In My Father’s Words
03/07/1938 – 18/10/2018
It had been an hour and he was worried. He glanced at his watch, the hands luminous green in the almost total darkness. No, it was an hour and ten minutes. The collar of his overcoat was pulled up around his neck, his cap jammed on his head as he began his mindless walk, ten paces in one direction and ten back again. He found himself counting; four, five, six. Stop it you fool, you know how many bloody paces there are. Seven, eight, nine. He had tried many times before to stop counting but had never succeeded. Ten, about turn and back again. He halted when he reached the turnaround position and searched in his pocket for a cigarette.
He lit up, the match scratching into a fierce momentary flame, and he sucked the smoke into his lungs. How many times was it now? Twenty-six? No this was the twenty-seventh. Get through this and only three to go. He drew on the cigarette, the glow lighting his face in the night. Away to the east, across the flat landscape of Lincolnshire crouching unseen in the darkness, the first silver threads of dawn insinuated themselves.
Beside him he felt someone’s presence. “That you, Dick?” He spoke without moving his head.
“Any news?” Even as he asked the question he knew what the answer would be.
“No, sir. Ten landed, two to come, D-Dog, and W-Whiskey.”
“Thanks, Dick.” Beside him he sensed the Squadron Leader salute and move away on silent feet. Good man, Dick Roddy, his Intelligence Officer.
Group Captain Peterson walked stiffly into the nearby building and into his office. Wearily he took off his cap and tossed it towards the hat rack. It missed. Jesus, it must be an omen. He had never missed, not on the previous twenty-six occasions. He picked up the hat and removed the overcoat. It was stuffy and warm in the office, and he opened the window, the metal handle cold against his skin. Outside the smell of the recently returned Lancasters filled his nostrils with their unique aroma, a mix of ammunition, petrol, blood and fear.
He studied the photograph on his desk. It had been taken in 1940, about June. The whole family was there. There he was, a mere Squadron Leader then, and Peter, the elder boy, the Flying Officer’s ring on his sleeve slightly bigger than David’s, who had only just been commissioned as a Pilot Officer. And there was Judith, his rock, his reason for living, smiling not at the camera, but at her family. She was gone now, killed in an air raid in London while visiting her mother. Peter had died in the skies over Kent on Adler tag, Eagle Day. They never found him, he must have gone into the sea. And David, where was he? In the North Sea with the rest of the crew of W Whiskey? They were a service family, a Royal Air Force family, but they had given enough now. He kissed the photograph and sat at his desk for a long time.
The telephone jarred into his brain. “Group Captain.”
“It’s Ops, sir. Thought you’d like to know. W-Whiskey put in at Scampton, a little while ago. The aircraft is badly shot up but all the crew are safe.”
“I’m afraid they were hit over Bremen and went into the North Sea. ASR are still out searching.”
He returned the phone to the cradle and rubbed his forehead with his index finger. He was close to tears as relief flooded in. The bloody war was in its fourth year, and it seemed it would go on for ever. He pressed the intercom button, and a pretty blonde WAAF came in.
“Good morning, Susan. Do you think you could arrange some tea, and toast for me?”
She smiled brightly. “With pleasure, sir. Your son landed at Scampton, I hear?”
“So, you can stop worrying, then?”
He smiled a tired little smile. “Yes, Susan. Thank you.”
As she left the office he turned to the window to watch his station prepare for another day of warfare. Yes, I can stop worrying, until the next time, and the time after that, and the time after that.
Written by my Father B.M