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March 14, 2020 @ 3:30 pm - 4:30 pm
  • Fiction

Under a Wartime Sky

Liz Trenow
Liz Trenow and Under a Wartime Sky cover


Firstsite, Lewis Gardens, High Street
Colchester, CO1 1JH
£5 concessions (27 years and under)

This event has sold out.

Under a Wartime Sky is an enthralling historical novel by Liz Trenow, based on the real-life events at Bawdsey Manor, a top-secret wartime research station.

It tells the story of the heroes behind the discovery of radar, an invention whose significance matched that of the more famous code-breakers of Bletchley Park in helping to win the Second World War. It is a novel about courage, belonging and hope.

Under a Wartime Sky book cover



1978: An eccentric, distracted looking man walks into a teashop in a Suffolk seaside town, wearing pyjama trousers beneath his overcoat. He orders tea and carrot cake, takes a bite and smiles. Just to check, he asks the waitress. ‘Why, the owner of course,’ she says. ‘Mrs Bishop makes all our cakes.’ He asks if she is available, as he would like to congratulate her in person. She is out at present but will be back shortly. As he takes out his newspaper, his hands are trembling. His thoughts are filled with his first taste of Kath’s carrot cake.

1936: Robert Watson Watt and a group of other brilliant young scientists are posted under the cloak of the greatest secrecy to a remote RAF base housed in a Victorian gothic mansion on the edge of the North Sea: Bawdsey Manor. They are there to develop and operate the world’s first radar, an invention which would become decisive in protecting Britain against German bombing raids in our ‘darkest hour’.

War is declared and Bawdsey Manor is on the front line for German bombers. In this febrile atmosphere an unlikely friendship develops between Vic, a shy boffin and Kathleen, a cheerful local girl helping her mother in the kitchens. She tells him of her frustration at not being able to help the war effort, and he encourages her to apply to the WAAF and become a radar operator at the station.

It is a demanding job made all the more stressful by the ever present threat of bomb raids, and the rudimentary and unreliable radar systems. One evening, during the Battle of Britain, Kath tracks a plane which is acting strangely. RAF Spitfires are launched and the plane is shot down. That night, the bomber piloted by Kath’s brother fails to return.

1978: Thirty years later in the teashop, Kath appears. The next hour will prove the most important of their lives.



Lewis Gardens, High Street
Colchester, CO1 1JH
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Hearing Loop: Firstsite does not have a hearing loop system in this room.

Essex Book Festival has a mobile Roger Pen hearing loop system, which needs to be booked by individuals in advance at least five days before the event. If you would like to use the Roger Pen email [email protected]