two, that changes as the years go on. Tappenden creates some beautiful descriptions, even in the midst of tragedy, as when he describes what Florrie sees after a German plane crashes just two doors down from her house.’’(S)he recognised a large piece of red chimney pot lying like a wound amongst the dark green cauliflowers and, nearby, a sliver of tile, razor sharp, was embedded in the trunk of an apple tree.’’
WW2 buffs may enjoy a glimpse into the lives of real people not just during but after the war – and current veterans or those that love them may find the intergenerational similarities intriguing.