Originally written in 2007, edited and slightly revised in 2015-16
“There were, though, strong affinities and common characteristics that bound the group together. The most potent was a love of flying. Speaking about flying…the pilots dropped their usual clipped understatement for the language of passion. It was an obsession and an addiction and aeroplanes were far more than simple machines…”
Fighter Boys, Patrick Bishop
Penguin Books 2004, p6
The phone jangled noisily, virtually dancing off the cradle. The shrilling interrupted the birdsong in the neighbouring trees and, most importantly, the snoring of one man in his deckchair. His hand lashed out and grabbed the receiver.
“Trade building east of Foxtrot. Squadron scramble.”
“Squadron?” the Dorset tones of the answerer took on a questioning sound. “Not a flight?”
The voice of the station controller on the other end grew angry without pause. “Don’t question, get the bloody lot moving!”
Acting Squadron Leader Tom Whitton slammed the receiver down.He turned towards the brightly lit interior of the squadron’s command post. “A and B Flights scramble!”
No questions from the eleven others of the squadron who, as one, stopped what they were doing and began running to their waiting aircraft. Tom began running too shrugging on his Mae West lifejacket as he did so. He ran willing his legs to go faster. Already one of the pilots was taxiing out onto the grass runway. Further to the south, a flock of Hurricane’s took to the skies. They were taking off from RAF Stoke Newchurch -Pebblemouth’s sister airfield.
Tom reached the port wing of his Spitfire and leapt onto it. His fitter was clambering out of the cockpit and was soon pulling the chocks away from the slim undercarriage of the fighter. Now the majority of the Sparrowhawks were moving and racing into the air. Tom pulled his canopy down leaving only a fingertip of gap. Despite the newer release catches he still feared being trapped in a burning cockpit. The cockpit of a Spitfire was cramped, and more so wearing a Mae West, but some pilots had ditched in the Channel and died within minutes if not seconds, of hitting the water. It had been four months since the Sparrowhawk’s had returned beaten from France. All this after the dullness of the Bore War or what the Americans called the Phoney War (and the Germans, Sitzkrieg –the Sitting War). Sparrowhawk had been based in the northeast of France from September 1939 to May 1940 and that day of May 10 had shocked everyone into action. The RAF’s tactics were hideously exposed, men that could have been used now were killed in their dozens and valuable aircraft lost needlessly.
From the middle of July onwards, the Battle of Britain had raged. Going from attacks on convoys in the Channel to the airfields of Fighter Command, particularly that of Keith Park’s 11 Group, in the southeast of England.
Spitfires were notoriously difficult on the ground. Unlike the Hurricane, the Spitfire’s undercarriage was narrow and close together. To see where they were taxiing, a pilot often had to wag his tail from side to side and then go for it (the undercarriage also made landings slightly hairy). Once he felt his tail lift, Tom pulled back and quickly rolled in his undercarriage.
As he and the squadron assumed a loose formation he made contact with their station control. “Lulu this is Tango Lead. We’re airborne Angels Nine.”
Lulu was the call sign for the group station fifteen miles northwest from Pebblemouth in the slightly larger village of Cressenwell. Angels Nine was 9000 feet.
The chirpy voice of the station controller was swift in replying. Lulu was always cheerful, which was quite annoying to the pilots on most days.
“Tango Lead, Lulu answering. Trade building east of Bluebell. Further trade moving further along Bluebell bound for London. Repeat, bound for London. Your code is buster, repeat buster.”
Bluebell was code for the River Thames that snaked its way to the Kentish coast some miles up from Pebblemouth.
However, London was London.
The Germans had not yet bombed London.
“You must be joking.”
“Tango Lead now is not the time. Make zero-two-zero. Buster.”
Buster was ‘pull the stops out’.
Tom switched the R/T to talk to the others. “Okay, lads. We’re heading zero-two-zero Angels Seventeen. Buster.”
Virtually as one, the Spitfire pilots reached for the device known as the tit that gave them extra throttle. At upwards of 420mph they charged northwards, away from Pebblemouth. The enemy appeared a minute or so later below them and ahead. A smudge of black against the clear blue sky. Also seen were other fighter aircraft.
“Enemy bandits in the sky, Angels Twenty.” That was James Barkhurst speaking. Nicknamed Barky he had a shock of blond hair almost red in the summer weather.
Polish pilot Stanislaw Razedoymoski –affectionately known as Zed- spoke immediately after. “Enemy fighters above! Angels Twenty! Behind!”
“Break!” Tom snapped. In France they had lost three pilots in the squadron to attacks from the rear. ‘Beware the Hun in the Sun’ went the old adage. The Sparrowhawks did just that and separated from formation.
We have to get the bombers, Tom thought, as blood pounded quickly through his veins. That surge of fear and adrenalin was back. He sighted a blur of yellow on egg blue, a flash perhaps of a swastika and then one of the enemy Messerschmitt Me109E’s was below him. Tom kicked at his rudder to correct his dive and went after the bandit making sure his wingman –Zed in this instance- was behind him. The 109 was trying to weave out of Tom’s sights but the RAF pilot was on him like glue. Tom stabbed at the trigger on his yoke sending a hail of bullets but missed. The Spitfire bucked as another Spit and a pursuing 109 hurtled overhead. That was a ten second burst –enough ordinarily if on target but not enough otherwise and a waste of ammo.
The R/T was alive with excited chatter.
“God’s teeth! They’re everywhere!”
“Watch out Birdy, I’m right below you!”
“Bandit on your tail!”
“Christ, I can’t see! Bloody glycol all over the damned…”
“Got him…did you see that!”
“F----- hell, you almost hit me you b------. Look out Dick, he’s there…”
“Did you see that?! Right on the ticker…”
Over the course of these frantic weeks, pilots were sometimes told to watch their language. Chiefly for the benefit of the WAAFs –the Women’s Air Force personnel- who worked the plot tables at station and group level. Often these women would know some of the pilots they heard. Men they might have shared a drink with as their hands shook waiting for the next scramble. Men they might have fallen in love with. Men who now were fighting for their lives in the skies above them.
Next thing Tom knew they were on the bombers. The dogfight that had erupted and swallowed Sparrowhawk Squadron had been drawn towards the flock of bombers bearing down on London like a plague of locusts. A mixture of thin Dornier Do17’s –nicknamed the Flying Pencil, owing to its shape- and heavier but brilliantly fast Heinkel He111’s. A glimpse of someone peering from the bubble nose of an He111 and then Tom opened fire at close range. His Spitfire shuddered as it poured twin streams of .303 Browning bullets into the Heinkel. Tom was quickly beneath and beyond the Heinkel, hugging the Spitfire into a tight turn. He glimpsed one bomber beginning to nose down but he did not know if it was his.
Never fly straight and level for longer than thirty seconds, Tom thought and so dived downwards spiralling as he did so. He pulled back on the yoke levelling out, then weaving to port as a Hurricane followed by a Me109 came hurtling towards him. He managed to let loose some tracer at the Me109 and hoped he had done something to help his comrade in arms. He rejoined the main battle that was taking place over the Thames estuary. Smoke hung in the near distance. God, everything’s so fast! Does it ever slow down? he wondered sweat dribbling into his goggles.
Tom landed not long after he managed to knock down a Me109. He refuelled and re-armed his Spitfire. Before going back up on this seventh day of September, he had a word with the squadron’s adjutant. Michael Wood was known as ‘Father’ to the group because of his age and the manner in which he viewed the ‘boys’. He climbed onto the wing with an agility belying his fifty-two years.
“Jerry’s been sending scores of the buggers. The Observer Corps says two hundred plus.”
“Well, how bad is it?”
“London’s burning and that is not a joke. Every squadron is up and we have no reserves,” Father said, and then added with a knowing smile. “You’re scaring the WAAFs by the way.”
“Oh?” Tom said with a puzzled look.
“Language and some of your actions, not just you…just remember that…well…get the bastards, Tom!”
Tom thought of his girlfriend, Section Officer Rebecca Amis, who worked in Pebblemouth’s station control room.
Tom nodded. “Right-o, Father.”
Back in the air, Tom and the other fighters attacked with gusto. They did so for the remainder of the daylight hours. A veritable trail of ruin lined the bombers’ route from London’s heart out to the Channel. Columns of smoke pockmarked the countryside from downed aircraft from both sides or hit fuel stores. Thought the fifteenth of this month would become known as Battle of Britain Day, it was the seventh that was the deadliest battle really. It was when Hitler went all out to teach London a lesson. In doing so, he gravely undermined his own chances of winning. Fighter Command, stretched to its limits in spite of the high war production being maintained and pilots being trained, was able to recover. Squadrons could be pulled from the front, pilots rested, new ones brought in. Airfields were able to recover as well. As for the Luftwaffe they were not designed for long-range or heavy-bombing as would befell their country in three year’s time. The fighter escort only had fuel for no more than thirty minutes over London.
For much of the next eight months, the Nazis bombed London daily and mostly at night (other cities were targeted, as far afield as Belfast and Edinburgh) until in May 1941 Hitler withdrew the majority of forces eastward for the invasion of Russia –believing he would defeat that country by Christmas and return to finish Britain off.
Thanks in part to the hard work of the three thousand odd members of Fighter Command, Germany never gained air superiority and suffered her first bloody nose in this war that had seen Britain marooned in a sea of fascism.
All this was yet to be written on the morning of September 8th when the pilots of Sparrowhawk Squadron rose with aching limbs and throbbing heads. As they set about getting hot drinks in the first light of the day, their Spitfires shimmering in the dawn.
Taking off at ten o’clock to confront en-masse a flight of bombers, Sparrowhawk was never seen again.
“Like a kid in a candy store,” said Adam Svenson, with a shake of the head. “Look at her.”
“I can’t,” replied Paul Metcalfe. He mockingly held a hand over his eyes. “Tell me when it’s over.”
Patrick Donaghue laughed loudly.
The three men who, when they were on duty, were known as Captains Blue, Scarlet and Magenta, were leaning against a pillar wearing casual gear (though even their casual wear bore some trace of their codenames. Svenson wore a blue coat, Metcalfe a red scarf and Donaghue a somewhat daring magenta shirt under his jacket). They were within the great aircraft hangar, home to aeroplanes from ages past. Duxford had become home to antiques –as Magenta referred to them- in the 1970s when the Imperial War Museum took over the land. By the turn of the century it had become the largest air museum in the world. By 2068, almost a century later, Duxford remained an impressive collection of aircraft. Right from a Tiger Moth through to one of the Fireflash prototypes.
The object of Blue’s initial comment was Dianne Simms –Rhapsody Angel- as she led Karen Wainwright and Juliette Pointoin –Symphony and Destiny Angels- around the Avro Vulcan bomber at the far end. Admittedly, Destiny was the bigger aviation ‘buff’, if you could call her that, but Rhapsody shared a passion for flying that few could match it seemed.
“Bringing our ladies to an air museum was not a good idea.” Magenta looked at Blue and Scarlet.
“I’m sorry, Pat. Did you say ladies?” Blue said.
“I think he did,” Scarlet shook his head. “You are a silly man.”
“Yeah…you know what’s silly…”
“Looks like they’re at it again,” Destiny said to Symphony, where the three women had paused by the front undercarriage of the mighty delta shaped bomber. The Vulcan had served Britain from the late 1950s right up to the Falklands War in 1982. Symphony glanced back at where the three men were deep in some sort of debate, as only they could debate.
“Hmm, looks like it.”
“Oh, Dianne,” Destiny said wearily. “Not…”
Rhapsody took the pilots over to a display case that was the size of a fish tank. Rhapsody pointed into it. “This is what interests me.”
Destiny peered over Rhapsody’s shoulder. Inside the case was a book open on the middle pages. The pages were lined with handwriting on most of the lines. The book looked frail –the edges frayed in parts. Destiny read the sign on the top of the case.
“This is the logbook of Sparrowhawk Squadron,” she read aloud, “that went missing whilst on patrol in September 1940. The Spitfire squadron was never seen or heard from again. These pages show the last entries made by the adjutant of the squadron, ‘Father’ Wood.”
Her accent made the words somehow romantic, as if the book was not a simple logbook but a tome of Arthurian legend.
“A missing squadron from 130 years ago?” Symphony sounded bored and uninterested. She had not minded coming down to England, but she had hoped though for sights and sounds of the country as opposed to a draughty hangar in the sticks.
“Yeah,” Rhapsody sounded the opposite. She pressed a hand against the case as if trying to feel the book through the glass. “I read about it in school. They had battled in France and the early stages of the Battle of Britain. The day after the first daylight raid on London they went up to fight and went missing. Without a trace, as they would say.”
“I’m interested,” Destiny stepped to beside Rhapsody. “Is there anything more about them?”
“Some books. A movie,” Rhapsody’s words trailed away.
“What’s wrong?” asked Symphony.
“Someone walked on my grave,” the Londoner replied and sighed with a sad look in her eyes. “I get carried away sometimes.”
Symphony nodded. “I know,” she looked to the far side. “I think we better get going. Guys are getting restless.”
They got the monorail back to Cambridge where they found a pub to have dinner. Technically they were on leave for a few more days. Those ‘left behind’ on Cloudbase had made light of the three couples going on leave together. Though Cambridgeshire had not been their initial choice. It had been Rhapsody who somewhat excitedly and determinedly coerced the others into coming here.
“Have a good time?” Scarlet asked Rhapsody.
“Yeah,” Rhapsody seemed down and had been when they left Duxford. Scarlet glanced across the table at Destiny who shrugged. Magenta was trying to wrap spaghetti around his fork and by the look on his face was struggling.
“Give it here,” Scarlet leant over took the fork and shortly handed it to Magenta. “There, not so hard.”
Magenta shot him a look. “Gee, thanks dad.”
“We found out about this fighter squadron that went missing,” Symphony said brightly, as if to change the way the topic might go. “A Mary Celeste kind of situation.”
“Marie Celeste,” corrected Magenta, and ate the spaghetti from his fork. Smacking his lips a little he added, “Besides, they found the Celeste. They never did find this squadron. I think it’s more akin to the Bermuda Triangle.”
“You’ve heard about Sparrowhawk Squadron?” Rhapsody said.
“Once,” Magenta shrugged, reaching for his Guinness. “A year or so back. It’s an aviation legend, apparently.”
Over a century ago, Dianne Simms’ great-great-grandfather – or thereabouts- had flown in the Battle of Britain. Timothy Simms had been based at RAF Stoke Newchurch. The Hurricane field had been a mile from Pebblemouth and Sparrowhawk’s Spitfires. He had heard about the disappearance that evening and found it hard to believe. When a lull in fighting happened next day, his squadron was dispatched to find them. They found nothing. No debris, no oil and no pilots. There was no trace of them being taken prisoner, no craft found in the Channel or North Sea. Legend persisted on, up to the fortieth anniversary in 1980, that aliens or even the Nazis using a top-secret bomber had abducted them. Their names sat on the Battle of Britain memorial by Cleopatra’s Needle on The Embankment in London, but that was their only legacy.
Dianne felt a personal attachment, in a way, to these pilots.
“It’s odd that the squadron went missing. Vanished,” Rhapsody found herself saying. “Out of character and nothing like it had happened before.”
“I wouldn’t get yourself too worked up over something that happened 128 years ago, Rhapsody,” Blue remarked.
“I might,” she said and shrugged. “Still a few more days left.”
“You want to solve the case of the missing pilots?” Magenta asked.
“I think I do.”
Magenta nodded, as if coming to a conclusion. “What the hell? I’ll join you.”
Scarlet grinned. “Ditto.”
Destiny sighed. “Another crusade. Count me in.”
“And me,” Symphony added. Her previous reticence about this trip had been replaced by sentiment and romanticism over the missing squadron. She nudged the blond Bostonian by her side. “Adam?”
Adam took a swig of his beer and wiped his lips. “Okay, count me in.”
Rhapsody thanked them and hid her moistening eyes behind a menu.
Waking early, Scarlet went down near Cambridge’s city centre to hire a car. He chose a Saab Sportswagon and drove it back to the Bed and Breakfast they were staying in. Dressed warmly, for the air was chilly, were the others. They all piled into the car with Rhapsody in front and the others fitting in the back quite comfortably.
“How far is it to Pebblemouth?”
“About 115 miles. Should take a couple of hours or so.” Scarlet answered Magenta.
“Swell,” Magenta stretched his legs. The Saab 99.3 was somewhat more spacious in the rear than its predecessors.
As they set off Rhapsody studied the map of Kent in her hands. Tracing her finger along the coastline she found Pebblemouth. Admittedly, it was still a small village a century on. Most airfields from the Second World War had been reclaimed as farmland, if not for housing. Pebblemouth sat a little way from Folkestone.
She closed her eyes and wondered why she was doing this.
They reached Pebblemouth a little after 11 o’clock.
What history was written about the Kentish village was brief. Pebblemouth appeared to have been founded in the late seventeenth century, after the English Civil War. The railway reached Pebblemouth in 1904 from Dover to London but the station was closed by the start of the Second World War. In 1940, when Sparrowhawk Squadron arrived from France, the population numbered fifty-five. The population 128 years later was seventy.
And it still lacked a station.
“I’ve seen movies that feature places like this,” Magenta commented, as Scarlet began to slow the car down. They passed a few houses, a cottage or too, a couple of shops, post office and at the end of the main road a pub. The pub was called The Fighter’s Way. “Never thought I would actually visit one, though.”
“Quite quaint,” Scarlet muttered, as he focused on parking down the side of the pub. The sign of the pub swung ever so slightly in the cold air. It bore a portrait of a fighter. Rhapsody identified it as a Spitfire.
The Spectrum men and women climbed out of the Saab and stretched arms and legs. Scarlet glanced about the village. “Where do we go from here?”
“I want to find the airfield,” Rhapsody said. “Look it over.”
“Probably gone,” Magenta said. “Let’s go inside the pub.”
The pub was somewhat quiet on the inside. There were a few locals about sitting at a table or playing snooker or darts. The man behind the bar –the publican, Magenta assumed as he and the others went to the bar- smiled and put his hands palm down on the bar.
“Welcome to Pebblemouth.”
“Err…” began Scarlet somewhat awkwardly.
“You look like out of towners,” the publican said by way of an explanation. “We notice that in Pebblemouth. Always been the way of the village.”
“Indeed,” it was Rhapsody who said that and smiled politely. “I’m –we’re looking for information about Sparrowhawk Squadron…from 1940.”
The publican’s smile broadened. “Oh, the missing squadron.”
“You remember that?” Magenta asked.
“Not personally,” he said in a jovial tone, but in a more serious tone continued. “It’s a village legend but I’ve not heard of people coming here about the squadron since my grandfather’s time.”
“But there is some information about it?” pressed Rhapsody.
“Some.” The publican wiped his hands on a bar mat and extended a hand to Rhapsody. “Name’s Michael Harper. Publican of The Fighter’s Way. If you people take a seat in the corner over there I’ll bring you some drinks and have a word also. What drinks will you have?”
Harper came over a few minutes later with a tray of regular cokes. He sat with his back to the bar. The Spectrum officers were sitting in a wall seat that curved around the table. “Behind you are pictures from 1940.” Harper drank from a glass of water.
The group managed to crane behind them to look at black and white pictures of smiling or grim faced men; of aircraft that today would be hideously antique and of a time never to be again. One showed ten men in uniform against the side of one aircraft.
“There’s your squadron, Miss…”
“Simms, Dianne Simms,” Rhapsody said with a smile. Scarlet stepped close to the photo observing the styles these men had.
“Looks like England,” he said.
“Pebblemouth,” Harper explained. “They came here after the fall of France about July 1940. Most had been here since May but the rest had been scattered after Dunkirk.”
“The evacuation of the British Armies from France,” said Scarlet with a twinkle to his eye. Magenta and Blue exchanged looks; this was his way of showing off his historian side. He never did it in a know-all way, other than now. Perhaps because of Harper’s genial behaviour with Rhapsody.
“Quite,” Harper tapped the photo. “This was taken about two days before they went missing.”
Rhapsody peered closely at the photo. Every man had weathered faces, brows lined with worry, eyes shaded from tiredness –the frightening thing was that the oldest here was no more than twenty-one. Harper continued.
“Of the mob there, only three had been with the squadron since the start of the war. The rest were mostly killed in France. By the time of the Blitz, the rate of attrition was high.”
“France was a major disaster for the air force,” said Scarlet. “Fighting backwards with no real sense of leadership. Planes that could ill-afforded to be lost were destroyed. France wanted more sent but Dowding, the head of Fighter Command refused. The Germans had taken everyone by surprise, their fighting was seen as revolutionary compared to the RAF and British Army. The British was effectively stuck in the First World War. Then at Dunkirk, the RAF could only muster a few squadrons as there were few airfields within range to cover the beaches.”
“Something the RAF found hard to get by for weeks after the evacuation,” Harper said adding briefly, “Sparrowhawk was lucky to come back together considering five of the squadron made it over the Channel. When they first arrived here, they had one aircraft and nothing else.”
The only sound was the clinking of the snooker balls and a murmur of conversation. Rhapsody broke the silence.
“You appear quite versed in the history of Sparrowhawk Squadron, Michael.”
Michael shrugged. “My father and my grandfather before had been the ‘historians’ on the squadron. My father passed it onto me but no one cared. No one cares about something that happened before even his or her grandfathers were born. Do any of you even care about the Napoleonic Wars?”
No one answered. He chuckled. “I guess not. I don’t either.”
“Is the airfield still there?” Scarlet asked.
“The field’s there but there is very little trace of the airfield. It was reclaimed as farmland in 1944.”
“Anything around on the squadron?”
“Apart from these photos there are some squadron books from 1940. Other photos and trophies of kills.”
“Kills?” Magenta arched an eyebrow in curiosity.
“Aircraft kills. Squadron’s back then would collect ‘trophies’ of their kills. Bits of wings, a boot even…”
“You mean a man’s boot?” Symphony cleared her throat. “That kind of boot?”
“Symphony how many other boots do you know?” Scarlet said.
“There are others,” Symphony protested and reached for her coke.
“Can we see these items?” Rhapsody was looking excited now. It would appear that the story, the legend even, of Sparrowhawk Squadron had fused with her. “Today, if that’s possible.”
“I believe you can,” Michael downed his drink. “You want to go now?”
Surprisingly, Scarlet was the one who said: “You bet!”
Michael grinned again. “Fine, I’ll get my coat and we’ll walk. It’s just at the end of the road.”
After Michael left, Magenta looked at Scarlet. “Did you sit on something there?”
“No, but I’m starting to get infected by Diane’s enthusiasm.” Scarlet kissed Rhapsody on the cheek. “Are you okay?”
“I just want to look this over,” Rhapsody explained, and then added quietly, “Find out what happened. Where they are.”
Michael Harper returned and they left the pub walking away up towards open countryside. Admittedly it was cramped countryside owing to Pebblemouth’s proximity to other 11 Group airfields, and of course the English Channel. The sky brightened further as they walked, the sun hot on their skin, Michael talked a little bit more about the village and Sparrowhawk Squadron.
“Oliver Cromwell, victor of the civil war, stayed here briefly in 1648, but otherwise the village has remained anonymous in the history books. Though in 1938 Neville Chamberlain paused here when his car broke down on route to London. He was briefly a guest of the reverend. The squadron was the biggest thing to happen to the village and for a time the RAF personnel matched the population. Yet after Sparrowhawk went missing the RAF began to downsize. By the field’s closure in 1944 there was twenty men manning the field and the field itself had been designated auxiliary.”
“You truly are the local historian,” Scarlet remarked.
“History is my field, I guess.” Harper shrugged. “I went to university to do it and tried getting a doctorate. Some of us have better luck than others.”
With the village visible behind them, they reached a gate. Harper opened it and let everyone through before closing it. The field they stood on was the size of a football pitch. At one end a group of cows chewed on the grass without noticing the Spectrum men and women.
“The field has gotten smaller since 1940. Hedges and some trees have grown since then.”
“It’s just a plain English field at the end of the day,” Scarlet said quietly looking about. Yet it wasn’t, was it? Not to the people who lived here, who even a century plus on remembered the men who had done so much. Blue and Symphony, Rhapsody and Destiny were standing a foot or so away looking also. But Rhapsody walked off into the field.
“Diane?” called Scarlet, but the beautiful redhead did not reply.
She spent fifteen minutes walking the field, even around the cows and back to where they stood. “I hate this.”
“But…” began Magenta.
“What I hate,” she sighed, “is that you can’t feel the history. A century or so ago where we’re standing, men took off to fight in the skies and landed again to repeat the exercise time and time again. Yet, you can’t see it because it is long gone. You can’t feel it. There is no sense of it. Do you see what I am driving at?”
“I do,” Blue said. “Time marches on, Rhapsody. Sadly.”
Rhapsody sighed again and addressed Harper. “Might we see the artefacts now?”
“Certainly. I hope it’s not too rude, but are you guys staying in the area?”
“We drove here from Cambridge.” Scarlet answered.
“Ah, well, might I invite you all to stay the night as my guests and also to invite you to the Fighter’s Way tonight? Guests of the village also.”
“We’d be honoured,” Scarlet said, with a smile and addressed his friends. “That alright with you, gang?”
“SIG, Captain Scarlet.” Magenta executed a mock bow.
A few minutes later they reached Michael Harper’s house, the other side of Pebblemouth from the field and tucked just behind the post office and on the bank of a tricking brook that might, from all appearances, have seen better days. The house itself was a fine Victorian-looking building. Michael told them the houses in the village –as with neighbouring Stoke Newchurch- all had names not numbers. His house was named Swansong. It had been named that in 1923 before any of his family came to live here and the name remained as such for all those years past. In the hallway of Swansong was a portrait. An old watercolour.
“That’s my grandfather,” Harper said, and invited them to take their jackets off. “Coffee anyone?”
“Please,” Rhapsody answered and, eventually, so did the others. They followed Michael into the spacious kitchen.
“Have you always lived in Pebblemouth, Michael?” Blue asked.
“Yes. I was schooled in Folkestone and went to university in Canterbury but I’ve always lived in Pebblemouth. I have a thing for Kent, it seems.”
“I know that feeling,” Magenta said. “I have a soft spot for Dublin even if I did live most of my young life in New York.”
They chatted amongst themselves, drinking the coffee, before Harper cleared his throat and said:
“I never asked, but I guess I should. What do you guys do, besides look for missing squadrons?”
Scarlet answered for them. “We work for Spectrum.”
“Right,” Michael nodded. “I know them, who doesn’t? Their fight against those…Mysterons, right? So what do you guys do? Intelligence work…admin…”
“Pat, Adam and I are captains at Spectrum Headquarters. Dianne, Karen and Juliette are fighter pilots.”
They all looked at Michael, who looked a little stunned. His reaction was to finish off his coffee and say:
“Shocked?” Rhapsody asked.
“A little. Guess it shows I’m too used to small village life. So you’re the heroes the tabloids rave about?”
Magenta shrugged with a sheepish grin on his face. “Some of us more than others, right, Paul?”
“What does he mean by that?”
Scarlet sighed and sipped a little at his coffee before answering.” Patrick exaggerates. We’re all people just doing a job.”
“I see.” Michael settled down his mug and smiled that old smile. “I’ll go get some of the stuff; unless you want to come up to the attic to see it?”
“Is there room in the attic?” Scarlet asked.
“Yes, you may have to bend a bit though. Slanting ceilings.”
“We’ll manage.” Scarlet chuckled.
Upstairs the attic was spacious enough indeed for the six Spectrum officers and Michael to stand. It was startlingly clean, not dusty or dirty. Rhapsody immediately went to the far end where a tailfin sat. It was mottled brown and green.
“Hurricane. One of the one’s that just about made it back from France.” Harper walked on over. “Sparrowhawk started off in Hurricanes and transferred to Spits in July.”
There were cardboard boxes lining the sides, not to mention black and white prints on the walls. Michael gave a brief commentary on the prints.
“My grandfather managed to get these from the Ministry of Defence in the late 2000’s. It’s the squadron from their ‘birth’ in September 1939, right up to September 1940.”
Rhapsody moved away from the tailfin and pointed at one print by where she was standing.
“What’s this one about?”
Michael moved closer, as did the others. It showed one man in RAF uniform with trousers over his head, the legs hanging limply by his neck with other young men in RAF uniform laughing their heads off. Behind them was a mansion like house.
“Oh. That’s Edward DeSommer with the trousers, De was his nickname. He was the practical joker in the squadron. This was taken in October 1939, a month after being posted to St. Etienne et Roux, near the German border. The squadron’s getting their own back.”
“Should do that to Rick sometime,” Magenta said to Blue, referring to the absent Captain Ochre, who shook his head with a similarly knowing expression.
Michael walked to one of the boxes and produced an old fashioned paperback book. Books were largely rare in 2068, confined to antiquarian shops and the like. He handed it to Rhapsody. “A gift, Dianne.”
Rhapsody ran a hand over the cover. It had a Spitfire on the front and the title ‘The Mystery of Sparrowhawk Squadron’ in fine yellow Copperplate. The author’s name sat below the Spitfire picture – Adam Harper.
“My grandfather,” Michael said, as if anticipating the question that Rhapsody had just begun to form.
He showed her other boxes whilst the others looked on. Many of the boxes contained formerly classified files from sections and departments long defunct such as MI-R –Military Intelligence Research, Ministry of Home Defence, Fighter Command and MI-9 –Military Intelligence Nine, that dealt with Prisoners of War.
“How did you get these files?”
“My grandfather procured them when he worked in the government. It was about the time of the Civil War.”
“Ah.” Rhapsody read one line aloud from a MI-9 file. “Extensive debriefing of recently returned soldiers escaped from Stalag VIII reveal no knowledge of anyone from the squadron and that no one from the RAF brought to the camp.”
“They never found anyone.” Michael shook his head. “The closest they got was a RAF pilot from Stoke Newchurch, who was made PoW during the fall of France. But no one from Sparrowhawk.”
“Weird…” Rhapsody stroked her chin in thought. “Not made PoW, not found crashed…nothing. As if they never were.”
“Ever seen that during your time in Spectrum? People vanish?”
“Once,” Rhapsody said, with a slight smile. She did not want to tell him of the time that Captain Black just disappeared on one of the many times they had almost got him. She stood. “Thanks for letting us come here. I was wondering if I could drop by sometime in the future to look.”
“Sure.” Michael nodded. “Any time.”
“Found anything, Rhapsody?” asked Scarlet.
“It’s getting late. Time to go back to the Fighter’s Way.”
The Fighter’s Way
After a brief introduction to the pub and its regulars, the Spectrum people fitted in as if they had been regulars there all their drinking lives. Magenta and Blue played darts against two farmers who were amazed that Americans could throw a dart, let alone play. Symphony and Destiny sat in a corner talking to some young women who, it turned out, were studying at Canterbury University. Scarlet and Rhapsody danced by themselves on the open floor by the darts area to a tune playing. It was a gentle tune and one that Scarlet had never heard.
“What is the title?”
“It’s called A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square,” Rhapsody whispered, and held herself tighter to Scarlet. “A romantic favourite during the war. Particularly the instrumental version.”
“Mm-hmm,” Scarlet murmured into her ear. “I can see why.”
Magenta left the dartboard walking over passed them and to the bar. Michael nodded to him. “Yes, Pat?”
“Two more Guinness’, please.”
“Those two seem much in love,” Michael said, reaching for two pint glasses.
“Yeah,” Magenta replied, looking at Scarlet and Rhapsody. “They are that.”
“Are you all couples?”
“Well,” Magenta watched the pints get placed on the side before him. “I guess we are. It’s frowned upon in Spectrum, particularly at HQ, but it’s not stopped. At least not enforced.”
Magenta took the beers over to the darts board, placing them on a nearby table. “We still winning?”
“Just the one round left,” Blue said.
Magenta held a hand out palm up. “My weapons, please, Captain.”
Blue, with great showcasing, placed the three darts on Magenta’s hand. “Your weapons, sir.”
Magenta stood in position and steadily threw one dart after the other. One of the farmers wiped his brow.
“Those sure are some good shots.”
“All in the wrist,” said Magenta, with a knowing wink.
Rhapsody and Scarlet went to get drinks as the music ended. They perched on stools at the far end of the bar, talking and occasionally leaning towards the each other to kiss. Magenta’s and Blue’s triumphant shouts punctuated the conversation every now and then, as they took more points from the farmers.
The evening gradually wound down, as the hours turned into the early morning. Glasses were collected and the regulars left. The Spectrum men and women lingered at the entrance, as Michael Harper shook their hands one by one.
“Thanks for coming to Pebblemouth. Come again, please.”
“Thanks, Michael,” Rhapsody said, and then hugged him before standing back and adding, “it was a good day.”
“I’m sorry that you didn’t find anything helpful about the squadron.”
“I’m sure something will turn up, one of these days.”
Then they left and he closed the door behind them and turned the lights out as they drove off.
“So you did nothing?”
“Rick, we did something, just not something you might’ve found interesting.”
Captain Ochre shook his head at Captain Magenta, the latter reclining on the sofa in the officer’s lounge. It had been a full day since the leave had ended and they had returned to their duties. “Searching for something that went missing…”
“Don’t finish that sentence. You have no idea how many times that was said.”
“I can imagine.”
“Then do that.” Magenta opened his eyes and put his arms behind his head. “You’re interested in aircraft aren’t you?”
“Sort of…Mustangs and Thunderbolts from World War Two.”
“You should get talking to Rhapsody about it.”
Ochre referred to Destiny’s interest in it all. Magenta shook his head, remembering that some months back, prior to the World Cities attacks, he had been watching a World War II fighter flick in the Cloudbase cinema and Destiny had joined him. That was more or less when what was going on between them now had started.
“Yes, and Destiny.”
Colonel White had not said anything to them upon their return and there was no reason for him to do so. It had been their leave and it was up to them whether they went haring around Kent.
“Attention to orders,” Lieutenant Green’s voice interrupted via the intercom, “Angels One, Two and Three to launch immediately for scheduled target practice at reference point Zero One Four. Standby pilots to readiness. This concludes the orders.”
Ochre sighed. “Fun, fun, fun.”
“Ha,” was all Magenta said.
Above them Rhapsody, Symphony and Melody launched into the skies, swiftly replaced by Destiny in Angel One. Rhapsody took point as Angel leader. Her computer showed point 014 as a blip on her screen and guided her towards it like a Global Positioning Satellite. It was a floating target range near the Channel Islands, off northwest France.
“Okay girls, this is Angel One. We’re going to start our descent and it’ll bring us down via the English Channel near Dover. Understood?”
Gently, Rhapsody nosed her fighter down and briefly glanced at the altimeter as the altitude began to fall away. Behind her and astern of either wingtip, Symphony and Melody copied her. Rhapsody was tempted to go all out in descending. There was a certain thrill in descending for Rhapsody. That sensation of hurtling downwards and knowing only you could stop it.
“Passing 20,000 feet,” she found herself saying and sighed. “You don’t need to say that.”
She began to slow, coming out at 15,000 and bobbing down to around 9000. The speed needed to be slow here whilst the three women got used to the sudden deceleration. The dark shapes of Britain and France could be seen either side, with the faint showing of the curvature of the Earth.
“Rhapsody, I have a mass of objects coming down towards us from astern,” Melody sounded confused. “I don’t know what they are.”
Rhapsody looked at her screen and saw a blur of green on the scope denoting the unidentified objects.
“Their speed is less than ours,” she said, “but interception is soon because they’re descending.”
Somewhere near the Isle of Wight, off the south coast of England, the objects came upon the Angels.
None of the Angels glimpsed the attackers but suddenly bullet holes stitched across all three Angels’ wings. Then they saw their attackers but only as blurred shapes of green and brown before they were gone.
“What the…?” Rhapsody shouted. “Evasive!”
Rhapsody dropped her jet like a stone. The attackers were coming back and, as she held steady, she saw what they were.
“I don’t believe it…”
Two of them opened fire with their machine guns and four streams of bullets tore into her jet from the port side tracing down to her afterburner. The afterburner exploded and her jet began to spiral downwards quicker than Rhapsody had been descending. She activated her communication channel.
“Angel One to Cloudbase, I have been hit. Bailing out. My location is point zero one two mark three… bailing now.”
She pulled the lever and soon was sailing upwards into the sky above the English Channel. As the parachute open and the chair began to descend, a dazed Rhapsody watched the attackers wing about searching for more targets. The faint roar of jet engines hinted that Symphony and Melody were too quick for the attackers.
The attackers were seven Spitfires.
A few seconds later, Rhapsody plunged into the English Channel.
“What in blue blazes!”
Colonel White’s shout turned heads at the far end of sickbay where Doctor Beige and a nurse were dealing with a crewman. In front of Colonel White on the bed, a wet-haired Rhapsody visibly shrank under his gaze.
“That’s what they were, sir.”
“You’re telling me that you were shot down, in your state of the art fighter jet, by aircraft from World War Two?”
“I saw them as well, Colonel,” Melody said softly, standing to one side of the bed. “Spitfires.”
“Symphony?” the colonel asked.
“Yes, Colonel. They were Spitfires alright,” Symphony said, with an apologetic shrug.
Colonel White rubbed his forehead. “Spitfires…”
“Vintage,” Rhapsody said. “Looked as new as the day they rolled out of the factory. I wonder…”
She had trailed off and Colonel White arched an eyebrow.
“If they were Sparrowhawk Squadron,” she finished lamely, as if waiting for an outburst.
“Ah, the missing squadron.” Colonel White sighed and looked at Captain Scarlet, who was waiting, arms folded, by the doorway to sickbay. He had been the one who had rescued Rhapsody from the Channel. He had stood aside as Colonel White talked to Rhapsody.
“Captain, where did these attackers go?”
“Captain Blue was in the radar room, sir. He says they went missing from radar somewhere over Kent.”
“Very well. Get Captains Magenta and Blue and go to Kent. You’re recent trip there should come in useful now.”
“I’ll go right away, Colonel.”
As Scarlet left, White looked at Rhapsody. “Are you alright now?”
“A little wet, Colonel, but I’ve been better.”
“Hmm, well we’ll see what Scarlet finds.”
“Do you think it might be Sparrowhawk Squadron?”
“I don’t know what to think,” Scarlet said, with a shrug from the pilot’s seat of the SPJ in response to Magenta, who stood behind the pilots’ seats, of which Blue occupied the other. “When aircraft well over a century in age shoot down a state of the art fighter jet, you know something’s not right.”
Blue toggled the radio. “Spectrum Alpha Tango One to Hawkinge, permission to land. Over.”
“This is Hawkinge. Spectrum Alpha Tango One, you are clear to land on the runway. Winds are two miles per hour and from the southwest, over.”
Scarlet angled the Spectrum Passenger Jet down towards the rapidly growing green landscape below and before them. Magenta went to sit in the jumpseat and buckled up. Blue kept his hands on the steering column in case Scarlet needed help. A runway appeared and then a few minutes later came the satisfying tha-wump of the undercarriage kissing the ground. Scarlet taxied the SPJ to the far end, next to a row of small prop aircraft. Soon after that, the three captains were descending and walking to an SSC that had been left there a few hours earlier by a man from Spectrum’s monitoring station, at Folkestone. “This place is kind of small for an airport,” Magenta commented, getting into the back of the SSC. “What was it called again?”
“Hawkinge,” Scarlet said, starting the engine. “Fighter base during the Battle of Britain.”
They drove off as Scarlet spoke: “I think we should try Pebblemouth. It’s possible that if they were returning after a fight, they’d try to go home.”
“This is too damn weird,” Blue said. “We’re looking for…”
“…Something well over a century old,” Magenta finished, and reached forward to pat Blue on the shoulder. “I know, pal. I know.”
It took just over half-an-hour to get from Hawkinge to Pebblemouth and, once at the village, straight along the small, winding, road to the airfield. Someone was sitting on the farm gate with their back to the SSC. Scarlet stopped the car and pulled the handbrake. Getting out, the captains walked towards the figure who turned and they saw it was Michael Harper.
“Paul…,” he paused and swinging his legs about jumped down and shrugged. “Sorry, I mean, Captain.”
“Michael, apologies for dropping by unannounced. Something’s happened.”
Scarlet explained to Michael the recent hours’ events and was surprised that he did not look surprised. Instead, Harper gestured to the field.
“I thought something was weird. Something spooked the cows, they stampeded to the far end and into the neighbouring field. Someone saw and heard something overhead, but they were gone beforehand.”
“You don’t sound surprised,” Blue commented.
“I don’t know why I’m not.” Michael shrugged and then said to Scarlet: “Is Dianne alright?”
“Yes, but none too happy being downed by Spitfires.” Scarlet managed a smile.
“Paul, an idea just came to mind,” Blue said suddenly. Before Magenta could make a quip, Blue addressed Michael. “You said when we were here last that Sparrowhawk Squadron moved here from France. Where were they before France?”
Michael took a second to reply. “Pendleton. RAF Pendleton in Hertfordshire near Watford.”
Blue looked at Scarlet with the hint of great excitement in his blue eyes. “Paul, that’s where they’ll be. I think that’s where. The start of the journey as it was.”
“This is so crazy this situation; but I think you might just be right,” Scarlet said and then: “Thank you, Michael. We’re on our way.”
“Okay,” Michael said, and watched as the captains jogged to the SSC and soon took off in a flurry of wheels and dust.
“Pendleton’s not on the map but I have a hunch it’ll appear on the computer once we get to the Watford area,” Blue was saying a few minutes later, putting the roadmap back in the dashboard. “Should take about an hour, if not ninety minutes, what with having to get across London.”
“Inform, Cloudbase, Magenta.”
It took half an hour via the Dartford-London motorway to get to London and, once inside the city to drive through The City itself, then westwards to Marylebone and out via the Marylebone Flyover. All the while conversation remained focused on the squadron. Eventually, the computer screen on the SSC’s dashboard showed the dark shape labelled Watford.
“Somewhere in that region.” Blue tapped a finger against the screen.
Magenta leant forward watching. Then he smiled, just as Blue nodded in satisfaction. “Pendleton, east of Watford by five miles.”
“Should take twenty minutes.”
It was approaching one in the afternoon as the Spectrum Saloon Car crept along a country road that, in times past, would have been known on maps as a B-road. Scarlet turned at a fading sign with Pendleton written in Gothic script, into a village that was sleepy in appearance.
“This makes Pebblemouth look like London,” Magenta remarked.
“Yeah,” Blue agreed, winding down the window. Fresh air flooded in, the scent of freshly cut grass mingling with the smell of the engine and…then, quite clearly the sound of a different kind of engine.
“You guys hear that?” Magenta said.
“Merlin,” Scarlet answered, and accelerated. “Sounds like a Merlin engine to me.”
Scarlet swung the wheel and swerved the SSC around a tractor parked towards the edge of the village. A wide-open field came into view before them and on it were seven Spitfires, looking as if they had just rolled out of the factory at West Bromwich. The SSC bounced as Scarlet drove it onto the field and straight at the Spits that were parked in a rough semi-circle. Scarlet brought the SSC to a halt before them and parked with a flourish. The Spectrum men clambered out before seven men in grey-blue uniforms – RAF battledress- with their hands in their pockets, and looking vaguely bemused.
As Scarlet, Blue and Magenta walked up one of them remarked loudly:
“What the bloody hell you supposed to be?”
“I’m Captain Scarlet, Spectrum,” Scarlet stopped and said: “Gentlemen, we need a word.”
“Captain what?” said another.
“Of what?” added one with an Eastern European accent. He wore a blue and black scarf around his neck. “What is this Spectrum?”
“Buggered if I know, Zed,” said the second speaker. His hair rakishly combed and a ready smile on his face. “Tom?”
“Steady on, chaps,” said the first. He addressed Scarlet. “Err, Captain; we want to know what the hell’s going on. We take off at first light and then come out of heavy cloud, bounce these…rocket things and go to Pebblemouth, but half the field’s gone and, so we came here.” He –Tom, Scarlet assumed - swept an arm about vaguely. “Look, no buildings or anything.”
“What date did you take off on?” asked Magenta.
Tom peered at Magenta. “Are you mad? The same date as now, September 8th. The year, if you desire, is 1940.”
The Spectrum men looked at each other with awkward expressions.
“What?” snapped the second man.
“Well,” Scarlet sighed, “the year’s 2068.”
“You…” Tom started.
“You’ve been missing in action for one hundred and twenty eight years,” Scarlet said.
Tom looked at the second man. “I don’t know about you, James. But I need a drink.”
“Hmm, I’m with you, old man,” said James.
In the following hours, Scarlet had Harmony, Melody and Symphony fly down in helicopters and take the squadron up to Cloudbase, as well as the captains themselves. Captain Grey came down and using local Spectrum officers from London, secured the area.
Scarlet flew in the lead helicopter with Tom.
The RAF pilot was slightly stunned, as indeed the other six were. Helicopters would only come into use a decade after the war, and what helicopters there were in 1940 were experimental. He had not seemed surprised to see a woman flying and had briefly remarked that women, in something called the ATS, flew fighters about to deliver them to airfields.
“My God, 60,000 feet?” he exclaimed some minutes later.
“Quite high,” Scarlet said.
“For a Spitfire…well, Angels 30 is high enough but Angels 60?” Tom sighed. “I find it hard to believe we travelled 128 years in a few minutes.”
“It’s something we’re going to look into.” Scarlet nodded. “Do you remember the weather?”
“Right, well, we have to consider everything. For now you have to see our commander. You did shoot down one of our girls.”
“Oh bloody hell.” Tom sank down into the chair but then straightened. “Is that your base?”
“Aye,” Scarlet said lightly, as Cloudbase appeared. “Like it?”
“My dear fellow, I might have come 128 years, but that is a work of beauty. Like an aircraft carrier.”
“That’s the idea,” Melody said, next to them in the pilot’s seat. “We’ll be landing soon.”
Landing, the seven pilots from another age were led almost open-mouthed to the control room, where Colonel White greeted them warmly. He shook hands with each of them and then asked to know who they were.
Tom nodded and said: “First of all, I’m Squadron Leader Tom Whitton. My number two, James Barkhurst. Stanislaw Razedoymoski, Christopher Arnold, who we call Christopher Robin, James Wendall, Jonathan Flynn and Edward DeSommer.”
“You have nicknames?” White asked. “I heard that the RAF, Fighter Command at least, had nicknames.”
“Oh well.” Tom grinned and re-introduced them. “Barky, Zed, Christopher Robin, Wendy, Errol and De.”
“Everyone gets a nickname quite quickly in Fighter Command,” James ‘Barky’ Barkhurst said. “Except for our Tom here. When he joined us at Pendleton in September.” He frowned. “September, I mean 1939, but its 2068 now.”
“Gentlemen, you need some rest to let this news settle in.” Colonel White gestured to Scarlet. “Captain Scarlet will first take you to Doctor Fawn in Sickbay, for a check-up. Just to make sure you are all right, and then Scarlet will show you the guest quarters. Captain.”
“SIG, Colonel. This way gentlemen.”
After they left, Captain Blue sighed and said, almost to himself: “I feel sorry for them being stuck in time for a century. They must feel lost.”
White nodded. “Yes, Captain. They must indeed.”
Tom Whitton unbuttoned his battledress tunic as he sat on the edge of the examination table. He was too busy looking around at the Sickbay to pay too much attention to Fawn’s examination. The others of Sparrowhawk stood to one side. “This quite something you have here, Doctor.”
“Thank you, Squadron Leader; if you’ll stay still one moment.”
At that point Rhapsody walked in and saw the pilots. Her face went through a flood of emotions not that she was the only one. As one the pilots went into various displays of surprise on being found in stages of undress before this woman.
She quickly walked up to Fawn and said in a rush: “I have my form, Doctor.”
“Thanks, Rhapsody. Put it down on my desk.”
She went off to his office.
“Who’s that?” Tom asked.
“Rhapsody, one of the Angel Pilots. You boys shot her down.” Fawn chuckled under his breath. “Not too bad for aircraft that belong in a museum.”
“None of that now,” Tom said. “I do apologise but to her when she comes out. She looks familiar. De?”
“How many redheaded pilots have we met since joining up?” De DeSommer said, almost accusingly.
“A few, yes…”
Rhapsody came out and went up to them. “You’re the Sparrowhawks!”
“Guilty as charged.” Barky did a bow with a mock flourish. “And you, my dear, are Rhapsody.”
Fawn stepped back. “You’re done now, Squadron Leader.”
Rhapsody turned to face him. “Tom Whitton?”
Tom stood buttoning his battledress and extended his hand. “The same, dear lady.”
Rhapsody shook his hand. “I’ve read about you all since I was a child. We went to Pebblemouth to find clues…to the Fighter’s Way and the airfield.”
“Hear that lads?” Barky grinned to his friends. “The old pub is still there!”
“Make mine an ale,” declared Christopher Robin and slapped Stanislaw ‘Zed’ Razedoymoski across the back. “What say you, Zed?”
“Is good,” he said, and they laughed. It must have been a joke only they knew.
Rhapsody noticed Tom staring at her. “Something wrong, Squadron Leader?”
“You look familiar. It’s crazy because I don’t know you, but I’m…” Tom clicked his fingers suddenly. “Simms! Timmy Simms!”
Now the others crowded round, like spectators at Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park. Barky nodded and then so did everyone else, as he said: “By George, she is the dead spit of Timothy Simms. Falcon Squadron at Stoke Newchurch.”
“Bloody hell,” remarked DeSommer. “That is scary.”
“‘She’ is still here,” Rhapsody, said and then, “You know Timothy… you knew him?”
“Vaguely,” Tom said. “Rival squadron and all that. He flew Hurris and we sort of became pro-Spit, didn’t we chaps? Well, he was flight leader. Like us, he was in the British Expeditionary Force from 1939 on to the invasion. Damn well got the first kill when we got back to Blighty. But you are…”
“I’m Dianne Simms. His great-great-great-granddaughter, give or take a great.” She wiped at her eyes. “Sorry, I don’t usually get emotional.”
“No shame in a couple of tears,” Zed said, and proffered a handkerchief. “Here you go.”
Rhapsody took it and De shook his head. “You are an old smoothy, Zed.”
“I am a gentleman.”
“Aren’t we all?”
Scarlet cleared his throat and they turned as one. “Gentlemen, I’ll show you to your quarters now.”
“Right-o, Captain,” Tom leant and kissed Rhapsody on the cheek lightly. “Nice meeting you, Dianne.”
“And you, Squadron Leader.”
Tom Whitton sat on the edge of his bed, staring at the wall in front of him in one of the guest quarters on Cloudbase. Beneath his feet he felt the steady vibrations of the base’s engines and occasionally, through the door, heard steady murmuring on the intercom and even the bells sounding the hour just like on a naval vessel. He wore what he could only describe as Spectrum pyjamas. In front of him was a screen –sort of a small cinema screen- as well as a wall intercom and paintings of Cloudbase. He felt like a fish out of water - just like a soldier from The Crimea in 1853 being dumped at The Somme in 1916 would have felt, or a Roundhead from 1648 being dumped in 1776, and so on. All that he had known in his life had been consigned to history books or whatever they had in 2068. The war was over, presumably and Hitler beaten, he hoped.
There was a tapping at the door and then. “Tom, you awake?”
“Come in, Barky.”
James Barkhurst walked in wearing his pyjamas. “I say, don’t know about you, but these things are itchy on the old you know what.”
“Thanks for sharing that with me.”
Barky waited for the door to slide shut. “That is one heck of a thing.”
“What do you want?”
“To get back home.” Barky crossed over and pulled a chair from the bedside up to where Tom sat. “And I don’t mean Weymouth, in your case, or London in mine. I mean 1940.”
“I don’t think there is a way of getting back, Barky.”
“Defeatist talk. I think that by 2068 they have probably found some way of doing something like that.” Barky stood and went up to the screen. He studied it and then pressed a couple of buttons. The screen came alive, brightening and then came the Spectrum logo and the words Spectrum Main Database.
“How the hell did you do that?”
“I am a quick learner; just ask my first girlfriend.”
Tom pulled a face. “Barky.”
“I am going to find out what happened.”
“No, don’t. If we do get back then it’ll affect our actions. Going through life saying…oh, in 1950 I did this and that.”
“If we can’t get back then I would say knowing what we did in the past, or rather what happened in the past, would not affect us.”
Barky held Tom’s gaze and waited. Tom shrugged. “Go on then.”
His friend turned to the screen and looked about. “Right, something to write on. Make this thing work.”
“Working,” a robotic voice sounded.
“Christ!” Barkhurst stepped back. “It speaks.”
“Barky, just get on with it.”
“Err, computer can you activate historical records?”
The computer was swift in replying. “Specify time period.”
“Ok. Time period 1940 to 1945.”
The pause was longer this time around and when the computer worked it responded by showing tabs marked 1940 to 1945. “Do I open one?” Barky said aloud, and then shrugged. “Can you show it as a timeline?”
Tom did not want to watch. There was a slight fear of finding out the past that he had missed. He had left behind parents, a younger brother who had been about to join the RAF, and a best friend in the Royal Navy who had been his friend since childhood. And of course, Rebecca.
Rebecca Lowe was a WAAF stationed at the group station that controlled Pebblemouth, Stoke Newchurch and two other fields in the area. They had met the day after he returned from France. Relationships were not encouraged in the RAF, but they happened nonetheless. He dared not see what had become of her.
“Bloody hell, Tom. We won!”
“Huh?” Tom brought himself back to the present. Not my present time…this pretend present. “What are you talking about?”
“We won the war. Hitler shot himself, the Yanks came in at 1941, the Japs were bombed to blue blazes, we…we lost some land, Churchill got kicked out of office…”
He went on for minutes. Tom lay back on his bed and forced himself to sleep and willed himself to wake in 1940.
In the morning an auburn-haired man, wearing one of those coloured uniforms, roused them from their sleep. It was a brownish-yellow and, as the man introduced himself as Captain Ochre, they all assumed it was ochre. Whatever the hell ochre was.
They were taken to a mess hall that Tom assumed was Cloudbase’s equivalent of a NAAFI. Seven full English Breakfasts were ordered, even by Zed, but then the Pole had acquired quite the taste for English ‘cuisine’. They sat at one end, by a window showing the wide blue sky. Ochre left them to go elsewhere.
Between fast gulps of food and sips of coffee, Barky told them all about the war. Christopher Robin, Jonathan ‘Wendy’ Wendall, De DeSommer and Canadian Jonathan Flynn were all smiles, even if they looked shocked, but Stanislaw did not look happy.
“What of my Poland?”
“It…” Barky’s smile vanished as if it had been rubbed out. “The Russians took it over when they went west.”
“No.” Zed’s crestfallen face plunged into despair. “I couldn’t live with that. They invaded my country with the Nazis and now they have rule.”
“I’m sure they haven’t ruled it forever.”
Tom shook his head and snapped. “You shouldn’t have looked, Barky. Damn.”
“Steady on, old man…”
“No; you steady on. We’re stuck here in a foreign land, pretty much, and no way of getting back. What good would knowing what happened be to us? We all possibly have great-great-whatever-grandchildren. Bloody hell, we met Timmy Simms’!”
No one looked at Tom, trying to focus on their plates, or the view. It was young Wendy Wendall that broke the silence with his traditional edginess.
“I w-wonder what the Fighter’s Way is like now?”
“As long as they do their fine pints, I don’t care,” announced Flynn loudly. “What say you, CR?”
Christopher Robin chuckled. “I’m with you, you crazy Canadian.”
“We left the Spits down on the ground,” Tom said, “I don’t suppose we’ll see them again.”
“I think so.” DeSommer shrugged. “What reason do this Spectrum have to keep aircraft supposedly a century out of date?”
“God, when we left…left he says, but you know what I mean. When we left, the Spitfire was the latest thing to come out and what were antiques were those old Avro crates from the Great War and Tiger Moths and everything else. Spitfires…museum pieces!”
No one said anything to that, for they all thought the same thing he was thinking.
What a load off…
Colonel White waited for one of the captains to say something and added: “Gentlemen, might I remind you we have seven men who are older than most of us by a good century, except that they are, indeed, younger than most of us. Tom Whitton is, in fact, only twenty-one and the youngest is Jonathan Wendall, at nineteen.”
“Colonel,” began Scarlet, “I fail to see what we can do, considering the situation. They vanished in 1940, to reappear now and there is no way for them to get home. I would imagine the solution to integrate them into the twenty-first century. Give them lives here.”
“It might not work,” Blue countered. “These men come from a different time when there was not even the hint of the technology we have now. What computers they had were the size of this room. The aircraft were considerably slow and powered by inadequate means compared to how they are now. To think that they will adjust to this life would be expecting us to adjust to their lives in 1940.”
“Is that a no, then?” White asked. “Captain, are you suggesting we try and get them back to 1940?”
“It is a no, Colonel and yes, I think I am suggesting we get them back to 1940.”
Magenta exhaled loudly and caught White’s look. He studied the desk. “You have something to add, Captain Magenta?” asked his commander.
Magenta jerked his head up. “Sorry, Colonel, but the idea of time travel is ridiculous. It’s H.G. Wells kind of stuff, sir, and quite honestly, it’s bull.”
“Thank you, Captain, for that frank answer.” White addressed them all: “Gentlemen, I happen to find myself agreeing with Captain Blue. There must be a way to get them back to their own time. After all, they got here, didn’t they? Someone once told me that on this base anything is possible and I am inclined to believe them. Captain Scarlet, I would like you and Captain Blue to gather whoever you think is best to deal with this scenario, and get working on a solution. Is that clear?”
“It is, Colonel.”
“Everyone, you’re dismissed.”
As they walked out, Magenta was heard to mutter: “What next, raise the Titanic?”
James Barkhurst had found his way onto the Promenade Deck. The Spitfire pilot cupped a daffodil and stooped to sniff at it.
“Do you like them?”
He straightened and turned. “Er, yes…they’re quite beautiful.” Rhapsody Angel walked onto the Deck and Barky saw she was rather beautiful herself. “I dabble from time to time,” she said.
He did not say anything and watched her walk up to him and then look out onto the Launch Deck.
“How long did you fly before the Battle of Britain?”
“Er,” Barky cleared his throat. “Three years. One summer in ’37 I was at Farnborough, near Portsmouth, and saw the prototype Hurricane there. It did all this stuff in the air and I was entranced. Trouble is the Jerrys had their Me109 there and it outperformed the Hurricane. However, I had fallen for the air, as it were, and the following year I joined the RAF and was posted to Sparrowhawk Squadron in August 1939 at Pendleton.”
“How well did you know my…relative?”
“Not all that well,” Barky conceded. “Funny chap. He pulled a practical joke on us a few times but he forgot we have one of own, De, so we got him back.”
Rhapsody sighed and looked at him squarely. “It’s quite awkward talking to you, James. You’re…”
“Not from this time,” Barky provided. “I know, Rhapsody, but that is how it has happened.”
Rhapsody changed tone and grew suddenly excited. “What is it like flying a Spitfire?”
He grinned. “My girl it is like…like nothing you will ever know. That kite can do twists and turns that would make your hair stand on end. It can out turn a Messerschmitt and it looks angelic. It looks like an aircraft not a killing machine. The only thing about her is her narrow undercart, but that’s one small thing. She’s a goddess and should be treated as such.”
“I wish I could fly one,” she said.
“You still can. We do have seven on the ground.”
Rhapsody cocked an eyebrow. “Are you suggesting we go down there and I go up in one?”
“Not at all.” Barky rocked on his heels and chuckled. “Not at all.”
“I’ll fire up a jet.”
“Bloody good show,” he said, following her.
Tom smashed the racket into the ball and watched with some satisfaction as it bounced off both walls and then came back towards his friends who were watching and made them scatter. Shouts and expletives came back.
“Sorry, chaps, but you would insist on watching.”
“Tom!” came a voice and Captain Blue walked into the squash court. “Can I have a word?”
“You can, Captain, but just the one word, mind.”
The pilots laughed and De made a clucking noise, which the others copied. Blue shook his head and said. “It’s about your time…”
“I’ve just started playing!”
“No, going back home.”
Tom dropped his racket and turned again. “What did you say?”
“Colonel White has authorised myself and Captain Scarlet find a way to get you boys home.”
Cheers echoed around the squash court and Blue found himself mobbed by the young men. Tom, however, backed off and said aloud:
“Wait a tick, where’s Barky?”
Rhapsody had landed the SPJ at Watford’s small but adequate airfield and, requisitioning a SSC, drove herself and Barky out to where the Spitfires still sat under guard. Captain Grey waved a hand briefly at Rhapsody.
“Hey, Rhapsody, what’re you doing down here?”
“I’m looking over the Spits, just to make sure they’re okay. Nothing to worry about. You can go for a break, if you want.”
Grey rubbed his chin. “The Watford guys have gone for half an hour. Guess I could take half an hour to get something to eat.”
He nodded at her and went off to the SSC and was soon gone. Barkhurst frowned.
“Isn’t this going to get you into trouble with your commander?”
“No,” Rhapsody lied. Well, it depends if he finds out. She walked towards the nearest Spitfire with markings reading TW behind the RAF roundel. “Whose is this one?”
“Tom’s. Squadron Leader gets the privilege of choosing his own kite and to have his initials on it. Thus, the TW.”
He pointed to the next one. “Use Christopher Robin’s. He wouldn’t mind.”
“Okay.” She walked up to it. He was about to give her a hand to get up but she placed a left foot onto a metal stirrup roughly below the canopy and swung her right leg onto the port wing. Then she firmly placed her right foot on the wing and her left foot joined it there. She turned to smile at Barky.
“That was easy.”
“Getting into it is.” Barky shook his head. “Though would you mind not doing that again? I’ve got a heart condition.”
Rhapsody now chuckled. “You are a dirty old man, Barky.”
“Somebody has to be.” He watched as she squeezed into the cockpit.
“Spitfires are not built for comfort.” Barky jumped up onto the wing. Rhapsody was studying the controls. “You think you can handle this?”
“I know it sounds funny, Barky, but I swear to you I know how to fly a Spitfire. Maybe I’ve read a lot of books and manuals on the Spitfire, played too many computer games but I…I know.” She broke off and reached forward pulling a plunger. The aircraft shook as the engine coughed, spluttered black smoke and then the propeller began windmilling before catching and scything the air.
Her hair beginning to flutter from the back draft she shouted: “See!”
Barky reached in and pulled a helmet out from next to her thigh. Helmets in 1940 were different to the ones of 2068. It was the leather cap with earpieces and goggles. In the earpieces were the headphones for the radio. He gave it to her. “Put this on! I’ll be in my Spit. I’ll take off first!”
Rhapsody stuck a thumb up and put the helmet on, then reached for the canopy pulling it forward. Barky got off and ran to his Spitfire. It took a minute to start the old girl up, and then he began to move down the grass field and into the air with a broad grin on his face. He circled to await Rhapsody.
Rhapsody gently threaded the throttle and taxied the Spitfire onto the field and accelerated. The tail lifted as the air swept beneath it and then the Spitfire fought the gravity. She wanted to be in the air and Rhapsody was not about to argue. With a deep breath Rhapsody Angel pulled back on the yoke and guided the Spitfire into the air. Rhapsody retracted the wheels and waited until the lights on the board went red before exhaling her breath. The headphones crackled in her ears.
“Okay, Rhapsody, that was good. I’m behind you, going to join your wingtip.”
She turned her head and saw Barky’s Spitfire drift alongside her port side. “Can we do a mock dogfight?”
“Yeah, but I warn you, old girl, I’m an ace.”
“You may have shot down more than five Germans, but you haven’t shot down an Angel yet.”
“That’s what you think.”
Barky suddenly dropped from sight and instinctively she hugged the yoke to her chest pulling the Spitfire hard onto its back. The sudden movement startled her, she expected the Spitfire to be slower in doing that. She then rolled the Spit onto its left side and then belly up dropping through the feet towards the green grass before rolling out and levelling. She glanced about her and looked behind. Then on her radio she heard.
Barky’s Spitfire swooped over her wings waggling and then he was behind her. Rhapsody’s heart leapt into her mouth.
“How the hell…?”
“The Hun in the Sun,” he said. “Beware the Hun in the Sun. Jerry did that to us a lot in the Battle of Britain, he perfected it in France and before that, Spain.”
Barky pulled up level again. “Do you want to go again?”
“I’m game,” she said, plunging the Spitfire into a dive.
“Rhapsody signed off about an hour ago, sir,” Lieutenant Green was saying in the Control Room. “She took an SPJ down to where the aircraft are at Pendleton. Captain Grey returned to find two of the aircraft gone, he thinks they’re airborne.”
“He thinks?” scowled White.
Green blinked. “He hears the engines but can’t see them.”
White shook his head and looked at Scarlet. “Have you and Blue come across a solution yet?”
“No, sir. We’re looking into the weather of September 8th 1940 but we’re still in the early stages.”
“Green, launch Angel One. She’s to find Rhapsody and Flight Leader Barkhurst and have them land and return to Cloudbase. Immediately.”
Rhapsody was guiding the Spitfire down to a landing as Destiny, in Angel One, screamed overhead. She circled and waited until both Spitfires had landed before landing herself. She somehow got to Rhapsody before Grey.
“The colonel is not happy with you.”
“Is there something wrong?”
“You should have been on Cloudbase. It’s a little late to change that,” Destiny added, “the colonel wants you and Flight Leader Barkhurst to return to Cloudbase.”
“Okay.” Rhapsody began walking towards the SSC that, moments before, Grey had returned in. Then she paused and realised that Barky was not following, he was still by his Spitfire. “Barky, what is it?”
“I don’t want to leave her.” Barky reached out and patted his Spitfire on the side then turned and began walking towards her. “But I will have to, of course.”
“It’s only temporary.”
“I hope so.”
The Spitfire pilots ended up in a lounge in Cloudbase by the Hangar Deck. It was the hangar personnels’ lounge and dotted with pictures and paintings of aircraft from the century past. Tom was sitting in an armchair, transfixed by a picture of something called a Harrier jump jet, when Barky walked in with his trademark smile and tousled hair. “Barky, you’re back.”
“Reports of my death were deeply exaggerated.”
Laughter from the Sparrowhawks. Wendy was holding a magazine in his hands. “What’s going on, Barky?”
“Was about to ask you that myself, young Jonathan.”
“Apparently there might be a way to get home,” Tom said.
“You wouldn’t kid a kidder would you, Tom?”
“No, my friend I wouldn’t.”
“So, these Spectrum chaps are going to get us home?”
Tom swung his legs over the side of the armchair and put his arms behind his back and shrugged. “That’s the general idea but they’re thinking of doing it. Nothing’s definite.”
“Bunch of balls,” groused Christopher Robin. With a face like he had just smelt something that had gone off, Christopher ‘Robin’ Arnold did not appear a happy man. The former Cambridge Blue of 1938, who rowed against Oxford and then graduated just in time to join the RAF before war, was like De and Barky in many regards. Handsome, witty, liked by the ladies and prone to the fighter pilot sense of humour, instilled from being kicked across France by the Nazi war machine.
He could, on the other hand, be a bit of a moody man.
“What could be?” DeSommer asked, standing by the portal looking out to the sky. He turned and winked at Tom, who closed his eyes and shook his head, having seen this happen, oh so many times. “That you’ve come to this startling conclusion?”
“Balls to you too, De.” Christopher Robin glared. “What I mean is that I don’t think it’s going to work. Suppose they find a way of getting us home. What if we get up into the sky and then before you can ‘Heil’ it all goes wrong and we’re dead.”
“I like to think that a Nazi salute is the last thing I’d hear,” De muttered, and turned back to look out clearly giving up earlier than usual. “Or would like to see, Christopher. Come on, man. We were there in France with you and we were the ones who had our arses kicked back towards Dunkirk, like a football. You are going to tell me now that you are a defeatist? You are going to give up now? Then, if that’s the case, we might as well leave this floating spaceship and get ourselves quiet lives down there.”
Everyone was looking at De, whose face had flushed red. He got up with a muted hiss and went to get a glass of water.
Tom sighed and said quietly, “You know, De’s right, Christopher.”
Christopher ‘Robin’ Arnold nodded, as if faced with an ultimate truth. “Yes, Tom. I’m not going to give in.” He twisted his head around and looked at DeSommer, who had his back to him and was staring out the nearest portal. “Sorry, De.”
“No worries,” muttered DeSommer, who turned and gave a tired smile. “It must be living in the twenty-first century.”
How much longer they remained in this century was in the hands of the people from Spectrum.
Captain Blue ran a forefinger down the page and shook his head. “Not much, other than the weather.”
“They took off when?”
Blue tapped the top line of the open logbook of Sparrowhawk Squadron. The next page was startlingly empty and for the obvious reason that the squadron had gone missing. “It says here they took off at 0630, first light.”
“Then nothing,” confirmed Blue.
Scarlet frowned as he looked at the computer monitor in one of Cloudbase’s computer labs. “It’s very little to go on.”
“Do we even know how time travel is possible?”
“Then what is the point of doing it?” Blue scowled.
Scarlet did not answer; instead, going to a monitor and pressing controls until the monitor showed a bright blue sky. Gradually as other details such as land, hills, fences, and structures appeared, he provided a running commentary and continued to type.
“RAF Pebblemouth, the morning of September 8th 1940. Clear skies with cloud and hint of rain forecast by the Met Office.”
Blue did not say anything, as suddenly black clouds appeared in the far off corner. “Storm clouds, by any other name, appear around zero six four seven hours about four minutes after Sparrowhawk Squadron scrambled. Inexplicably, according to the Met Office reports from Folkestone, the clouds broke apart at zero six fifty hours. There had been no storm not even a drop of rain.”
“So, the weather would indeed appear to have been the determining factor. Somehow a storm catapulted them forward to now…held them in stasis, as it were, until they appeared the other day.”
“Wait, a storm gave time travel?” Blue shook his head. “That can’t be right, Paul. That’s the stuff of science fiction.”
“I think Tom and his friends would tell you that the idea of a carrier base, floating high in the atmosphere, fighting aliens from Mars would have been the stuff of science fiction.”
“I guess touché is my reply.” Blue crossed his arms. “But…if that is how they travelled, then how do we recreate the storm?”
“There are always possibilities,” Scarlet said, making Blue frown.
“That’s an interesting theory, Captain Scarlet.”
Colonel White had called the captains together, as Scarlet delivered the theory. White pressed on. “How do you propose recreating the storm?”
“Sir, you might recall that during the heat-wave early this year –when the Mysterons heated up the Earth causing riots and the like- we had the World Space Patrol bombard the atmosphere with particle bombs and create rainstorms to put out wildfires, but also to decrease the heat.”
“Then we might be able to use the same principle, but in bombing a certain point of the sky and forcing a storm to be created.”
“It’s ambitious, if not a little risky.” White clasped his hands together. “You might succeed in creating a storm but not a storm to return the Spitfires back to 1940.”
“I realise this, Colonel, but anything is worth a go.”
“Does anyone have an idea, or anything else to contribute to Captain Scarlet’s theory?” White asked the assembled captains.
“No, sir.” It was Magenta who answered for all of them. “Just that we’re itching to get this going.”
“Itching?” White did not go further and instead raised a hand. “Gentlemen, dismissed. Lieutenant Green, get in touch with Space City and have their commander contact me immediately.”
Captain Grey stood by his SSC as the Spectrum helicopter came to a rest nearby, its blades thumping to a steady stop. Out came Rhapsody, Destiny and Tom Whitton.
“What’s going on?” Grey asked.
“There’s a plan afoot to get Tom and his men back to 1940.” Rhapsody waved a hand. “It’s complicated, but we have to get these Spitfires back to Pebblemouth.”
“Okay, want me to lend a hand?”
“It won’t hurt,” Tom said, and gestured to a nearby Spit. “I’ll give you the five-second lesson on how to fly the Supermarine Spitfire Mark I.”
Grey nodded and made off to the nearest Spit with Tom following.
Rhapsody jogged to one of the outlying Spitfires and jumped in. Glancing over, she saw Grey in the cockpit of another, with Tom standing on the wing speaking rapidly. His hands were gesticulating like a puppeteer. Tom jumped off the wing, jerking his thumbs up at her, before getting into his Spitfire.
Rhapsody took a breath before flicking switches. She gently threaded the engine lever. The Spitfire vibrated to the steady build up of the Merlin before the Merlin coughed to life. Rhapsody reached up to pull the Perspex canopy forward but left enough gap to prise her fingers into.
Tom’s Spit was bouncing along the uneven ground of the field, its tail beginning to lift off the ground as the air swept under the wings that gave the Spitfire a shark-like appearance. Rhapsody thrust the throttle forward. The Spitfire jerked forward unevenly, seemingly unhappy at being forced.
Ahead and to the right, Tom had cleared the ground curving away into the air. He waggled his wings and was speeding southwards before Rhapsody could even wave.
Grey’s voice sounded in her headset.
“I’m airborne. Boy, this thing’s lighter than expected.”
“Designed that way, Captain.” Rhapsody had been about to call him Brad, but it had been a slip of the tongue prevented. “Make for Pebblemouth as best as you can.”
“SIG, Rhapsody. See you there.”
Rhapsody climbed into the sky and circled the remaining Spitfires on the ground before following Grey and Tom southwards to Pebblemouth.
“All the aircraft have been transferred to Pebblemouth, sir,” confirmed Lieutenant Green from his console.
White nodded. “Very good, Lieutenant.” He turned his attention to Captains Blue and Scarlet. “Gentlemen, I have spoken to Space City. As we speak, Fireball XL5 is being converted to the specifications that she used during the heat-wave crisis. I’ve also spoken to Glenn Field and the Zero-X is being readied, should we need it. Zero-X has a bigger payload than XL5.”
“That’s good, sir. Captain Blue and I have worked out the calculations. The XL5 would need to be in exactly the right place over Pebblemouth to create the storm. The Spitfires would have to meet the storm clouds at exactly the right moment.”
“You will fly to Pebblemouth to oversee this, gentlemen. Fly the Spitfire pilots there. I can only wish you good luck.”
“Thank you, sir,” chimed Blue and Scarlet.
As soon as Scarlet and Blue landed in the SPJ, the RAF pilots all gathered round Tom. Scarlet and Blue joined Rhapsody and Grey by one of the Spitfires.
“I gather Tom’s in on the plan,” Rhapsody asked.
“Yep,” Blue replied. “The plan literally has been worked out to the smallest fraction.”
“Smashing.” Rhapsody chuckled. She took a few steps forward; close enough to hear Tom’s voice in the light summer air.
“…Right, chaps, this is it. You know the plan. We take off at a certain time and reach the altitude we did on September 15th 1940. God willing, this will work. Once off the ground assume a Vic formation. Okay?”
“V astern,” DeSommer confirmed. “Right-o.”
“To your fighters, and good luck.”
As his men scattered Tom walked over. “I want to thank you all for what you have done for us. I am saying this now, in case it works, but also if it does not work”
Scarlet extended a hand. “It’s been a privilege Squadron Leader.”
Tom took the hand. “Thank you, Captain Scarlet.”
Blue and Grey shook his hand next, then he turned his attention to Rhapsody. “I owe you particular thanks, Rhapsody.”
“You were a link to the past. Your great-great-grandfather was a good man,” Tom stepped forward and kissed her on the cheek. “For luck, what?”
Rhapsody’s eyes shone, as if wet with unshed tears. “For luck, Tom.”
Tom turned on heel and walked steadily towards his Spitfire.
Scarlet put a hand on her shoulder. “Are you okay?”
“I don’t know. I feel sad, but I also feel happy.”
Blue interrupted. “We better get things moving. Fireball XL5 should be airborne by now.”
“Right.” Scarlet took his hand from Rhapsody. “I’ll get the radio set from the SPJ.”
The cracking of engines starting shattered the relative silence of the field. Glycol belched towards the heavens in steady spurts, from each Spitfire’s Merlin engine. The Spitfires rocked where they stood, their narrow undercarriages quaking with the sheer power of the engines.
Scarlet had set up the radio in the hatchway of the SPJ and switched it on reaching for a microphone.
“Fireball XL5, this is Captain Scarlet of Spectrum, can you confirm your status?”
“Captain Scarlet, this is Colonel Zodiac of Fireball XL5. We are ten minutes out of Space City and will reach your position in one point five hours over.”
“Acknowledged, Colonel Zodiac. Scarlet out.”
“How is this going to work?” asked Grey.
“XL5 will pass through the position where Sparrowhawk Squadron went missing in 1940,” Blue explained. “While passing through that position, XL5 will open the canisters on its ventral side that will –fingers crossed- create a storm, or the conditions that took Sparrowhawk Squadron from that period.”
“Fingers crossed,” murmured Rhapsody. Her red hair was beating across her shoulders driven by the wash of the Spitfire’s propellers.
The minutes ticked by and after a time, the Spitfires taxied along the field and took off. Rhapsody shielded her eyes from the sun’s glare. The Sparrowhawks did a brief circuit of the field before racing away.
“XL5 to Captain Scarlet. We’re approaching the point now. Standby.”
Blue checked his wristwatch. “Right on schedule.”
A faint roar could be heard steadily building from somewhere unseen. Rhapsody pointed.
“There, to the west.”
“I see it.” Scarlet craned his neck. The XL5 was a small pinprick of black against the blue sky. The sounds of its engines could finally be heard. “I hope this works.”
In the sky, the Spitfires continued to climb to ‘battle altitude’.
“Okay, make Angels Twenty,” Tom ordered. “Keep your speed under check.”
“My God, look at that thing,” said DeSommer, with awe filling his voice. His eyes were on Fireball XL5 as it streaked towards them. The spaceship pulled up hurtling past them, reaching Angels Twenty –twenty thousand feet- but continuing.
“Angels Nineteen,” Tom murmured to himself, then pushed the yoke gently down. “Angels Twenty.”
On the ground Steve Zodiac’s voice sounded loudly from the radio set.
“Moving back into position. Standby…”
Scarlet held the microphone in both hands, as if he believed that if he let go, the mission would fail.
“…Three, two, one…releasing now!”
The Spectrum personnel could see flashes of red in the sky, as if someone had thrown red powder into a swimming pool. The red swirled in the heavens as XL5 sped away.
“Okay Captain Scarlet, that should do it. We’re heading home.”
“Thank you, XL5. Godspeed.”
The redness had now spread across the sky like a storm cloud. The Spitfires were faintly visible but were then swallowed up by the redness. As quickly as it had appeared, the cloud turned black. Raindrops began falling and increased in volume within seconds. The Spectrum personnel got into the SSC as the rain hammered down. The radio set crackled with static and finally went silent.
Scarlet and Blue exchanged glances.
The Sparrowhawks were now flying solo.
Tom Whitton could not see a thing as his Spitfire was buffeted by rain and strengthening winds. It was black all around him.
“De… Zed,” he tried the radio, but all he got was silence. Not even static.
There was a small bright flash up ahead then an even bigger one that blotted out everything around Tom, and even Tom himself.
Six hours later Scarlet, Blue, Grey and Rhapsody sat before Colonel White. Night had fallen around Cloudbase, with the stars twinkling above in the heavens.
“So, nothing was left behind to show that they had made it?”
“That’s just it, Colonel,” Scarlet said, somewhat forcefully. “There was nothing. It was as if they had never been. Just like when they had vanished in 1940.”
“Curious.” White glanced at the profile of Rhapsody. “Have you anything to say, Rhapsody Angel?”
Rhapsody reacted as if from a dream. The past six hours had shown the Angel quiet and withdrawn. She had considered the Sparrowhawks her personal quest, her mission to get them back to their own time. “There’s nothing to comment on, sir. They’ve vanished again. Who knows if they made it? Whether back to 1940 or further ahead in time.”
Colonel White nodded. “Indeed. I can only hope they made it back. In the meantime, you are all dismissed.”
They left and in the corridor outside Scarlet touched Rhapsody on the shoulder.
“Are you alright?”
“I’ve been better.”
“I know.” Scarlet did not know what to do. He put an arm around her. “We did what we could.”
“But was it enough?” she asked and for once Scarlet did not know the answer.
Michael ‘Father’ Wood stood outside the dispersal hut at the airfield scanning the heavens. It was early morning and the heavens were a vibrant red and orange. Behind him he heard the floorboards of the hut creak, as those within began to wake. He turned and pushed open the door.
Tom Whitton was brewing some tea. Only De remained asleep, draped across his favoured armchair like a thrown rag doll.
“Morning, Father.” Tom turned with kettle in hand. “Tea?”
“Wouldn’t say no.” Father Wood stayed at the doorway. “Good sleep Tom?”
“I don’t know.”
Father Wood chuckled under his breath, as if not to wake DeSommer. “You either did or you didn’t sleep, Tom.”
Tom poured some tea into chipped enamel cups shortly handing one to the adjutant. “I did, but I had this dream that was so vivid, it was as if it was actually happening.”
“Care to explain?”
Tom took a gulp of his tea. “It was the future. We had somehow been transported to the twenty-first century. There were people, an organisation, with colour-coded uniforms…their technology was so advanced. They were helping us with something.”
“That’s quite specific what you’re describing,” Father Wood remarked.
“Did you have cheese last night?” asked Stanislaw Razedoymoski. The Pole was pouring his own cup of tea. “They give nightmares.”
“No cheese, no nightmare.” Tom scowled. “This was real.”
“Hardly real if you’re here now,” joined Christopher ‘Robin’ Arnold, sitting up in his chair. “You went nowhere during the night because of the standing orders…”
“It seemed real.” Tom’s scowl faded and he stared into his tea. “I’m sure of that.”
Father Wood glanced outside at the red-orange sky and at the pilots.
“I hope it’s going to be a quieter day than yesterday.”
“I doubt it,” remarked Christopher Robin, as he yawned and stretched his arms. “Yesterday seemed to me the start of something new by our dear friends in Germany.”
“Chris, what did you eat before going to bed?”
“Don’t know, Tom. Why?”
“Just wondering when you say ‘dear friends in Germany’.”
Just then the phone rang. Everyone awake stared at it in a familiar sense of dread.
Wood went to the table in the corner. Razedoymoski roused De from his sleep.
“Sparrowhawk Squadron,” Wood answered. Then he slammed it down. “Squadron scramble. Trade coming in for London.”
“Right lads, let’s go!” shouted Tom, running out, grabbing his Mae West lifejacket in the process.
They were airborne in one minute exactly.
Wood glanced at the date on the calendar and went to the squadron logbook. Reaching for the pencil next to it he scrawled an entry in.
Squadron scrambled. 0607hrs. September 8th 1940 –trade towards London.
As ever he hoped they’d come back.
Rhapsody could not sleep. She thrashed about the bed as if in the grip of a fever. The duvet had wrapped itself around her, as if attempting to squeeze the life from her. In her frantic half-sleep she saw the pilots of Sparrowhawk. They kept demanding to be taken home, pleading with Rhapsody with their arms outstretched. Rhapsody tried reaching their hands, but could not stretch enough.
She woke with a scream in Scarlet’s arms.
Sat on the edge of the bed in casual clothes, Scarlet held her in his arms for a moment as she calmed down.
“You were having a nightmare. You’re fine now, you’re fine now…”
Rhapsody gently released herself from his grip. “I was dreaming of them but couldn’t save them.”
“Sparrowhawk Squadron,” seeing Scarlet’s frown Rhapsody pressed. “You know, the pilots that went missing in 1940. The ones we helped on Cloudbase get back home. Or tried to get them home.”
“Dianne, I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t know about any pilots from a Sparrowhawk Squadron and certainly not on Cloudbase.”
“But you must!” Rhapsody shouted.
“Hey, hey. Calm down.” Scarlet put a hand on her arm. “No need to get upset. Just a nightmare you had and they often seem real.”
She looked about the room. “Where are we?”
“You don’t know?”
“I wouldn’t ask would I?” she said in a forced manner. Something was making her get upset. She was sure she had met these pilots from the legendary missing Sparrowhawk Squadron. They had found them, taken them to Cloudbase…helped them get home.
“Cambridge. We came here on leave with Pat, Juliette, Adam and Karen. Remember?”
“I think so.” Rhapsody closed her eyes. She remembered now. They had come on holiday but then they met the squadron not long afterwards. She opened her eyes and looked at the calendar beside the table. “September 9th.”
“That’s right, we start our leave today. I believe you wanted to go to the air museum at Duxford.”
“Oh, yeah,” she remembered that too but…the Sparrowhawks. “Can we go to Pebblemouth first?”
“You know that village we…” Rhapsody corrected herself, “a village in Kent. Please, it has some interest for me.”
“I’m sure the others would not mind going. Though Kent’s an hour or so from here in the car.”
For some time before the trip, and during the journey in the car to Pebblemouth, Rhapsody had spent time checking on the internet. A combination of factors meant that she was unable to find anything out. Static from a phenomenon in the air (that Lieutenant Green could not explain as much as he tried to- it was not something anyone had encountered before) had hindered the communications network on the base. So she could not find out about Sparrowhawk Squadron’s fate. Or anything…no, she was going into this blind. As she walked Rhapsody, thought of the Sparrowhawk Squadron, for there was a feeling that she had known of a ‘legend’ concerning the squadron. Something at the back of her mind told her this. Yet, she had never heard of them. Her common sense told her this.
The pub was called The Fighter’s Way and so illustrated on its sign by a Spitfire in battle with a Messerschmitt Me109.
She walked in with the others close on her heels.
It was a typical old English style pub. Low hanging ceiling with wooden beams evident. Yet, the walls were covered in photos –most of them black and white- of people, of aircraft and where there were not photos there was fabric crests and other items. The publican was behind the bar talking to a local when he saw them.
“Hello there, welcome to the Fighter’s Way and the village of Pebblemouth.”
“Hello,” Rhapsody answered. “You don’t know us do you?”
“Now that you mention it.” The publican wagged a finger before him as he thought, then lowered the finger his expression softening. “You seem familiar, all of you. It’s as if I know you, but not. If you see what I mean.”
“I do,” Rhapsody said firmly, glancing at Scarlet and the others standing behind her. She looked back. “Michael Harper, right?”
“Yes.” Michael Harper did not want to know how she knew. The fact she knew seemed to, would be enough for him. “And you’re…”
“Dianne, Dianne Simms.” She turned and looked to the far wall. “Sparrowhawk Squadron?”
“Yes, it is, the local fighter squadron from World War II.”
She walked over to the wall. Each picture had a caption to it. Pictures dating from the squadron formation in 1939 through to their posting in France to their evacuation from France to the Battle of Britain. Michael Harper came up to her side.
“Are you looking for something particular?”
Rhapsody found herself looking at a newspaper clipping with the headline ‘London bombed in first daylight raid of the war’; the clipping was dated September 8th 1940.
“Did they make it? Survive the Battle of Britain?”
“Wait,” he said and left, leaving Rhapsody frowning but her heart pounding with unexpected excitement. Scarlet took her arm.
“Dianne, are you alright?”
“I’ll let you know in a minute.”
Michael returned with a book, which he handed to Rhapsody. “This should tell you.”
Rhapsody looked over the cover and read the title aloud. “The Winged Men: The story of Sparrowhawk Squadron 1939-1945.”
She opened it and flicked through to the chapter dealing with the Battle of Britain. Again she read aloud.
“The squadron survived the first daylight raid and the toughest day of the Battle on September 7th only to find themselves in sorties everyday until September 19th. Each day they scrambled three times, sometimes four. Each time they were lucky to survive. Though the Germans had by now lost the advantage, the fighters of Goering’s Luftwaffe continued to fight hard. When the Battle of Britain petered out in October, there was a time to count the blood lost. The Sparrowhawks had lost Christopher Arnold, Edward DeSommer and Jonathan Wendall in the Battle. They had been part of the original eight who joined the squadron in October 1939. Left of the originals was Tom Whitton and James Barkhurst. The squadron was pulled from the frontline, sent to Scotland for a fortnight’s recuperation. The war did not end there for Sparrowhawk. They would return…”
“I still don’t know why we should show so much interest,” Scarlet began then saw the look on Rhapsody’s face. The smile albeit with moistness of eyes. “What is it?”
“They made it, only for some of them to die.”
Rhapsody felt some contentment in spite of the confusion Scarlet expressed. Her mind still could not decide whether it had happened or not. Whether she had met these men, but her mind seemed content to know that they had made it. Out of curiosity she flicked to the back of the book and the postscript:
“Squadron Leader Tom Whitton made it to the end of the war. He ended the war with the Distinguished Service Order –DSO- and Bar, as well as the Distinguished Flying Cross –DFC. He married his wartime sweetheart, a WAAF from the local group station, and settled down in his hometown of Weymouth, Dorset. He made money from a fishing business operated from the town. Tom died in 2007 aged eighty-seven.
Of the Battle of Britain squadron members, Stanislaw ‘Zed’ Razedoymoski was the only other to survive the war from the members of the squadron who started and ended the Battle of Britain. The Pole earned the DSO, DFC and AFC by the war’s end. At the war’s end, he was about to return to his beloved Poland but was told not to by his friends as they had discovered that Poles returning to the country were being arrested and even executed by the new Soviet rulers of the country. ‘Zed’ married an Englishwoman he had met in 1943 and fathered six children, staying within the RAF as a flight instructor until 1960. Zed was honoured by Queen Elizabeth II in 1963 with an honorary Order of the British Empire –OBE- which he cherished until he died. He owed Britain a debt of gratitude for saving his life in 1940. At the age of seventy-five he returned to Poland in 1995 with his wife, children and some grandchildren. Along with other Polish veterans, he was honoured by the government in a moving ceremony. Stanislaw died in 1999 of a heart attack just short of his seventy-ninth birthday.”
Rhapsody closed the book and handed it to Michael, who handed it straight back.
“A gift if you will.”
Rhapsody thanked him and held the book to her chest. Michael gestured to the bar.
“Saying you’ve come a long way, do you want a drink?”
“We have to drive back,” Scarlet told him. “Unless you have accommodation for the night.”
“Aye, we do.” Michael went to behind the bar.
As the Spectrum personnel went to the bar, Scarlet held Rhapsody back. “Are you alright now?”
“I think so. Just…well, it’s complicated to explain.”
“I know; it must have been a dream.” Scarlet squeezed her arm reassuringly.
Rhapsody dipped her head. “Yes, just a dream.”
She looked at the squadron photo on the far wall, taken just before the Battle of Britain. The faces looked back at her.
She was sure that Tom Whitton was waving at her as if to thank her…
…Rhapsody turned to join the others at the bar.
“I’ll have whatever any of you guys are having.”
Post-note, February/September 2016
Where does the time go? Nine years or so I wrote this. My grandfather had died around the time I finished this and it was a difficult time as one might imagine. From here on in, I tailed off from the forum and website. A couple of short pieces were my lot until now. We may thank Thunderbirds Are Go for the return.
This story was from an idea I had two years ago of something from the past being transplanted into the future as if something from Jurassic Park. The idea had originally been for a SS battalion to go missing during the Battle of Berlin and reappear in 2068 as an instrument for the Mysterons. However, a RAF squadron seemed more agreeable and allowed the Rhapsody angle.
Rhapsody is a character that I seem to write somewhat sympathetically and without the tendencies that annoy a few of us.
However, the story gets a little complicated –for me at any rate- at the end. The difficult part was how to show that the squadron made it, if they had indeed made it back to 1940.
What you have read is mostly what I wrote back in 2007. Personal troubles mean that my writing presently is not quite up to spec. Certainly reading this after an email from Chris a few months ago I was surprised at what I had written, when compared to what I write now. My writing style has curtailed –not so much the Alistair MacLean style but the latter-day MacLean where much is spared for the sake of just getting the story done. Anyway.
Since I wrote this the Few have indeed grown fewer. All of the Czech and Polish pilots have passed on since –the backbone of Fighter Command (in the top ten list of fighter aces of that summer, all but three if I recall, were Polish) and as the 75th anniversary in September 2015 showed, those that remain sadly…well, it does not bear thinking about to me. The debate rumbles on about that summer, the mythologizing started immediately in 1940 and now we live in an age of myth-debasing.
I will mention, not seeking to plug but rather as a “where are they now” type thing, that the Battle of Britain novel got written in 2013 (Of Heroic Hearts) and so this and that are my tribute to the Few. I would like to think that by 2068 and beyond, the Few and others like them are remembered. If you want the definitive novel of the Battle, Derek Robinson’s Piece of Cake is one of the most moving and authentic books on the topic. It is fiction but done with fantastic levels of research and ruffled a few feathers back in the day, as it challenged the myth of 1940.
Not just the British Few but all of the nationalities that came to fight: Poland, the former Czechoslovakia, Belgium, Holland, France, South Africa, Rhodesia (as it was then), Australasia, Canada, the United States and beyond.
Over the course of the Battle of Britain (the by and large universally agreed dates are July 10, 1940 to October, the battle all but tapering off by the end of that month) around 544 pilots were killed and a further 814 by the war’s end in May 1945. It must be noted that quite a few died through accident (indeed the first loss of a fighter pilot in the war –Pilot Officer Halton-Harrap- was by friendly fire three days in, an event known as “The Battle of Barking Creek”).
It is to them all this is dedicated. The Few.