She sits at her desk at the racy New York Journal tabloid, looking at her first front page byline. She’s been a cub reporter for a year. Working her way through college since the father shot himself dead, after the market collapse of 1929.
Her story nails the Mayor of New York City for trying to declare illegal the 14,000 pushcart peddlers, who’d been on the streets of the city since the 1830s. The Mayor is surrendering.
It is 7 p.m. September 29 in New York City. And England’s Neville Chamberlain has just joined France and Italy by signing his name to Adolph Hitler’s Munich Treaty. Turning over to Germany the Western region of Czechoslovakia.
The City Editor drops the Munich news on Elizabeth’s desk. He also drops an assignment, only one beat less volatile than Munich. She’s to interview a great American Hero, who is in the city anonymously. His intent to move to Germany explodes around the world.
The aging, iron-fisted, woman owner of The Journal is taken with Elizabeth’s piece. She includes her on a Press Plane to London that President Franklin Roosevelt has commissioned. In hopes of stirring American sympathy for England’s precarious position.
Elizabeth’s childhood pal and now lover, Jack Lofton, sees her off on the new Pan-Am Dixie Clipper, flying 35 reporters, editors, photographers, including Elizabeth’s Executive Editor Hirsch. The Journal owner said: “You have three weeks. Hirsch says you will fall on your ass.”
“We’ll see,” says Elizabeth.
She makes her way to the Fleet Street office of the equally racy tabloid, The London Daily News. And here, typing her name in his famously lewd column…is one Max Spencer. An instant friend. He introduces her to his fellow WWI survivor, Edwin Gray, columnist on the powerful Times.
Gray shows her the panic in last week’s trenches in the park, dug before the signing at Munich. Says, “We do not have enough weapons to arm three public drinking houses.”
Elizabeth gathers her fearful information and she files: ENGLAND UNDEFENDED. “With its antique artillery pieces on London Bridge, its 38 million gas masks, and working people smiling peace and trembling in The Bull and Bush for the absent sounds of bombs and guns.”
Elizabeth signs on full-time with Associated Press. But in a maddening office role. As Hitler and Russia divide Poland, and U-boats sink 700,000 tons of allied shipping. France falls. Dunkirk is encircled. The British fleet, and every floating fisherman and fireman, bring home alive 338,000 retreating English troops.
Air war comes to Dover on the English Channel in 1940. The British Royal Air Force can send up only 700 fighter planes to combat Germany’s 900 fighters and 1,700 bombers.
Elizabeth throws her No. 6 pencil across the AP room. And declares she has edited her last story typed by someone else. Her boss assigns her to English Channel “Death Zone,” Dover.
And so begins the Dover Air Dance of Death. Each day they climb Shakespeare Cliff. Elizabeth spots a squadron of 12 planes, tiny gnats in the sliver air. Then a swarm of Spitfires, 5 miles over their heads, like skaters on a vast ice.
She should have felt the chill of death. She cheers, as at a ball game in Yankee Stadium. Edwin, turning serious, says, “We own the seas. We have to keep the skies to stand alone. We may see…how it will end…in the next 30 days.”
Elizabeth Martin returns to London, August 24. At 11:08 p.m. Everything changes. Two, or maybe three, German bombers strike London for the first time. A direct hit on St. Giles, Cripple-gate and setting Fore Street and the West India Docks lethally afire.
And so begins the London blitz, which rains down 57 consecutive nights and for 71 total raids. Some one million London homes are destroyed or severely damaged and more than 20,000 citizens killed.
Elizabeth is to risk her life every night. Welcome to THE DUST OF LOVERS.