Wednesday, July 20, 2011

From the Archives #12: Sparky Ames and Mary Mason of the Ferry Command by Roy J. Snell, illustrated by Erwin L. Darwin

During the Second World War, Whitman Publishing issued a series of books under the heading "Fighters for Freedom." There seems to have been a total of eight books written for the series – 3 for boy and 5 for girls. These books were, of course, pieces of pure propaganda, but with relatively interesting stories.

Sparky Ames and Mary Mason of the Ferry Command is the story of two non-combatants in World War II. Mary is a part of the WAFS, the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron and Sparky is a pilot with the Ferrying Squadron. He no longer qualified for combat because he has a punctured eardrum, which, he of course, received in earlier heroic combat.

Mary and her flying partner Janet are part of a flying squadron going from the US to Africa to China that includes Sparky and his partner Doug and 38 other planes. But as they are flying over Brazil, Sparky’s plane is hit by enemy fire and he is forced to land in the midst of a native village, with Mary’s plane following close behind. Doug has been seriously injured, but luckily, in the midst of a primitive village, there is a “medicine man” who is really an American educated doctor there to care for him. It is decided that Mary and Sparky would fly together in his plane, attempting to catch up with the rest of the squadron and Janet and Doug would await help.

So off they go. Their first stop is Natal, Brazil for s short rest and to refuel the plane. They are taken to a small city, and while sitting in a canteen, Mary meets a French woman who is very interested in her mission, but the conversation is interrupted by another American girl in uniform. As Mary leaves the canteen, she sees the French woman speaking with a very small man who appears to be an Arab beggar.

Their next stop is at an oasis in an unnamed desert in mid-Africa. Shortly after arriving, Mary sees a Muslim woman dressed in a Burqa, but believes her to be the same French lady from earlier but in disguise. And a little later, she sees a man with a camel and is sure he is the Arab beggar she had seen speaking to the French woman. After refueling, they take off but no sooner are they in the air then their engine catches fire.

When Sparky goes to the wing to repair the engine, he finds a Japanese man hiding there, having obviously set the fire. They fight (in the wing) and Sparky overpowers him, but merely ties him up, not killing him. When he returns to the cockpit, Mary is convinced he is the same man she saw at both their stops. The engine is repaired, but then enemy planes appear in the sky. A battle ensues and Sparky is able to knock out the enemy planes. Later, he discovers the Japanese man in the wing has died.

Once again, they land for a rest, this time in Egypt, where Mary’s father, Colonel Mason, is stationed. Her father introduces Mary to Captain Burt Ramsey. Mary is immediately attracted to him and spends her time in Egypt with him. Before Mary and Sparky leave Egypt, Mary is asked to carry an ancient roll of papyrus back to the States with her.

Mary and Sparky’s trip continues with stops throughout the Middle East, a treacherous flight through the Himalayans in a blinding snowstorm and an important stop in Burma to deliver some quinine to the soldiers there who are suffering from malaria. Along the way, they battle more enemy planes, the roll of papyrus is stolen and Mary continues to see the mysterious “Woman” at each stop.

What is the secret cargo they are carrying that the enemy appears to know about and wants to stop it from reaching China? And why were so many people interested in it? And what was in the ancient roll of papyrus that disappeared?

Sparky Ames and Mary Mason of the Ferry Command is a thrilling story. Along her journey, Mary changes the life of a young American boy who needs some direction, she falls in love, and she convinces another young woman to learn to fly and join up. Mary’s trip to China was, naturally, exceptional. Normally, the women of the ferry command fly planes from the manufacturer to an airfield, or flew damaged planes to the manufacturer to be repaired. They never were supposed to see the kind of action Mary Mason experienced.

Again, this is an old book and writers of books for young people weren’t terribly sensitive about the names used to describe people, especially the enemy. Women were totally objectified, and worse, portrayed as enjoying it. Whenever I read these old books from World War II, I always think of the quote from William Faulkner: “The past is never dead. It isn’t even past.” I think this is because the past is still so alive in these books, in a way that historical fiction can’t quite capture. They allow the reader to stand in a moment of time and experience it, and if it contains things we don’t like to see or hear, draw from that experience.

This book is recommended for readers age 12 and up.
This book was purchased for my personal library.
 With metal and plastic in scarce supply during the war, paper toys were often sold. There are the paper dolls sold for the Girl Pilots of the Ferry Command

More information on the women pilots in World War II can be found at Women Airforce Service Pilots

This is book 12 of my Forgotten Treasures Challenge hosted by Retroreduxs Reviews

Information on the founder of Jackie Cochran, who is mentioned in Sparky Ames and Mary Mason of the Ferry Command, can be found at Centennial of Flight

PBS also has some very good information and a teacher's guide about Fly Girls  


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  2. I LOVE this on the WASP! A local school is planning to have the daughter of one of these great pilots speak to a class of young kids this week. Perfect timing! THANK YOU!