- Contributed by
- Henry George Highmore
- People in story:
- Henry and Ginger
- Location of story:
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 04 May 2005
Another Unforgettable Moment
(Extracted from Young Henry's War, by the author - unpublished)
Henry George Highmore
‘Don’t sit on our wall,’ Henry cautioned his friend Ginger.
He and Ginger perched themselves on the low brick wall of the front garden next door to his Sister’s house where he lived with her and his Mum. It was the middle of the Blitz on London and, to the two boys; it was good sport to gaze at the large formations of German bombers overhead as they transited the Surrey fields some twelve miles from their terrified destination. They weren't sitting on the wall of his sister’s house, simply because she had spread a sticky substance on it to stop kids doing just that.
With luck, they judged they would soon see the British fighters weaving between the silver specks of German bombers in an air battle that was to go down in history as The Battle of Britain; never ever to be repeated over its green acres.
Then sure enough, Henry heard a familiar sound from overhead and he looked up to the sky where, in the few minutes they had looked at the next wall with its sticky deterrent, a tangle of white vapour trails had appeared, as if painted for them on a massive blue canvas, as the RAF attacked the massively outnumbering formation of German bombers.
'Here they come again,' they chorused, and their chins tilted upwards to remain so until the muscles at the back of the neck should complain.
From the ground it was only possible to distinguish the German bombers from the RAF fighters because the former flew for as long as possible in a determined formation, whilst the latter dived and climbed in a dance of death. Then the dogfights between opposing fighters would start, and the bombers pressed-on in rigid military rows. Eventually they would be scattered for a while and it was every man for himself. That could be the most dangerous moments for spectators because the bombers might drop their bombs in a panic to out manoeuvre the fighters. Many stray bombs fell on the suburbs where Henry and Ginger lived. Their bravado was youthfully unsound.
Another Unforgettable Moment 2
The real horror of war was lost on the boys in those early days. Whilst the dog fights in the air, and the news of wider battles, and the threat of invasion, was on every adult's lips, the boys found refuge in the fun and adventure that the war offered them. They didn't think of consequences, and possibilities and fearful probabilities as did almost every adult. When the sun reflected off the shiny surface of a tiny weaving aeroplane it was, to the young, a joust, a fight to the death as fighter sliced through bomber and, should they see one crash nearby, its horror could be subsumed in a childish sense of adventure. In their innocence, they made paper aeroplanes and smashed the ones with swastika emblems to the ground. They listened as adults told of men from the next street lost in France or killed in the evacuation at Dunkirk without knowing how close Dunkirk was to their little corner of England. They did not share the sorrows and fears of their elders.
Now, as another day in the Battle of Britain unfolded in the sky above Henry and Ginger, almost the whole section of sky was patterned with the vapour trails. Sometimes, from the fascinating tangle of e streaks and dots they might see an oily grey smoke trail downwards as a crippled aircraft fell to the ground in flames. It was one of theirs or one of ours and a tick on a mental scorecard. They didn't see the frantic panic in the cockpit as the fighter pilot or bomber crew fought to release themselves from their harness before they had used up all the space between them and the ground; a ground which might be soft and boggy to swallow them, or hard, to disintegrate them, or a rooftop and a house, and people to absorb them.
They gazed overhead in awe, and adult realism was for adults.
'Got the bloody bugger,' said Ginger.
'Might be one of ours.'
'Hope not,' said Ginger.
'Hinchley Wood?' said Henry. Ginger looked at him quizzically. 'Where it will crash.'
It was only a couple of miles away.
'Look at them, look Henry.'
The air battle had heated up and had drawn another thick spaghetti of vapour trails in the sky
Another Unforgettable Moment 3
as they watched. Later, as the All Clear sounded, they might run miles to see the wreckage. Weeks earlier, they had rushed to an obvious crash site, puffing and stumbling as they broke through tangled gorse bushes, whilst casting young saplings aside in headlong, careless progress.
They slopped through a muddy stream to reach the place where the 'plane had crashed. They
were first on the scene to find that a fighter aircraft had fallen, inverted, through the roof of a big double garage built on the side of a house. Although they could hear the ambulance and police car bells coming to the rescue, they blundered on to see what they could before being barred by authority. They were to regret their haste when they pulled up in horror to see the pilot hanging from his harness in the tangled remains of his machine. They gagged on the sight and the stink of it all. They thought he was dead, and ran away as fast as their legs would allow. It left an indelible image which they assuaged by convincing themselves that the pilot might not have been dead and, anyway, the ambulance was almost there as they fled.
They ran as hard as long as their legs could carry them then, exhausted and panting hard, Ginger said. ‘One of theirs, wasn’t it?’
‘Yes,’ said Henry, but he knew that Ginger had also seen the red white and blue roundel.
Henry was never to forget the unique smell of torn aluminium and hydraulic and engine oils and aviation fuel and burning paint that smoked or sprayed or dripped from man and his craft at that scene of raw new death, but it would leave no permanent mental scar.
Just another unforgettable moment.
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