Bithot visits England during the Battle of Britain.
The RAF Spitfires had been up for some time and were on their way back to the airbase at Kenley when they had contact with a group of returning Messerschmitt 109s. The German fighters didn't seem to have the fuel to prolong the fight and after the loss of one of their aircraft, they decided to cut and run for home. The Spitfire pilots were frustrated because they also could not continue the fight and pursue the enemy. Some of them were getting low on fuel and ammunition themselves and had to return to base, land, refuel, and rearm as soon as possible before taking off to intercept the next wave of incoming bombers already approaching the east coast. Roger thought he would be unlikely to see his girl this evening. He wouldn't be able to apologise to her for ignoring her concerns, and for failing to acknowledge her fears.
He was a young experienced pilot and he sat at the controls of his Spitfire thinking how different it was to the old biplanes he flew before the war. He loved flying and was pleased his exciting pastime became his career. He knew he had an important job to do and he attacked his adversaries vigorously whether they were hunters like him or the less formidable heavy bombers.
By sheer chance his section leader managed to spot a stray group of enemy bombers in the gloom below them, heading for the glare of destruction from London. "I can't see any escorts," he called over the radio. "Anyone with enough fuel and ammo can join me, but stay alert. Help yourself chaps." There was no shortage of targets for the Spitfires as they broke formation and fell upon the seemingly unprotected German bombers.
Roger picked his target and bringing the cumbersome aircraft into his sights, moved his thumb onto the button and commenced firing at the selected Heinkel. Without warning, there was a series of loud thuds and he felt a searing pain in his back as his aeroplane began veering to the right. The cold air screeched into the cockpit through a large hole in the canopy. The radio crackled. "Roger, Roger, bale out, for Christ's sake get out of there." The huge Rolls Royce engine spluttered and popped as the aeroplane began to fall from the sky.
Roger felt weak, he could hardly move his arms, his legs were paralysed and he could feel the warmth of his blood filling his uniform.
"Red leader, red leader, I'm not going to make it. I can't move my bloody legs. Can you tell Alice that... Hello, red leader, can you hear me?" His radio remained silent.
He could see the Kent fields getting closer as the aeroplane spiralled down. They seemed so small and far away before, like the little knitted squares on the bed quilts his mother made. He could see a tractor and some trailers parked across the middle of a field as if they had been abandoned. A girl was walking along a lane beside the field. She stopped as if she were looking up at him. He thought of his girlfriend, Alice, wishing he had given her more attention before he left her that afternoon.
He lost sight of the girl as the aeroplane revolved. The thick black smoke began to enter the cockpit and swirled around from the draught caused by the hole in the canopy. It was choking him and he began to cough violently. The flames were running up his legs, burning and scorching both material and flesh. Paralysed and having no feeling below his waist delayed the searing pain, but in seconds the flames became fierce and engulfed the cockpit as the Spitfire hurtled towards the ground. He felt as if he were being fried alive. He tried to scream out in agony, but no sounds left his mouth, and then he was gone.
* * * * *
Earlier that day, Eve, a bus conductress, was returning from the last journey of her shift and her bus pulled up at the alighting point just before the bus garage doors.
"That's it, folks, I can go home now." Eve gave her usual friendly smile to an old lady making her way to the back of the bus. She was a regular traveller and Eve took hold of her arm and carefully helped her off the rear platform.
"I'll see you tomorrow, Evey," the old lady said.
"You certainly will, Mabel."
"You're a good girl. I wish they were all like you."
Eve gave a laugh. "Flattery will get you everywhere. Come on get yourself off home now and get those apple pies made."
"I wasn't joking, you know. You'll see, I'll treat you to one of my pies like I promised. It'll be here waiting for you in the morning."
As Eve turned back to the platform, she was confronted by a young boy standing grinning at her. She lifted the boy from the platform and put him on the pavement. "He's got a cheeky smile your son."
His mother stepped off carrying the boy's younger brother. "Thanks, Eve, I'm really sorry. I thought I had enough with me. I'll bring over the three-ha'pence in the morning."
"Don't worry about it." Eve stepped back onto the bus. "See me another time."
"No, I'll fetch it across. Need to clear my debts before the Germans get here."
"Tsk, my word, don't say such things. Our navy won't let the sods across the channel."
"Mark my words."
"Shh now, or you'll scare the boys." Eve pulled a bar of chocolate from her jacket pocket and gave it to the eldest boy. "It's not just for you, you have to share it."
"Oh, Eve, are you sure?" the woman said.
"It's all right, some soldier gave it to me, but I don't eat chocolate anyway."
"You're a right smasher, Eve, you really are."
"Look at those two smiling faces. That's worth a lot more than a bar of chocolate." She rang the internal electric bell to signal the driver to move off. "Come on, Charlie, let's get finished." No sooner had she cleared the words from her mouth than the air raid sirens began whining for the second time that day. All her passengers began hurrying to the public air-raid shelter. Eve looked towards the sky. "London again," she muttered to herself. "They probably won't bomb us out here again." She looked over at the old shoe factory that received a string of enemy bombs as she was setting off home two days before. "Nah, probably not."
After cashing in the day's takings, Eve set off on her bicycle to the small Kent village where she lived. She spent the late afternoon with Johnny, her boyfriend, in The Fox Inn before heading out of the village and down the lane for some tea at the farmhouse where Johnny lived with his parents. They climbed over a gate and set off on the shortcut across the corner of a field to the farmyard. The noise of the aircraft way above them was evident though neither of them mentioned it until they could hear the rumble of distant explosions away in the capital.
"They keep hitting London," Eve said, looking over at the glare beginning to form in the distance. "When will it ever end?"
"When the German troops are marching up The Mall."
"Oh no, not you an' all. I’ve heard enough of that rubbish today."
Johnny looked up to the dark silhouettes of the raiders. "Where's the bloody RAF when you need them?"
"Oy, don't talk down our RAF boys. They're doing a bleedin' good job, and Churchill says…"
"Churchill says a lot. So if they are shooting down so many of the buggers, how come they are not running out of planes then? Look, I can see the planes, so why can't they?"
"It's not easy when it starts getting dark. They're doing good, they're heroes they are."
"Oh, well excuse me for not being a fighter pilot. Heroes huh! Bloody university Brylcreem boys."
"They're not all from university, at all, but they're all brave young men. If you met one then…"
"Oh yeah, well I suppose you're the expert after flirting with that RAF sergeant at the dance last week, but all the girls were after him and you didn't stand a chance so you had to come home with me. Weren't you the disappointed one!"
"Rubbish." Eve thought of the dance she had with the airman, with him asking her to spend the evening with him. She declined the offer because she thought of herself as Johnny's girl. She cleared the event from her mind and glanced across to a tractor and some trailers sitting conspicuously in the field.
"That's your Dad's tractor, ain't it? What's it doing stuck over there? Broke down, has it?"
"No!" He gave a short laugh. "It's his war effort. Supposed to hamper the Jerry planes if they try to land in his field." He shook his head and laughed again.
Eve smiled and then reached over and kissed him briefly before turning to walk off.
"Wait a minute," he said and pulled on her hand. "I want to spend a little more time with you on our own. The time seems to have flown this week. Come on let's sit down for a while."
"What here on the bleedin' ground?" She gave a chuckle.
"Yeah, the grass is dry, it's all right."
"I don't know about that."
"Please love, now they've cancelled my leave, I'll be off tomorrow night, and who knows if I'll be home again. The next soldiers you see might be Germans."
"Will you stop being so defeatist?"
"It's serious. You should prepare yourself."
"Don't talk so bleedin' daft. Churchill says…" She noticed the strain on his face as if he were genuinely worried. She sometimes had the same fear and dread the invasion might actually happen. She usually managed to dismiss the thoughts from her mind. "All right," she said, "we can sit for a while, but keep control of those blinking wandering hands. I really don't know what's got into you lately. I don't know who the hell you think you are, or who you think I am for that matter? Anyway," she said, pointing to the sky. "The Germans might be watching us."
Johnny laughed at her comment as he laid his coat on the grass.
They squeezed together on his makeshift blanket and Eve looked up at the barely visible shapes of the heavy bombers passing high above them. Johnny reached over and began kissing her with a passion that startled her. She was genuinely fond of him and although she found the experience pleasant, his passion began to intensify and it seemed to her he was beginning to lose control of himself and as expected, he tried to put his hands where she wouldn't allow. She pushed him away. "I'm warning you, if you don't keep your hands to yourself, you'll feel my handbag over your head."
"Come on, Eve, all my mates are doing it and they all reckon we are as well."
"Oh, do they really? Well, you better put them right on that little point. Anyway, the last thing I need is a real born baby."
"That won't happen. I'll pull out on time."
"What do you think you are a bleedin' train?"
"Oh come on, Eve, please," he pleaded. He began kissing her again and grabbed at one of her breasts.
Eve pushed him away. "You'd better bloody well turn that in," she yelled and slapped him hard across his face.
"Well sod you," he said. "If you're not interested then I'll find a girl who is."
Eve laughed. "Yeah, I suppose there's a big queue of them over at your house just waiting to do you a favour."
"It's not bloody funny." He stood up and began walking off towards the farmyard.
"Hang on, ain't you gonna see me home?"
"See your bloody self home."
Eve stood up and shouted after him. "Go on then, go and sulk. I don't care." She walked back across the field and climbed over the gate, only it was not so easy this time without Johnny to assist her. She leaned on the gate looking back across at Johnny as he climbed over the fence into the farmyard. She thought she would go to his house after she finished work the following afternoon and talk to him before he caught the night train. She felt disappointed because he didn't turn to look for her and she continued looking in case he should reappear and give a wave. She soon gave up and set off back towards the village.
The droning of the enemy engines was still going on high above her and she looked up to the darkening sky and could still pick out the shapes of some German bombers. The rumble of the explosions was almost continuous in the distance and she thought what a pasting London must be taking. She was about to look away when she saw a flame in the sky. A small aircraft was spiralling down, a smoke trail following behind.
"Looks like one of ours, poor blighter." She stood watching and trying to spot the parachute as the aircraft disappeared behind some trees. There was a blaze of light as it hit the ground and exploded. She kept looking for the parachute for a while. All she could see was the glare from behind the trees and the black smoke rising into the late afternoon sky and she thought the pilot must have perished. She thought about him. Maybe he was married with a child or perhaps he was single with a girl waiting for him back at the airfield.
A Heinkel, with smoke flowing from one of its engines, turned for home and hastily dumped its bomb-load over the fields. The bombs were descending towards the lane where Eve was walking and the air was filled with the shrill screaming sound. She knew the sound, the sound of bombs falling like when they destroyed the shoe factory, and she froze in terror thinking of the enemy aircraft directly above her. The sound was growing louder and reaching an unbearable level. She dropped her handbag as she covered her ears with her hands. Her eyes were straining in a wide stare of panic. She had a feeling of doom and started to run along the lane, but stumbled and fell onto the road. She remained where she fell and curled herself into a ball, sobbing and trembling. The screaming sound stopped, replaced by a high-pitched whining that seemed to vibrate through her body. "Oh no, please God, no," she screamed, and then she was gone.