A Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons alternate universe story
by Matt Crowther
This story is born out of passion for World War Two, the 1940’s, Captain Scarlet and an over-active imagination.
I was initially going to keep this in ‘real time’ but after “” –my other WWII/Scarlet story - I opted for alternate history. In this genre there is something called Point Of Divergence where our timeline changes into the ‘what if’ category. By making this an alternate history story, I aim to have more scope and involve Scarlet and Co. fully. I have also tried to portray the characters as they might be in this setting – if it seems unrealistic that is not my intention, for I’m sure under the Battle of Britain’s conditions these characters would change. Characters are borrowed from other Anderson series besides Scarlet.
I drew most of the Battle experiences from a novel called Piece of Cake by Derek Robinson; which paints a realistic image of those boys in blue.
If anyone has any feedback, please let me know. It’s quite important to know I’m getting it right. I can be reached via Chris Bishop on the Spectrum HQ website.
FOR C.S ‘BAM’ BAMBERGER AFC RAF
A SPITFIRE PILOT
AND FOR THOSE FEW WHO FOUGHT FOR OUR FREEDOM AND WON
I know that I shall meet my fate
Somewhere among the clouds above;
Those that I fight, I do not hate,
Those that I guard, I do not love;
My country is Kiltarten Cross,
My countrymen, Kiltarten’s poor,
No likely end could bring them loss,
Or leave them happier than before.
Nor low, nor duty bade me fight,
Nor public men, nor cheering crowds,
A lonely impulse of delight
Drove to this tumult in the clouds;
I balanced all, brought all to mind,
The years to come seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind,
In balance with this life, this death.
An Irish Airman Foresees His Death (WB Yeats)
“Somewhere in Northern France, May 1940”
“Rat-a tat-tat! Next thing you know, he’s chewing up earth and saying his prayers to good old Adolf.”
Squadron Leader Paul Metcalfe plucked at a piece of grass. “Adam…stop being so bloody theatrical.”
The grinning Adam Svenson, a very tall blue-eyed man with a shock of blond hair, waved his cigarette, tracing a vague pattern in the air. “Sorry Paul, just releasing tension.”
Despite being born American, Adam’s shoulder tabs bore the legend Finland. When he came to England to fight the Germans in September 1939, the RAF wouldn’t allow him to enlist. So in November of that year he went to fight in the Russo-Finnish War instead.
He was one of many foreign volunteers, looking to fight not only for the Finns’ freedom against the Soviets, but also to fly. Adam started off in banged up Tiger Moths that were easy meat for the Russians, but then moved onto one of the four Hawker Hurricanes his squadron had.
Returning to England through Germany and Switzerland, Adam applied for the RAF again. Despite the fact his war record was taken into account, Adam still couldn’t join as an American but the canny Warrant Officer in that smoky London office marked his nationality as Finnish.
To back his ‘nationality’ up, his surname was from that region even if Svenson’s family was originally from Sweden.
Paul Metcalfe and his squadron mates sat around a smouldering fire in the orchard where their plane were hidden.
Both the Luftwaffe and Wehrmacht had kicked them clear across France since the invasion of France on May 10. Browbeaten and weary, the pilots had found a safe refuge for now.
Paul was only twenty-five –but he was their CO- it wasn’t unusual in these trying times for someone his age to be of a high rank. He had been the third in charge to find himself in charge of the squadron, for in the first two days they lost both the CO –brought it after being riddled by a Hun in the Sun which was the Germans’ method of coming from the sun and pouncing on unsuspecting pilots - and the second in command – a blasted idiot who hit the brakes on landing too hard. So after his two superiors’ deaths, Metcalfe was put in charge.
Seven serviceable Spitfires, with no definable orders. Only to get home, whatever the cost may be. With no back-up crews to help the squadron as it rested and caught its breath in the French orchard some miles from Calais. Chased and harried ever square bit of the way by the Luftwaffe from the squadrons’ original airfield on the French-Belgian border near Bastogne. They had literally taken off amongst speeding German tanks as the Germans launched their daring Blitzkrieg through the Ardennes.
“What’s our plan, skipper?” asked black-haired Patrick Donaghue lying on his back near Adam and Metcalfe, chewing on a piece of grass that he spat out away from him.
“We get to the coast. If we have to, we abandon the Spits here.”
“I’ll burn mine before any German gets here,” Donaghue declared.
Soft-spoken Edward Wilkie – an Australian who doubled as the squadron’s Chief Medical Officer- emerged from beyond the wing of a Spitfire and tapped the aircraft.
“Abandon our Spits, after the amount of time we’ve had them?” the Australian, like some of the others had become attached to his Spit. Like most people who flew or served at sea, he had a bond that people outside the RAF or Navy wouldn’t understand.
“I understand Wink,” Metcalfe said. “But we may not have to.”
It was, after all, only an aircraft, not a breathing human being.
As many pilots would say, when they were at the helm of a Spitfire, for them, it became a person. It acquired characteristics, shuddering for no reason when taxing, or appearing to mutter when it was stationary. It became part of the pilot. Contrary to a car – where the driver would feel safe, although separate from it – but when the pilot of a Spitfire strapped himself into the seat of his craft – it was as if the Spitfire was strapping itself to him, becoming part of him, like an artificial extension of his body.
Pilot Officer Conrad Turner appeared from nowhere and caught Metcalfe’s attention. Turner was also twenty-five, his hair black as charcoal and his eyes also dark black, were slightly sunken - like bottomless pits. Tall, with a pale face.
Conrad’s background was unknown to a point. He had joined the squadron as it prepared to evacuate from their original French airfield, he said he was a pilot and wanted to come with them.
His northern accent was accented with a European brogue. It was discovered the brogue belonged to a Czech.
The CO allowed Turner to fly and Conrad had been with them since.
“I think we have locals coming Paul,” he said.
Metcalfe straightened against the tree he was leaning against. “Thanks, Conrad. Be on the alert, they might be Fifth Columnists.”
The locals were four women, wearing peasant clothing and wielding baskets that they held before them. They were attractive and Donaghue remarked, “I say crumpet.”
He was summarily elbowed by Svenson for his choice of wording, the pilots then stood to greet them. None of the pilots spoke French but Metcalfe stumbled out a sentence.
One of the women with shining blonde hair laughed and said in clear English, “You just asked me to kiss your horse.”
Metcalfe blushed. “My apologies, Mam’zelle.”
The women smiled politely. “There is no need to apologise.”
She laid her basket down as did her fellow countrywomen and gestured to the pilots. “We brought food and drink for you, we understand you have had little time to rest.”
“Something like that,” Metcalfe replied. “You didn’t have to this for us.”
“You are our allies.”
“The Germans are not far,” Adam said reaching for a croissant.
“We know,” the woman pinched at her skirt and sat down. Metcalfe also sat as she looked at him. “I am Juliette Pontoin.”
Conversations broke out, independent to Juliette and Paul’s. “You have been flying long?”
“In what way? During my life, or the invasion?”
Juliette shrugged and Metcalfe shrugged in return. “Too long to say really. I’m trying to get my chaps home.”
“Your home is England?” her accent stumbled over the country’s name, pronouncing it ‘Ongland.’
Juliette looked mournful. “France has lost the war. The Germans have outdone themselves, my country sinks into an abyss.”
Paul took her hands to reassure her. “Don’t worry, dear girl, Britain will stand by her ally; Mr Hitler’s got to be kidding if he thinks we’ll roll over.” Despite his brief knowing of her, Metcalfe used a term that chaps of his generation used as a term of friendliness.
“This is our country!” Juliette said emotionally snatching her hands back. “You do not care for it!”
“Care?” Metcalfe shot back. “My squadron’s been in this country since November; we’ve seen all kinds of weather and put up with locals. We’ve got on well with said locals after a month; in fact my CO married a local. Then came the invasion, she was killed in a refugee column as we retreated and my CO was killed by a wandering Messerschmitt. We cared for it enough to die here. We cared enough to bury our friends in French soil.”
He trailed off and stood. “My apologies, but I have to go.”
He walked off into the woods leaving her being watched by the others. After a while, the Frenchwoman shrugged to herself and sat back against a tree. It was not her problem, after all the British had chosen to come here and fight.
In the morning Sergeant Pilot Patrick Donaghue stepped over the dead campfire and walked away from the campsite and Spitfires. He walked some yards down the dirt road that led past the house and the woods before finding a big enough tree.
Donaghue had joined at the war’s outbreak, his past was secretive and something he chose to keep to himself. Donaghue was relieving himself when he heard a trundling sound.
Leaning to his left he could see nothing until a grey tank came into view and on its side was an Iron Cross.
“Saints above!” he cursed and did his trousers up, he ran back and kicked the sleeping Metcalfe propped against the left wheel support of his Spitfire. The Englishman woke with a growl. “What?”
“Jerries, down the road.”
Metcalfe crawled out from under the Spit and stood. “I don’t hear anything.”
But he saw the tank, now stopped about three hundred yards away, he could also see helmets.
“Bloody hell,” he muttered. “Wake up people!”
Metcalfe and the Irishman began to rouse the others from their sleep and although dozy with lack of sleep, the squadron pilots packed their belongings quickly at seeing the Germans.
Paul looked back at the cottage on the edge of the woods and regretted blazing at Juliette, but he could not say sorry now. As he reached for his canopy, there came a shout.
Paul forgot about the canopy and started the engine, with a cough and splutter of glycol the Merlin engine roared beautifully to life. At this point, a rattle of machine gun fire came followed by a whoosh. The whoosh became a violent explosion as a shell erupted beyond the Spitfires.
“This is Scarlet, let’s go chaps.”
Metcalfe slammed the throttle to full –this was inadvisable as the Spit could go onto its nose- and drove the Spitfire forwards. Around him the squadron also moved forward, the Spitfires bouncing on their narrow undercarriage as German weapons fire chewed up the scenery.
The Spitfires were shortly airborne and with a defiant rising of undercarriage, winged westwards.
For a smoking town called Dunkirk.
“Southern England, July 1940”
Flight Leader Adam Svenson frowned as he drove the MG sports car along the quiet country lane, trees and hedgerows everywhere. It was pre-dawn and the air was heavy with heat.
The blond American jerked the gear stick and with a grunt the car accelerated, the person next to him shouted something incoherent and knocked Adam’s left arm with his right arm.
“I said, you almost clipped the hedge!” shouted Donaghue in his ear.
“You crazy drunk Irishman,” grunted Adam.
“You’re not exactly a shining example,” quipped Edward Wilkie from behind Adam. The Australian was rather more sober than Patrick.
“Wink, what do you mean?”
Wink grabbed the side of the MG as it tore around a curve. “Last night, in the Savoy… What’s that line you used on that WAAF?” the Australian pretended to search his memory. “Oh yes. ‘I was wondering if you would go out with me sometime, let me come in to land with wheels down.’ That was it.”
“Well,” Adam sniffed, “I’m not a miracle worker.”
Adam narrowed his eyes, remembering the return to England.
At Dunkirk, the squadron had –albeit reluctantly - ditched their Spits and set them ablaze, hence they spent two days enduring day and night Luftwaffe raids and the curses of the Army men. They got onboard one of the last little boats with a group of sour French soldiers, keen to insult the British pilots for apparently being invisible in the skies, thus allowing the Luftwaffe to bomb the beaches into submission and attack refugee columns.
The seeming humiliation of the Spectrum chaps – Spectrum being their new squadron name – continued as they lost some of their men to other squadrons and lost one pilot to a Me109 whilst landing at Hawkinge in Kent.
The squadron was solidified under their name and with new pilots, a Frenchman and Americans to boost their number to squadron worth.
Edward ‘Wink’ Wilkie, Royal Australian Air Force, watched the back of Adam’s head, the American liked the company of his men and was able to mix it with the women but there were times when he was silent –as if brooding on what happened in France.
Wilkie though, was one of the quietists along with Conrad Turner in the squadron.
Wilkie left his native Australia in 1938 having completed his training as a doctor in Sydney. The dashing Aussie moved into a Baker Street apartment in London to start his tenure at Guy’s Hospital in East London by London Bridge.
It was in October 1939 that he was brought to Stoke Mandeville, an hour’s train journey from London, to treat a RAF pilot suffering mild burns. The pilot’s story of how he had wandered across the French-German border at Alsace-Lorraine and been horrendously downed, made Wilkie want to do something.
So the Australian joined the RAF, with no training, and joined the men in France. He was one of the few Spectrums’ in the squadron since the war started in November 1939.
“Watch out, road diversion,” warned Adam reaching for the handbrake.
Ahead was a herd of cows.
“You can’t be serious!”
The MG swerved off the road onto the grass verge to avoid a collision. Wet mud spewed from under the rear wheels and the MG returned onto the road and came to a stop, facing the cows and the way the pilots had just come.
“Smashing piece of manoeuvring,” Donaghue said. “Now do it in a Spitfire and I’ll give you a Distinguished Service Order.”
Donaghue then leant over the side of the car and vomited.
Adam chuckled. “Stupid Irishman, shove the DSO in that muck when you’re done.”
Wilkie patted Donaghue’s heaving back. “How far now to the field, Adam?”
Svenson reversed and resumed the journey. As they drove, they passed a pub with a small forecourt called The Fighter’s Way. This was Spectrum Squadron’s billet, as they had no rooms on the airfield.
“Not stopping?” Wilkie asked as Donaghue recovered.
“No, we’re going to be late.”
Half a mile down the road, Adam turned through a farm gate and then onto the airfield. To the left in the country field was a brick walled hut that could house up to thirty people. Although it had no beds, the hut had an office for the squadron’s adjutant and intelligence office. At present, Spectrum Squadron had neither an adjutant nor intelligence officer.
To the right of the hut –nicknamed Cloudbase- was a makeshift bike rank; in this war, fuel was precious. With Germany bombing –albeit uselessly – the Channel convoys, you had to get the supplies when you could.
A few feet along, in the shelter of some pine trees was another smaller hut. This was the ground crew’s hut.
Each aircraft had three ground crew –also known as Erks – that dealt with it when it was grounded. Each group reported to a Senior Aircraftman. To the right of the gate and in a loose row were the squadron’s aircraft.
Brand new Supermarine Spitfire Mark I’s. Powered by a Rolls Royce Merlin engine, top speed of 448 mph –450 in a pinch- a cruising speed of 362mph and shaped gracefully.
To fly a Spitfire was to fly heaven. Although they had flown Spits in France, this was different.
When they came a week ago, the squadron placed lots on who would get which of the craft.
Each Spit was identifiable by three letters, one before the roundel and two after.
Paul’s Spit was personalised as squadron leader, his was therefore PM.
Adam’s was A-SP; the last Spit was L-SP.
Adam stopped the MG with a lurch that made Patrick grab his mouth; the American leapt out of the car with a flourish.
Paul Metcalfe strode from the hut wearing his officer’s cap and snapped, “What time do you call this?”
Patrick –still in the car – checked his watch with an unsure manner. He was hung over. “Don’t know.”
“It’s 0900. You were meant to be back by 2400.”
“No need to get ticked,” Adam said coolly. “We lost track of time.”
“Make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Paul said and turned on his heel.
Conrad Turner appeared from next to the doorway. “Sorry, Adam, Paul’s been on the phone since 0700. Fighter Command.”
“Why Fighter Command?” asked Edward Wilkie.
The dark-haired Conrad shrugged. “Something’s on.”
As Adam and his friends mulled over the change in Paul, across the Channel, squadrons of Junkers Ju87 Stuka dive bombers took off for their targets.
But the game plan had changed; the Germans were upping the ante.
“Caen, Northern France”
Adolf Hitler, the man who now controlled the destiny of millions, swept a pale white hand over the map that lay on the table in his private room on his personal train Germania.
“The RAF must be smashed, once gone then we can invade.”
His twinkling blue eyes, blazing with victories past, found the man who would bring about a new victory.
Reichmarshall Hermann Goring was the obese head of the Luftwaffe, a stalwart of the Nazi Party since before the days of the Munich Putsch. He was a holder of the prestigious Pour le Merite medal, received when serving in the famous Red Baron’s squadron. He then achieved command of the Von Richtofen squadron.
Goring wielded a field marshal’s baton, the top unscrewed to release his drugs. He was despised by many of the Army generals –including Chief of Staff Franz Halder – but if the Fuhrer knew of his habits, he kept silent.
Goring smiled broadly from beneath his white cap. “Mein Fuhrer, I shall crush the RAF.”
Behind him, Grossadmiral Erich Raeder the Naval Commander-In-Chief, rolled his eyes at the prospect of Goring personally flattening the RAF.
“No raids on London without my permission,” Hitler said wiping that rogue forelock back.
“Mein Fuhrer,” began Raeder stepping forward. “The navy does not have the vessels necessary but we are converting barges. I am however, without the Scharnhorst.”
The Scharnhorst was the mighty battlecruiser damaged recently in an engagement in which she sank the aircraft carrier HMS Glorious.
“The invasion will most likely be in the first week of September,” Hitler said. “Is that time enough?”
Raeder glanced at Goring. “It will do if the Luftwaffe can do their job.”
Hitler clapped his hands together. “Excellent! Now let’s have dinner.”
“Spectrum Squadron’s airfield, near Portsmouth”
Deckchairs dotted the outside of the hut.
Two Erks had finished placing the bell that would ring when the scramble was called. Chalked on it was the legend.
Ring the bell and run like hell!
Squadron Leader Paul Metcalfe sat in his small office and stared at the phone on his wooden desk. Fighter Command HQ at Bentley Priory had been phoning to make administrative changes concerning the squadron. As yet, the squadron was not officially an active RAF squadron.
Paul had been born in Winchester not far from where they were based
now. His father was an Army general who had fought in World War One and had
been present during the Irish Crisis. His father had expected young Paul –who
had demonstrated his knowledge of warfare at a young age – to follow him into
the Army. However, Paul had become enraptured with stories of the Royal Flying
Corps in the Great War and
Paul’s training was abrupt to say the least, training in old biplanes before making it into the RAF in 1936. He joined a Hurricane squadron a year later and was still there on the eve of war. Yet, he switched to Spectrum as a flight commander and it was with Spectrum Squadron in December 1939 on a winter’s day near the French-German border he earned the nickname of ‘Indestructible’.
On patrol in his faithful Spitfire he ran into a snowstorm and found his Spit heavy with hardening snow. Plunging through German lines caked in snow like an avenging angel, Paul found himself under fierce anti-aircraft fire.
The Ack-Ack shook most of his burden and enabled him to return into friendly territory; this done he concentrated on fighting the remainder of the snow. Paul crashed through trees and smashed down onto his airfield with bent wings. The craft burst into flames, the engine ruptured and appeared to be shortly extinguished by the cold snow.
Erks shivering under their coats could only watch in horror as flames engulfed the cockpit, then to their shock, Paul emerged and jumped clear walking towards them. He was unscathed and dusted his battledress murmuring, “That was a close rum do.”
In the coming weeks, Paul would see if he would really was indestructible.
The phone rang, making Paul jump.
“This is Banjo here.” Banjo was the plot room at Fratton near Portsmouth
that controlled Spectrum as well as three other squadrons in the area. “German
aircraft are bombing radar stations across the south, scramble and head for
Paul looked at the receiver. “Say again?”
“This is your squadron scramble.”
Paul dropped the receiver and swore, “Now it would have to be.”
He walked outside into the sunshine. Patrick – still a little drunk but looking better – was playing chess against the quiet Bradley Holden, a new American into the squadron. Wasn’t everyone quiet at the moment thought Paul with a frown. But then he prepared to shout, this would shake them up.
No one reacted; it was a well known phrase. Paul reached for the bell –on its marked surface was a scrawled note that read in chalk Don’t Tell –Ring like hell!- and began to ring it violently.
Adam leapt to his feet and shouted, “Come on!”
It was Adam running for his Spitfire that got the others kicking over chairs and chessboards and running for their Spitfires. Erks made last minute checks after starting the engines. As Paul vaulted onto his starboard wing and into the cockpit, his chief Erk helped him strap in. Once done, the Erk tapped the canopy.
“Get one for us, sir.”
“Thanks Eddie, I will.”
Paul reached for the canopy and pulled it forward; he left a finger wide gap so that if he had to bail, he could open it and not face the pilot’s nightmare of a stuck canopy. This done, he applied throttle and the Spitfire moved forward. All around him, the Spectrum Spitfires were racing for the end of the field where they had to clear a three-foot high thorn hedge.
Paul gritted his teeth and slammed the throttle to full, the Spitfire’s tail lifted and then he was airborne. The squadron flew in a formation of three flights consisting of four Spitfires.
“Spectrum Squadron airborne, Banjo.”
“Acknowledged lead, head course zero-four-zero. Trade is still over Ventnor.”
Paul Metcalfe stared into the blue skies and smiled. “Roger.” Then to his squadron: “Scarlet to all, steer 040.”
They flew south for about ten minutes at maximum speed and then, floating like a cloud on the horizon, was the Isle of Wight separated from the mainland by the Solent.
Above the small island were a dozen black dots; below them were palls of smoke.
“Trade spotted, engage at will and watch for fighters. Acknowledge all flights.”
“Blue acknowledges.” That was Adam.
“Magenta acknowledges.” That was a sombre Patrick.
“Fawn acknowledges.” Good old Winky.
Like foxes in a hen house, the Spitfires charged into the flock of Stukas guns blazing. Paul squinted and fired at one, he shot past the Stuka missing and bringing his charges –Green, Grey and Ochre – around. He searched for more.
“Stay with me, chaps.”
“Bandits Angels Twenty coming down now!” shouted Trinidadian Seymour Griffith – Green.
Scarlet looked to twenty thousand feet and saw yellow nosed Messerschmitt Me109 fighters diving.
“Hell’s teeth, all fighters beware. Yellow nosed bastards!”
The Me109’s came down firing their Hispano cannons. One Spitfire exploded straightaway and another was wounded.
The wounded Spit was Edward ‘Winky’ Wilkie. The Australian tried rolling but his Spit was sluggish, presumably they had hit his elevator controls. Glycol poured from his engine and he dove for freer air. His brown eyes searched for the enemy, a cocky Me109 dove over him and Wilkie stomped on the brakes. His Spitfire appeared to hover, this allowed the 109 to move forward.
Wilkie’s fingers stabbed the red button central of his yoke.
The 109 exploded under sustained fire.
Wilkie rolled to avoid a 109 coming in on the kill and fired, but he missed. Before him two Spitfires were trying to follow a Stuka. The radio was alive with frantic chatter.
“Scarlet, this is Banjo, more bandits coming your way.”
“They’re heading your way.”
“Banjo, you’re not helping!”
“Blue to Amber, watch out!”
“Can’t see him!”
A Spitfire raced past Wilkie and caught fire; it then exploded spectacularly and Wilkie choked back tears. So far the Spectrums were down by two and judging from the chaotic patterns of the survivors, the Germans were winning.
Wilkie destroyed a Stuka in a passing shot and joined another Spit.
“Fawn,” he chirped.
“Scarlet, good to see you, Winky.”
Of course, now Wilkie spotted the PM on the side of the aircraft. “Come on, Doc, let’s clear this field.”
They winged into the battle.
The two mugs hanging on the hut’s side above the wooden counter marked AMBER and INDIGO were the only mugs not in use. The pilots of Spectrum Squadron sat around the hut on the armchairs. Nobody had spoken since landing an hour ago. Outside the Erks rearmed and refuelled the Spitfires.
“They just slaughtered us and we were like headless bloody chickens,” spat out Metcalfe.
“Our tactics were like they were in France,” said Blue leaning forward in his seat. “In Finland, we went at the Russkies like a herd of buffalo.”
“So you’re suggesting buffalo tactics?” asked Bradley Holden of his fellow countryman.
“Not literally, Brad, but we should be free in the air. I’m dragging two wingmen about and they’re having to watch my tail and theirs. I lost Mike today.”
Wilkie nodded sombrely, he had seen Mike- call sign Amber - die.
“We can’t not have wingmen,” Metcalfe said.
“We have them - but not too close, and in a dogfight we fight for our own.”
“It was our first dogfight, we still have time to learn,” put forth young Richard Fraser.
“We might die in the next dogfight,” snapped Adam.
Silence fell and then the phone rang, Metcalfe reached wearily from his chair to the phone on the table by him.
“Spectrum Squadron… What, are you mad? We’ve just come down.”
He slammed the phone and stood spilling his tea. “We’ve got to scramble, heavy bombers.”
“Hell,” swore Adam dropping his mug and running.
“Don’t just stand there!” Metcalfe yelled at the others. “We’ll go in what we’ve got!”
The Erks quickly hurried their job, praying that the belt of ammo wouldn’t jam and then leaping off, running for cover.
Half an hour later, Spectrum fought their second fight of the Battle of Britain.
“Banjo, Portsea, July 30”
Group Commander Charles Gray DSO AFC RAF the local air commander with three squadrons under his watch, cleaned his glasses as he watched the plot board empty following a third raid in a day.
Charles Gray wished that he could join the pilots of the Hurricanes and Spitfires, as well as the Battles and fight the Germans in the air. At the age of twenty in 1916 he switched from the infantry after being wounded at the Somme, to the new Royal Flying Corps.
In the last two years of the war and in those days of experimental air warfare, Gray was awarded firstly the Distinguished Service Order and then the Air Flying Cross. When the RFC became the RAF, Gray was bounced out of aircraft and onto a desk.
A stickler for discipline, Gray commanded three squadrons in the area and directed them into battle under the call sign Banjo.
Gray’s snow-white hair belied the youthful vigour he sometimes displayed off duty when playing cricket in inter-force games.
“Sir, all squadrons have now landed,” reported a young red-haired woman at the board. Her headphones firmly on her head and hands clasping the stick that moved the plots about.
Gray nodded. “Thank you, Corporal Simms, you and your ladies may have a break now.”
Corporal Dianne Simms of the Women’s Royal Air Force –known as WAAFs- slid her headphones off her head. “Okay girls, tea break.”
Corporal Karen Wainwright drawled quietly in her American accent, “Tough day.”
“I’ll bloody say,” agreed Dianne. “Three major raids, I only hope our boys can cope.”
In the balcony area where the telephones were used for the squadrons, Gray tapped his pencil against the nearest one marked 11 Group, the area covering London and the southeast.
“Excuse me, sir?”
Gray turned in his seat; standing in the doorway was a youthful man wearing RAF battledress with the ribbon of a Distinguished Flying Cross. A black glove covered his right hand.
“Are you Group Commander Gray?”
“The same,” Gray shook the man’s proffered left hand. “Squadron Leader Troy Tempest, isn’t it?”
The dark haired man with bright blue eyes took a seat. “The same, sir.”
“You’re Spectrum Squadron’s adjutant. I’ll get down to the bones of it. They’ve been in the frontline for two weeks now, fighting two raids a day. Your job is to be their adjutant but also a confidant; some of these chaps need a friend besides their fellow pilots. Is that okay?”
“Sir,” Tempest answered knowing as well as Gray that he had no choice.
Gray smiled. “Excellent. They’re a good bunch. The best of my three. Their CO, by the way, is Squadron Leader Paul Metcalfe.”
Tempest stood. “Thanks, sir.”
Tempest walked out of the control room housed in an old shop and stepped into the blue RAF Ford waiting outside.
“Where to, sir?” said the corporal at the wheel.
Fortunately, the corporal knew where that was and drove off northwards.
None of the Spectrum Squadron pilots wanted to go to the pub tonight, despite the prospect of meeting the WAAFs and relaxing with a beer. They all sat indoors, in the various armchairs and sofas, worn out from another scramble.
Metcalfe watched a fly whiz inside and climb up the poster of Churchill declaring Let’s Go Forward Together. As he watched it, a pale white hand smacked it.
“Sorry, Winnie,” murmured Conrad Turner wiping his hand.
Richard Fraser was rocking back and forth in his chair, a gentle rhythm noticeable to anyone sitting by him. In this case, it was Patrick Donaghue.
Fraser had cheated death twice this day; his exhaustion from daily scrambles had nearly killed him. Twice falling from formation and almost falling foul of German fighters.
Richard Fraser was nicknamed Red despite his Ochre callsign by his squadron mates. Nobody was perfect.
Born to a policeman father in Detroit, Fraser had hated the fact he could not achieve much at school. Yet he loved flying and started at a young age without his father knowing.
He listened and read reports from the Spanish Civil War with rapt interest. The Germans and Italians displaying awesome air power against a weaker opponent.
The outbreak of the European War –as it was known in America- made twenty year old Fraser yearn to fight. Using his savings, he went to England. He entered the RAF on June 7, 1940.
Fraser was thrust into Spectrum Squadron with fellow American Bradley Holden –call sign Grey- the two had struck a strong friendship in their training together. But Fraser was faltering, he knew that much and feared he was cracking up.
“Why don’t they come?” muttered Adam Svenson seated by Metcalfe.
“The Germans, we’ve been up everyday and they’re bombing the country to bits. Will the Germans come?”
“Relax, they’ll come and, when they do, we’ll be ready.”
“Visitor, Paul,” said Wilkie from his post by the door.
“Hello, I’m Troy Tempest, your new adjutant,” the young man said as he stepped into the hut.
The standing Commanding Officer extended his hand. “Squadron Leader Paul Metcalfe.”
Tempest shook with the left, it was an awkward shake and Metcalfe frowned. “Something wrong with the right?”
Tempest dumped his air raid helmet bag by the wooden counter on which sat the squadron mugs. He turned to face Metcalfe, the other pilots watched, including Fraser although he held his left hand to stop it from shaking.
Tempest held up the gloved right hand. “I burnt it in France.”
“Damn silly thing to do,” remarked Donaghue.
Tempest blinked, an audacious thing to say considering the seriousness of it all. Had these men really been flying for as long as Gray said?
“No, I crashed my Hurricane and it caught fire. My whole right arm is burnt.”
He took off his glove and showed his hand. The hand was a normal shape and had the correct number of digits but the skin was a rosy pink and almost bubbly. At the wrist it was skewered and marred by a dark red line like a cut.
Metcalfe winced and answered softly. “I’m sorry, adj.”
Troy tugged on his glove and nodded gently; he breathed lightly. “Its okay, CO, nothing I’m not used to.”
“Welcome aboard Spectrum.” Adam Svenson patted Troy’s back.
Outside the sun began to set.
The next day Troy went about making a desk for himself. He found a table behind the hut covered in wet patches and mould and took it inside with the aid of ‘Winky’. The dark-haired Australian was wasting no time in striking a rapport with Troy. Wilkie’s experience with burned pilots helped.
Troy cleaned the table up and placed it in the corner by the door, the telephone was moved to his table and then he put out paper and pencils. He was still getting used to not climbing into a cockpit, but counted himself lucky for still wearing the light blue of the RAF.
Wilkie checked the wall clock by the pin up picture of the Daily Mirror’s cartoon gal, Jane.
Daylight for a couple of hours now.
Outside, the Erks swarmed over the Spitfires, feeding belts of Browning ammunition into the wing guns whilst other cleaned the canopies. The pilots talked to their Erks occasionally and this morning they all, except Wilkie and Paul, got a report.
“The bloody propellers feather when I come into land, Smith,” complained Donaghue tapping the propeller of his Spitfire.
The mechanic who had been a Petty Officer during the Great War, nodded in understanding. “I’ve looked, sir, but there’s nothing wrong that I can see.”
The Dubliner spun the propeller. “Maybe I’m imagining it.”
Red Fraser sat in his cockpit with Bradley Holden on the left wing, his foot perched on the cockpit frame.
“You’ll be fine, Red, just remember. We’re the one with roundels, they’ve got crosses.”
“Thanks, Hol, I’ll remember.”
At 0745 the engines were started, as they were this time every morning. This enabled the aircraft to get off quicker.
In the doorway of Cloudbase, Paul checked his watch and coughed. “Anything, Adj?”
Metcalfe grinned, facing Troy. “We’re relaxed around here, Troy, Paul will do.”
“Right,” Troy answered and stared at the phone.
“Troy Tempest, interesting name,” remarked Paul turning back to face the field.
“My parents were Shakespearian actors.”
Metcalfe watched a sparrow fly over the Spitfires and land on the pole holding the windsock. The sock itself was limp the sparrow began tweeting. Metcalfe was transfixed and at first didn’t hear the jingle of the telephone.
Fraser was first to move having been seated, Bradley Holden leaping from the wing of Red’s Spit before the younger American could start his engine. Erks scrambled for their hut as the Spitfires turned on their aft wheels towards the open field.
Conrad Turner gripped his yoke with sweaty hands; with the canopy closed and the air warm it was bound to get hot inside. He wore his yellow Mae West lifejacket over the blue RAF shirt. He was risking a fine for not wearing his battledress.
Conrad had been born Konrad Turnernski in Prague, the Czech capital. His father had been an Army Major and his mother an English language teacher at a local school. His mother taught Konrad English for future use, and Konrad felt he would need it as the Germans gathered on the border in 1937.
Conrad and his parents fled Czechoslovakia a week before the Germans
came over the border to ‘liberate’ German-speaking Czechs and bring them back
into the fold of der Vaterland. A perilous journey through Austria –now
absorbed into Germany- and into France began following that. The need to escape
Prague, because his father had openly
complained against the Czech supporters of the Nazi party – mostly German
speakers from the Sudetenland.
The Turnernski’s settled in Manchester in England’s north changing their name to Turner. Konrad became Conrad and then aged twenty-three, applied to join the RAF to hopefully liberate his people.
He spoke English almost as well as any Englishman but with a gentle accent that sounded to many a cross between Russian and German. He entered the RAF in 1939 during the invasion of Poland and was transferred into Spectrum Squadron in October before the November transit to France.
Conrad fixed his gaze on Patrick’s Spitfire and settled into formation. The sky was as blue as the Atlantic and cloudless. This was not good. Firstly, the Spitfires would be seen from a distance by the Germans and secondly, there were no clouds to hide behind to pounce on unsuspecting bombers.
A few miles away in Banjo’s control room, cigarette smoke drifting lazily near the ceiling. Group Commander Gray spoke into the black telephone. His voice was carried direct to Paul Metcalfe’s Spitfire as it raced across the Hampshire countryside.
“Banjo to Scarlet, trade building southwest towards Southampton. Steer zero-nine-zero, your signal is Buster.”
Buster was the call sign for ‘get there as quick as you can’. Trade being the name for German bombers.
Paul relayed instructions to his men and soon they were racing for the bombers. At this time, Gray directed the other two squadrons under his command to the trade. The Observer Corps at Cowes on the Western Isle of Wight– replacing radar in the south for now – reported one hundred bombers with twenty fighters.
The Germans had for the last two weeks of July bombed airfields in the south of England. Occasionally, they bombed radar stations just back on their feet, control centres and even docks such as Folkestone, Dover and Portsmouth.
Southampton did not really surprise Gray or even Paul commanding Spectrum Squadron.
The Spectrums neared Southampton from Portsmouth way, the bombers –Heinkel He111’s – were coming in from the Solent. This suggested that they had come from the British Channel Island of Guernsey, occupied for a few weeks.
Paul’s radio crackled. “Scarlet this is Pine, on your starboard wing.”
Metcalfe glanced to his right and sighted a squadron of Hurricanes. The Hawker Hurricane nickname the Hurri, was the Spits rival and running mate in the Battle of Britain. It was slightly slower than a Spitfire but had proved itself in France and the Battle of Britain so far.
“Roger, Pine. Spectrum, friends to starboard.”
“Scarlet this is Shadow, we’re below.”
Paul knew without looking that Shadow Squadron were like Pine Squadron, a squadron of Hurricanes.
The German bombers were drawing nearer, moving quickly. No sign of escorting fighters, but like a sheepdog escorting its flock, they were there.
“Pines and Shadows take the bombers, Spectrums we take the fighters. Climb to thirty thousand and lookout.”
The two Hurricane squadrons sped ahead and engaged the bombers in small formations. The pattern of Hurris attacking bombers and Spits fighters had already been practised.
In a curving formation, Spectrum climbed into the cloudless sky. Paul was struck by a poem he discovered when at school in Winchester.
A lonely impulse of delight drove to this tumult in the clouds.
Yeats’ An Irish Airman Forsees his Death.
No times for Yeats. Paul scanned the sky as they reached 30,000 feet.
“There, Scarlet!” came Red Fraser’s voice. “Beyond the bombers!”
A mist of thirty Messerschmitt Me109E fighters were hanging a little while back beyond the formation of He111’s besieged by the Hurricanes.
“Scarlet to Blue, what do you think?”
The American hanging to Scarlet’s rear was
“Scarlet to all, tally ho. Tally ho.”
The Spits were outnumbered thirty to ten; those were odds that Metcalfe could deal with.
In a single line, the Spitfires raced into the sky further and then peeled off one by one. They spread out and attacked the German fighters; two 109’s were hit and leaking the smoky glycol, pulled away to head home.
Tradition dictated that One Oh Nine’s rarely hung around long; they were hit and runners.
However, the fact they outnumbered the Spitfires was too tempting for the Germans.
Patrick Donaghue grinned like the Cheshire Cat as he led Conrad and Bradley into the dogfight. It was as if somebody had hit a wasps nest and now the wasps were swarming. It seemed apt that the Germans called their formation a Schwarm.
Yet there appeared to be two Germans for every Spit and even as Patrick joined the melee head on, Conrad hit his intercom.
“Black to Magenta, one on my tail! Can’t shake him!”
Donaghue jerked his head around, the radio cables snagging on his nose. He swore. The cables were everywhere and he couldn’t concentrate on the flying. His left hand grabbed the yoke whilst all the while Turner was yelling.
Donaghue wrestled with his cables and banked his aircraft.
The horizon span around and he cursed again. With a snarl, he wrenched the radio headphones off and then realised they were snagged also on the yoke.
Tracer fire ripped through the belly of the spinning Spitfire and into the cockpit. Blood and cartilage showered the inside of the cockpit. Donaghue stared in morbid fascination at his stump of legs before the Spitfire exploded violently.
It all took five seconds.
The Hurricanes and German bombers were further away now but the fighter dogfight continued over the silent Solent.
Metcalfe had given up shouting warnings, for it was every man for himself and it was bloody.
Flicking his yoke this way and that, Metcalfe hammered his trigger whenever he sighted crosses but more often than not they were gone quickly. He chased one low to the Solent and clipped his tail; the Me109 staggered before pinwheeling into the Solent.
Exuberant, Metcalfe pulled up and looked around.
There were no fighters of any kind and no bombers.
Metcalfe had suffered the classic case of the fight leaving him behind.
His fuel gauge low, Paul Metcalfe nudged his Spitfire home. It took half an hour for him to get there, hugging land; he was finding it hard to control his Spit. Eventually he sighted that familiar field and saw Spitfires taxiing to the runway’s edge.
Leaving his flaps down – you were fined for landing with them up –Metcalfe guided in. The engine coughed throatily, puffs of smoke trailed aft from it and then came the gentle double thud of his wheels making contact.
Carefully, Metcalfe threaded the throttle – many pilots stopped so suddenly the aircraft went A over T. He came to a stop and swung his craft around so that he was facing the runway.
Metcalfe pushed the canopy back and wiped his face. Climbing out, he jumped off and dusted himself down, he noticed that the others were gathered around Troy at Cloudbase’s door.
“What’s wrong, Troy?” asked Metcalfe.
Red Fraser answered. “Patrick’s not back.”
“Flipping Irishman,” murmured Metcalfe and ran a hand through his sweaty black hair. “Maybe he landed elsewhere.”
“Brad has,” Adam said. “But Patrick’s not been sighted.”
“I saw a flash during the dogfight,” Conrad Turner said. His face was pale. “I had been alerting Patrick to a fighter.”
“It must be considered that he bought it and if that’s the case, we’re now down to nine pilots.”
Metcalfe walked into Cloudbase; the seven pilots scattered, leaving Troy to turn back into the hut.
“Thanks Troy, you wouldn’t mind getting me Banjo, would you?”
Metcalfe sat down in an armchair as Troy made the tea and began to shake.
“Cabinet War Room, Central London”
Air Vice Marshal Keith Park commander 11 Group, tugged at his tie once more and ignored the cigar smoke wafting across the room. Beside him sat Fighter Command’s commander, Hugh ‘Stuffy’ Dowding.
Dowding was a tall quiet man with a neatly trimmed brown moustache; he was called Stuffy for his refined manner and curtness. Even to the Prime Minister, he could be as such, in May demanding more or less in a letter that Fighter Command sends no more fighters to France.
Across from them, was a man whom history had deemed correct for this situation. This hour of destiny.
Winston Churchill read Fighter Command’s latest assessment of the Battle with little emotion, the cigar firmly in his teeth’s grip. Occasionally, the puffs grew denser and then finally, he laid the foolscap sheet down on the wooden table.
The CWR was beneath official Whitehall buildings, protected from any German raids that might come. This was Churchill’s preferred domain; he did not like Downing Street as much for it was a depressing place to be.
“These reports are accurate?” he asked.
“They are, Prime Minister,” Dowding replied.
Churchill removed the cigar with two fingers and held it before him. “The raids are increasing, this suggests that they want us finished.”
“Our fighters are demoralised sir, some are even cracking,” Dowding put forth.
“Demoralised?” Churchill glowered. “They cannot be, we’re holding our own.”
“Sir,” Park interrupted. “I have here in my briefcase letters from squadron leaders. They request more replacements, both in terms of aircraft and men. One pilot in Hampshire, I believe it’s a Squadron Leader Metcalfe says…” Park trailed off as he reached into his briefcase. He produced the sheet of paper and read from it. “I have lost three pilots in as many days. We’re down to nine and that also goes for aircraft. If we don’t get any new aircraft or pilots, our squadron will be defunct within the week.”
Park raised his eyes to Churchill. Park and Dowding had already talked about this issue and had decided to put it to Churchill this afternoon.
Churchill met Park’s gaze. “Then we must dig into our reserves, gentlemen, the Fleet Air Arm and our foreign volunteers.”
Dowding exhaled silently. Park refrained from smiling; he knew –as did many – Dowding’s reservations about the Czech and Polish volunteers. The French and Americans were one thing, but the Czechs and Poles were their own people.
“They are being trained right now sir, I’ll hurry them along.”
“Be sure to do that, gentlemen. This has to be our finest hour or we do indeed slip into a new dark age. Dismissed.”
Outside in the warm sunshine looking towards St James Park and Buckingham Palace, Dowding and Park waited for their official staff car. “I’m sorry sir, about jumping in like that.”
“No matter, Park, it had to be done.” Dowding cast a glance towards Horse Guard Parade and smiled thinly. “I can only hope we do this, Park.”
“Yes sir,” Park answered and raised his eyes skywards.
They had to.
“Cherbourg, Northern France, August 10”
The Cherbourg peninsula jutted into the English Channel like a thumb; to its right was the curved shore of Normandy. But it was in Cherbourg Harbour that the French Resistance member looked.
Her blonde hair whipped across her shoulders as the sea breeze strengthened, the winds were strong enough to halt raids on England today and this pleased her.
What didn’t was what lay in the harbour.
Dozens of barges that had in the past few weeks been converted for landing troops; even the number of troops deployed to Northern France was increasing.
The resistance member took discreet photos from the high ground and walked back to the command post for her cell in a farmhouse ten miles from the Normandy coastline not far from Caen.
The farm was a Norman building set against a deep set of trees and a ramshackle barn house. She walked into the building and straight into the kitchen; there a man greeted her and asked if she had the photos.
“Oui, it was rather simple.”
“The Boche know nothing.”
She clicked her tongue against her teeth. “Do not be so sure. Pierre, they have began transferring Jews back to Germany.”
“That is not our business.”
“It is!” she said. “Blast it, they’re French!”
Pierre was busy dissembling the handbag she had been carrying and said indifferently. “That might be so, but my main problem is with the invasion fleet. If Britain falls then there is no hope for France, and then for the Jews.”
Juliette Pontoin sighed. “Right.”
“Voila!” Pierre said joyously as he held the film up from inside the handbag. “Get to our contact in London, tell them we need the photos collecting. This will be too important for a Lysander.”
As the rain fell giving Spectrum a respite, Red Fraser, his hands dug into his pockets, stood in the door of Cloudbase.
“Better look lively, there’s some brass coming. Might be important.”
Paul Metcalfe got up and looked out the door as a blue Rolls Royce with RAF stencilled on its doors rolled in and stopped close to the door. Group Commander Charles Gray stepped out; he nodded at Metcalfe.
“Can we talk, Squadron Leader?”
“In here, sir.”
Gray paused by the stencilled sign by the door –CLOUDBASE – and smiled musingly. “Excellent.”
On seeing the Group Co, the men of Spectrum snapped to attention. He looked to Metcalfe. “Tell your men to relax.”
They sat down as Metcalfe nodded; he gestured for Gray to sit at Troy’s desk. The Group Co deposited his briefcase beside him and was able to ignore the men, as they were concentrating on dozing or just staring into space.
“Something came up, Paul, and you’re required for duties for His Majesty.”
“Interesting, sir. I’m all ears.”
Gray looked about. “Then please dismiss your men.”
Metcalfe stood and cleared his throat. “Clear off chaps, thanks awfully.”
In a few seconds, the men emptied the hut.
Gray opened his briefcase and presented Metcalfe with a foolscap sheet of paper headed TOP SECRET and a smaller stamp declaring ACTION THIS DAY.
The latter was the watchword of the Prime Minister; if the PM had this stamped than it must be important.
“Read this, Paul.”
Metcalfe took the sheet as Gray produced a cigarette and lit it.
RAF FIGHTER COMMAND
ACTION THIS DAY
FOR THE ATTENTION OF GROUP COMMANDER C. D. GRAY RAF
FROM: AVM K. PARK RAF (CO 11 GROUP)
The French Resistance cells based near Caen covering the invasion port at Cherbourg with links to Guernsey have photos of the port. These photos are highly important to the war effort and the future of this country. Group Commander, the return of these photos has been allocated to me from the War Office. These photos must be brought back to England, use your best man.
AIR VICE MARSHAL
Metcalfe dropped the sheet and it landed with a silent whoosh. Gray was watching him through a haze of tobacco smoke that tinged with blueness clinging to the air between them.
“Am I to assume I’m your best man, sir?”
Gray didn’t smile. “You have the nickname Indestructible.”
“Sir that’s not a standalone reason and besides that is a foolish nickname because I flew home blind.”
“All the same, you’re the best out of the three squadron leaders. You’re also a crack pilot; you handle a Spitfire like a ballerina.”
Metcalfe scoffed. “That is because the Spit deserves to be treated as such, sir. I can’t discuss the finer points of the fighter. When do I go?”
“This evening, 2200.”
“What aircraft do I use, sir?”
“Your Spitfire should be fine for this, it’s the fastest thing we’ve got. Damn faster than a Lysander and more damn faster than a Dak.”
Gray referred to the American-built transport aircraft, the two engine C-47 Dakota the military version of the DC-3.
“I’m ready sir.”
“You have no choice in the matter, Paul. But good luck all the same.”
“Evening of August 11, morning August 12”
The weather abated in time for the evening, there would be no night raids by the Germans.
Squadron Leader Paul Metcalfe breathed heavily into his radio mask as the Supermarine Spitfire sped low across the English Channel. The speed dial hung around four hundred as he pushed the Spit to its design limits. His cockpit began to fill with the growing mainland mass of France – this area being the Normandy coastline. Metcalfe was sceptical about this mission; one drawback was crossing the coastline. Normandy might not be the most heavily defended area of the occupied coast, but it was close to the Cherbourg peninsula that was important unto itself. Cherbourg linked the mainland Reich to the occupied Channel Islands, the English Channel and the Atlantic beyond.
It was growing dark quick and the Spitfire was following the night into France. Paul throttled back and his plane practically glided over the beaches; he followed a tree line and then country fields. His eyes narrowed, his breathing becoming quicker.
Then there was the signal.
He saw the letter L formed by eight people holding red lanterns, in a clearing in some trees near a farmhouse. Paul throttled even lower and came around in a decreasing circle. He lowered the wheels, waiting until the board on his panel flashed green before he landed. This time he brought his flaps up; there were no one here to fine him.
The red lights were extinguished quickly and even quicker, as Metcalfe stopped the engine, the eight people grabbed either wing –four apiece- and guided the Spit towards the barn beside the farmhouse. Before entering, the French swung the Spit around and backed it in. Metcalfe was a little disorientated but climbed out after they went inside.
A tall handsome tousled-haired man met Metcalfe by the side of Metcalfe’s Spitfire. “Bonjour, I am Pierre.”
Metcalfe nodded in acknowledgement. “Paul, RAF.”
“The photos are inside. Please, this way.”
Paul took off his goggles and cap, following Pierre and his comrades into the farmhouse. It was cold now, crisp and almost wintry. It was also dark.
The French were wary of Paul and he of them. He wasn’t sure if they were Bolsheviks and if they were, he would be on guard. He disliked Communists and Fascists alike.
Inside it was bright, the light unseen from outside by thick blackout curtains. Although the RAF had not returned to France since May, the French took no chances.
As Paul grew accustomed to the brightness, a feminine voice began speaking.
“Welcome to France Monsieur, my name is…” the voice petered out. “Mon Dieu, Paul?”
Metcalfe sat down and rubbed his eyes. He found the source of the voice and felt stunned; it had been a while and even if their encounter had been brief, it had been memorable. For whatever reason.
Juliette Pontoin, the attractive Frenchwoman, sat down across the rickety wooden table in the kitchen from Paul. Her blonde hair was long, across the black sweater she wore. “It has been a long time.”
“Four months almost,” Paul Metcalfe smiled wearily. “I hate to be curt, but I need to get the photos back to England.”
Juliette nodded quickly. “Of course, these photos show the invasion barges.”
She handed Paul the photos; they were in a large brown envelope. Paul didn’t look at them, he had a feeling the fleet was massing quicker than Britain was expecting. He stood, the chair he had been on scratching nosily on the stone floor.
“I wish this could have been longer.”
Juliette led him towards the door. “Me too.”
Suddenly the door was flung open. Pierre’s right hand man, a red-haired Norman by the name of Julien ran in, a rifle slung in over his shoulder. “Les Boches! They are at the perimeter of the farm, two motorbikes and a half-track. They are not coming this way, but they might have heard the Englishman come in.”
Julien had been speaking French and the look on Paul’s face prompted Juliette to translate, she concluded, “We must hide you. Upstairs will be ideal.”
It took her a few seconds to realise he meant his aircraft. “We are camouflaging it. We must take our chances.”
Upstairs was warmer and Paul found it to his liking, but now was not the time to be in that kind of mood. Paul noticed women’s clothing around the room and looked at the Frenchwoman by his side.
“My room,” explained Juliette. “Just wait here.”
Juliette disappeared and Paul walked to the window. He parted the curtains a little and looked out; in the gloom he could make out the helmets of the Germans. The last time he was this close to the Germans had been the moment he left Juliette the first time.
“Small world,” he murmured, sitting on the bed.
A little later, Metcalfe realised he must have fallen asleep, for Juliette was shrugging him awake. He sat up on the bed with a sickly taste in his mouth. Her breath was upon her face, her hands on his shoulders. “Paul, the Germans have gone. Now you can go.”
“What time is it?”
“Five in the morning.”
“Christ, I’ve slept all bloody night. My Group Co might think me dead.”
Paul climbed off the bed and was handed some coffee by Juliette; he drank it readily and relished the sweet taste. There was sometimes nothing like ersatz coffee. He had loosened his battledress and followed her downstairs, the sky was brightening but he had to go now.
They stepped into the pre-dawn air; Pierre and his men were pushing the Spitfire out of the barn. Once it was out, they ran ahead to the clearing to make sure there were no Germans around. Paul was buttoning his battledress.
Then he heard the crack of a twig.
Juliette started breathing hard.
And then, there was Pierre’s verbal challenge.
Metcalfe leapt and pushed Juliette to the ground as machine gun fire raked the area. He landed atop her and spat out dust.
“Who left the door open?”
In the clearing a hundred yards before the Spitfire, Pierre and the others were fighting hand to hand with German soldiers.
“Betrayed!” screamed Juliette as her comrades were killed.
Metcalfe stood up dragging her up with him; he held onto her hand and made her look at him. There isn’t any time to waste. I’m getting you out of here.”
“I won’t go,” she said defiantly.
“Your friends are being murdered, I know. It’s sad but unfortunately I have not had time to bond with them and indeed, with you. But in England, you can continue the fight.”
It was crazy, holding a debate in the middle of a fire fight. Bullets streaked past and thudded into the barn door; Metcalfe snarled in anger. “Juliette!”
She looked at him with tears in her eyes. “I go.”
He herded her towards the Spit and helped her up; once she was in the cockpit, he expertly slung himself in before her. Somehow they managed to get in; fortunately the Spitfire’s cockpit was a little more spacious than a Hurricane’s. Frantically, he tugged at the throttle and swore savagely.
“Come on, you stupid piece of scrap!”
Ahead, the Germans had finished off the Frenchmen and were firing at the Spit. Metcalfe, sitting as intimately with Juliette as he was, raised an elbow. “Sorry, old girl.”
He banged it down and the propeller began turning as the engine started with a cough and splutter of glycol. The Spit bounced forward and Metcalfe gunned the engine. He heard Juliette begin to cry and he felt a pang of sympathy; the whole situation was unbelievable and he wondered why he had made her come. Damn foolish.
Gradually, the Spit built up speed and its tail rose from the ground. Without prompting, Paul brought the nose up and retracted the undercarriage. “Jerry’ll have alerted the Luftwaffe, we’re going to go flat out until Portsmouth.”
Defiantly, the Spit flicked its wings and sped off.
Charles Gray flicked ash into the nearby ashtray as he perched his right foot against the balcony railing of the gallery in Banjo’s command room. The radio was crackling with raids on Dover but none in this area. The boards for Pine, Shadow and Spectrum squadrons were lit on WAITING. Gray impatiently tapped his finger with the cigarette upon his upraised knee, his blue eyes watching the plot board.
Dianne Simms and Karen Wainwright, with their charges, stood around the empty table.
The radio squawked and Gray pricked his ears in attention and then joy as a familiar voice came over.
“This is Squadron Leader Metcalfe with package, requesting assistance. My fuel’s low and I’ve got four Me109’s on my tail.”
On cue, Simms used her stick to put five blocks on the table near the Isle of Wight as she received information from Ventnor.
Gray picked up the telephone. “Get me Spectrum’s hut.”
There was a temporary problem.
The telephone line linking Banjo to Cloudbase was down following a car crash near Fratton. The Spectrums were sitting on their chairs blissfully unaware of the problem.
Adam Svenson slammed his chess piece down and swore. “Blast it, Bradley!”
“Hey, not my fault you’re a novice.”
“Novice,” snorted Adam and made a disparaging comment on Bradley’s mother. Bradley snickered.
Conrad was outside on the grass walking around the aircraft, his battledress open the Mae West askew. He paused by the fuel dump at the hedgerow and cocked his head. A buzzing sound was growing louder and when he looked, his mouth fell open in shock.
One Spitfire and four Me109’s were blazing in from across the horizon.
Without preamble, he began running for his Spitfire, adrenalin now in command.
Adam and the others appeared at Cloudbase’s doorway, upon seeing the commotion and then saw Conrad scrambling into his Spit.
“Conrad, no!” shouted Adam.
The lone Spit –undoubtedly Paul’s – had crash-landed in the cornfield just beyond the border hedge and now Conrad jerked his Spitfire along. The others’ attempts at joining Conrad were halted by the 109’s stitching cannon fire across the airfield.
Conrad Turner took to the sky, cursing the Germans for attacking his motherland and for capturing him briefly in France and torturing him. That was one thing he kept secret, that and how they tried press-ganging him into being a spy.
He clawed for altitude and in doing so, was sniffed out by a yellow nosed one-oh-nine.
Conrad rolled the Spit onto its back. As the Me came in, he missed Conrad and the latter was then able to out. He fired a long burst of tracer fire at the Me109 that had just slewed past him. His bullets chewed off the tailfin of the fighter and it was remarkable luck, considering the fact that the Me109 had hung around long enough for him to do so. The remaining three Me’s were surrendering their option of attacking the Spectrums and came in a sweeping triangle formation towards Conrad.
On the ground, safe and sound despite the emergency landing if it could be called that. A landing is a landing. Metcalfe helped Juliette out. Her feet planted squarely on the ground, she wiped her eyes and he glanced at her. “Sorry about the intimate ride.”
He didn’t hear her answer as he saw a Me109 fall from the sky and crash beyond the trees close to the Portsmouth road.
“Christ!” he swore and craned his neck to see a lone Spitfire dart around the tree line.
Conrad hugged the cornfield and then raced into the sky, he began a loop with two Me109’s still on his tail. The third was gone.
The loop completed, he rolled out and fired straight into the second Me109 that hadn’t managed the loop. The cockpit splashed red and the blue and grey aircraft plunged downwards. Conrad shook his tail as the last Me settled after him. He cursed savagely in Czech as bullets thudded past him and some stitched his right wing. He then cut the engine and watched the German hurtle past. Quickly restarting, he fired and smiled with satisfaction with as flecks of pain flew off the 109. The Me109 then turned and made for France.
When Conrad leapt from his Spitfire, Adam Svenson greeted him; the tall blonde American slapped him on the back.
“You bastard! That was great, a bloody DFC I should think!”
“Thanks Adam,” Conrad smiled. “It was stupid and I don’t need a Distinguished Flying Cross.”
Whether he’d like it or not, via Charles Gray, Paul nominated Conrad for a DFC.
“Portsmouth, August 13”
“The photos are smashing, can’t say much but they give us an idea of what’s going on.”
Squadron Leader Paul Metcalfe fiddled with the breadstick in the restaurant at Portsmouth Harbour, every other seat occupied by uniforms from primarily the navy and army. Opposite him, Charles Gray drank his water. “You should be happy, Paul.”
“I witnessed the elimination of men Group Co, you try doing that.”
“I have, old chap,” Gray replied coolly. “In the last war. You’ll get used to it.”
“Great,” said Paul sarcastically. “Meanwhile, what about Juliette?”
Gray frowned and then smiled. “I see, the Frenchwoman. Well she’s been offered a post in something rather hush-hush but she’d wanted a Waaf posting at Banjo.”
“I see,” Metcalfe nearly echoed.
Gray clicked his fingers in realisation; however a waiter began coming over and Gray sighed. “No, not you!”
Metcalfe watched the waiter retreat and Gray continued, “Your replacements, three pilots coming this afternoon.”
“About bloody time, been holding on with that I had and that’s not easy.”
“Be grateful that you are getting replacements, some squadrons have not been so lucky.”
Metcalfe drank from his water and mumbled sarcastically. “Tally ho.”
The three pilots were at the airfield when Gray’s car dropped Paul off. His Spitfire had quickly been salvaged from the cornfield by the Erks and was propped –beneath either wing- by bricks. The damage was that great but Metcalfe’s Erks were perfectionists and would do what they had to get the job done.
The three replacements stood by the door inside of Cloudbase; only Adam and Troy were present.
“Where’s the others?” asked Paul as he threw his cap onto the nearest chair.
“In the Erks’ hut,” replied Troy Tempest. “Going over any repairs needed.”
“About bloody time,” grumbled Metcalfe and looked warily at the three men all wearing battledress. “Okay, give me some details each. I’m Squadron Leader Metcalfe.”
The first man spoke, he was of medium height with plain looks and tousled hair. His accent was heavy with French, his English was rather good.
“Henri Verdain, formerly of the French Air Force,” he said casually. “I was flying in a Hurricane squadron until a month ago.”
“O, Hurris?” inquired Metcalfe with a raised eyebrow. He reached for a cigarette and lit it. “Before the war?”
“A fashion designer.”
“Good God,” Metcalfe murmured around the cigarette and held it in his left thumb and forefinger. “Seriously?”
“Oui, Monsieur. And I take it very seriously,” Verdain said with an edge of defiance. Chin tilted as if bracing for a challenge.
“Steady, old chap, just don’t get many people like you in the RAF.”
Metcalfe indicated for the next to speak and waited. The man was tall, with faint freckles and gingery hair. He spoke with a slight stammer. “Gordon Tracy, s-sir.”
“Relax Gordon, call me Paul,” said Metcalfe in a calming tone.
Tracy smiled nervously. “This is my first squadron.”
“How many hours on Spits?” asked Adam, arms folded and perched on a chair.
“One,” Gordon said his reply making Adam jump.
“Relax Adam. So Gordon, did you fly any other aircraft?”
“Ten hours on Hurricanes and twenty on Anson’s.”
“Thought so,” murmured Metcalfe. The two-seated Avro Anson was a good trainer but wasn’t a fighter. Even so, young Gordon had enough hours. “We’ll try to get you up to speed.”
You’ll probably die in the first dogfight, he didn’t say.
The final replacement, like Gordon was American, although his accent was deeper and more defined than Gordon’s.
“I’m Steve Blackburn. I’ve been in the RAF for about four years. I’m a bomber test pilot.”
“Bombers?” said Adam sharply. “Never flown a fighter?”
Blackburn nodded as equally sharp as Adam had been verbal. “Mustangs, started flying them in May. Got pulled from RAE Farnborough.”
“You’ll all do. Troy here will brief you on operations and then it’s back to the Battle of Britain.”
Adam followed Metcalfe into the sun outside. It was here that Metcalfe saw three Spitfires that he hadn’t seen before, all bore the RAF colours but did not bear the –SP lettering system. “Their aircraft.”
“They flew in on different aircraft?” asked Paul in response.
Svenson shrugged. “They’re still Spits. I’m more concerned with Gordon.”
“He’ll do fine,” said Metcalfe quietly. “I hope.”
Gordon Tracy spent the rest of the day concreting a friendship with Troy Tempest; the adjutant had taken the young American under his wing and was starting to regard himself like an older brother.
Gordon shrugged to himself; at least he wasn’t the only Yank.
Bradley Holden jogged by and leapt to catch a – the British called it – football and fell as he got hold of it. Richard ‘Red’ Fraser caught up with him, as did Conrad who seemed much more brighter than normal and kicked Holden’s left shoe.
“Come on, you blasted Yank, that’s a football. It’s meant to be kicked.”
“Back home we carry and throw a football,” drawled Bradley.
Conrad swore in Czech and Bradley raised an eyebrow. “I hope that whatever that is, you don’t kiss your mother with that mouth.”
Gordon had been leaning against the wall of Cloudbase, watching the exchange and laughed despite himself.
The three pilots looked at him and suddenly he felt himself blushing. “Sorry.”
Bradley stood, taking the ball with him. “Don’t be. Come on, you can join in. Play this game called soccer.”
Conrad tackled Bradley and they fell to the ground. “Football, you Yank!”
Eventually, the four pilots mucked about to the point that Metcalfe joined in.
“August 14 to August 20”
In the next few days, the Germans flung raid after raid against southern airfields and docks. Hardest hit were Dover and Folkestone, concreting beliefs that the Germans were stepping up invasion plans.
The RAF – more to the point, Fighter Command – were bearing the brunt of these raids and were losing in great numbers. On August 15 alone, the RAF lost twenty fighters. Pilots were sorely needed and the RAF was resorting to plundering pilots from Bomber Command and the Fleet Air Arm. Volunteers were coming in from the Empire –Canada and Australia chiefly – but also from South Africa, the USA and Brazil.
Three hundred and fifty pilots stood between Hitler and total domination of Europe.
It was Pilot Sergeant Conrad Turner DFC leading B Flight, consisting of Gordon, Henri and himself that would inexplicably change history. The four Spitfires were on patrol and close to London when they came across – in the starkly dark sky –a lone Heinkel He111H bomber. The bomber was well away from any major airfield such as Hawkinge or Biggins Hill and was unprotected.
Conrad led the attack and scored a lucky hit on the port engine. The engine exploded and destroyed the rest of the aircraft in the short time that followed.
“Where are they?” murmured Gray. He glanced at the clock and saw it was 1020. Not even one enemy fighter or bomber in sight. Around the plot table stood Dianne Simms and her charges that now included Juliette Pontoin.
They waited for something to do.
“Weather report?” Gray asked the man in RAF uniform seated at another desk around the gallery’s corner from Gray.
“Clear skies and high temperatures all day, sir.”
Good timing. The Waafs below Gray suddenly began bringing blocks with numbers onto the plot table and they kept doing so, the blocks building steadily by the minute. When they did, Gray was in an unnatural state of shock.
Blocks –denoting raids that had magically happened without warning- were all along the south coast and that was just one small bit of the problem. Gray soon received calls from other Group Commanders further along the coast; almost four hundred bombers were raiding the southeast coast.
Six hundred were attacking the Solent coast.
In total, there were eleven hundred bombers attacking, only half of the Luftwaffe’s bomber force.
“This is only the beginning,” Gray murmured before picking up the phone to Spectrum Squadron.
“Swarms of the sods!”
“Cut the chatter, Ochre,” Paul Metcalfe snapped in answer to Red Fraser’s outburst. The long and short of it was that the sky above Portsmouth was full of German bombers. A mixture of the pencil neck Dornier Do17’s and medium sized fighter-bomber Junkers Ju88’s to the larger faster Heinkel He111’s. Around one hundred and fifty in all.
Besides Gray’s squadrons –Spectrum, Pine and Shadow – there were six other squadrons, gathered from Gosport, Portsmouth, Southampton and even Bournemouth. The RAF’s presence in this area alone boosted to nine squadrons.
“Look out for escorts,” warned Metcalfe, his voice muffled by the oxygen mask.
The routine was simple. Come in from the side in flight formations and get in amongst the bombers; at least that was the plan for the Hurricanes. But beggars couldn’t be choosers, not with the country at risk of invasion.
“Attack, tally ho…”
“Escorts!” shouted Bradley Holden.
Forty Messerschmitt Me109E’s banked and fell screaming on the assembling RAF fighters, their cannons chattering death and destruction. Metcalfe had time to shout dispersion as he rolled his Spit onto his back and close his eyes as the horizon span around suddenly. Metcalfe levelled out in time to see the bellies of the German bombers pass above. Without waiting to straighten, he pulled up and began firing at anything bearing crosses.
Somewhere near Metcalfe, Conrad Turner was sweating frantically. The sweat was pouring in rivulets down his forehead, collecting his eyebrows and into his eyes. Blinking seemed to make it worse; he didn’t want to let one hand go in case he lost control. So far, his part in the dogfight had been rolls, banks and turns. He still had fuel ammo.
“On your tail, Brad.”
“Get him off my tail, Red.”
There was a cacophony of noises and then, Conrad felt his aircraft shudder. He had been passing a He111 and had been strafed by its waist gunner. Banking again to attack, he realised his controls were sluggish. He tugged at the yoke and then he saw his altimeter slide downwards. The Spitfire had halted its bank and was now sliding downwards in a spiral, like a ship riding the descent of a whirlpool. Conrad saw the dogfight above him, scurrying Spitfires and Hurricanes clashing with Me109’s. The larger bombers passing further above.
Conrad clenched his eyes shut and prayed for his Spit to halt the downward descent; his hands gripped the yoke and tried wrenching the Spit into a horizontal position. His eyes opened and he pulled back the canopy, his Mae West fluttered as the g-forces tugged at him. The ground appeared and then the sky.
“Argh!” he shouted, but unable to hear as the wind whipped his words away and tossed them to the four winds. Unbuckling, he stood and saw the ground closer than he thought. He jumped and fell clear of the Spit, the parachute ripped open as he jerked the ripcord.
Dangling in the sky, he saw his Spit crash and explode silently near a park; that was where he would land.
A buzzing sound made him look around and he saw it coming in, streaking like a comet.
The Me109 had seen Conrad and was racing towards him.
“The 109, fastest fighter pre-war,” Conrad murmured and then realisation dawned. “God!”
Closer the fighter came, and Conrad could almost make out the German flyer inside.
A miracle happened.
A Spitfire came from above and, in a split second, rammed the 109. Both aircraft exploded and when the fireball vanished, there was nothing remaining.
Conrad sobbed as he had seen the aircraft’s numbers. D-SP.
Red Fraser’s aircraft.
The craft of the Detroit-born pilot had been damaged when he was clipped by unknown tracer fire. He had then followed Conrad and was shocked as his friend’s Spit was hit and then lost control. Richard Fraser saw that Conrad had been in trouble, after bailing and came in to make sure he was okay. Coming from above, Red sighted a Me109 and it was in that instant –seeing his ammo was low – that Fraser chose to ram the German.
He saw a blur of cockpit and then he made the step into the beyond.
Charles Gray was on his sixth cigarette and looked once again, phone pressed to ear, at the plot board. All that remained were straggling Germans over the Isle of Wight. The squadron boards were either on LANDED or RETURNING.
Gray returned attention to his phone as he recognised the voice. “Tempest, report.”
“Of the scrambled twelve fighters, only eight have returned.”
Gray muttered an obscenity. “Do you know who is missing?”
On the other end of the phone, the dark-haired adjutant awkwardly picked up the clipboard on his table with his burnt hand. He tried to ignore the loud talking and carried on.
“Pilot Officer Richard Fraser, believed Killed In Action. Pilot Sergeant Conrad Turner, believed Missing In Action. Pilot Sergeant Adam Svenson, believed MIA and Squadron Leader Paul Metcalfe believed MIA.”
“You mentioned that Fraser was KIA, but the others not.”
Troy frowned at the receiver, rather in exasperation than wonder. “Somebody from Pine Squadron saw him ram a Me109 sir. Turner and Svenson have landed at other airfields due to fuel shortage.”
“Don’t know sir.”
“Fine, thank you.”
Gray hung up and Tempest slammed his receiver down; he turned round and stood. Bradley Holden was sitting closest to him on one of the battered old sofas. “Did you see Paul?”
Bradley numbly shook his head. “No. Poor Red.”
“He did save Conrad.”
“Where is that Czech bastard?” swore Holden looking around. At that point, a Mae West lifejacket and parachute was thrown into the hut and clattered with a metallic sound to the ground. In came a mud-covered Paul Metcalfe.
“Son of a… where did you come from?” asked Bradley, standing.
Metcalfe flicked his left hand and wet mud flew everywhere making Bradley scowl.
“I landed in a flooded field, didn’t I?” Metcalfe sat down and mud squelched against the chair he sat in. He exhaled. “I lost my Spit.”
“You’ll get another,” Edward Wilkie said handing Metcalfe a tea.
“Not the same as her.”
There was silence.
Conrad dragged his chute wearily all the way from the Portsea Channel to the airfield, a distance of two miles.
No one stopped to help him.
The Czech stumbled over a small fence in a hedge gap and lay on his
back, the chute falling on his face and mud staining his uniform. He heard the
sound of Merlin engines and rolling over, the chute gathering around him; he sighted
some Spitfire sitting at the far end of the field.
“The bloody field,” he grumbled and stood. His boot caught on the chute and he slipped, landing firmly on his behind; he swore and then proceeded to crawl across the field.
The atmosphere was frosty at Spectrum’s airfield, least because of the invasion threat but also between Bradley and Conrad. Holden blamed Turner for the death of Richard ‘Red’ Fraser. To confound this matter, the squadron was being used to mop up stragglers from raids on the Dover area and in particular, Manston airfield.
On August 23 rain made flying impossible, the aircraft wheels caked in wet brown mud and covered in sheeting. The Erks sheltered in their hut; in the pilots’ hut, the wireless played live music from the Savoy in London.
“And now, Ed Straker’s Band with A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square.”
“Smashing,” muttered Troy Tempest at his desk. Nearby slouched in an armchair, Conrad Turner ran a hand through his black hair and sighed. “British weather.”
“Keeps the Germans away,” Bradley Holden said in a broody manner.
“That is good, but I want to go at them,” Conrad replied. Bradley’s eyes swivelled towards Conrad. Seated on the sofa next to Bradley, Adam Svenson stirred, as did the others. Paul Metcalfe turned away from the doorway and exhaled his cigarette smoke.
“So you can bring one of us down?” Holden said sharply.
“No, bring one of them down.” Conrad fixed Holden with a steady gaze that did not make Holden break his own gaze.
“And then get in trouble, so one of us rams the bastard.”
“Something on your chest, Brad?”
“Yeah, and it’s Pilot Officer Holden to you.”
“Enough Brad, its not Conrad’s fault that Red decided to bring one of them down,” Adam said and put a hand on Bradley’s left arm.
The dark-haired American shrugged it off angrily. “Red didn’t need to sacrifice himself.”
“Deep down ,Red wanted to be a hero and he did just that,” Adam coolly said.
“He didn’t have to,” Bradley emphatically said with tears in his eyes. He stood and lunged for Conrad, but Adam wrapped his arms around Holden’s legs and the two fell to the ground. They wrestled and then Adam reached for a cushion and began beating Bradley, Conrad got his own cushion and joined in. The seriousness faded as Bradley laughed, eventually the others joined in, including Metcalfe.
Troy sat and watched from his desk. Shouts came from the floor and the Erks came to watch, the officers fighting was worth a look in. bets were placed. It was how these men, these brave boys in blue, realised tension after loosing a friend in battle.
The phone jangled and in the hubbub, only Troy heard; with his gloved hand, he took it. “Spectrum Squadron.”
“This is Whitehall 1212,” came the refined voice. Troy stiffened, Whitehall and that number meant something big.
“You are receiving the codeword Cromwell, repeat please.”
The line went dead and hurriedly Troy reached for the book on his desk, sealed with red tape and marked CODE SIGNALS that had been issued to every fighter squadron adjutant in the south. He tore the tape and ignored the playfight that was still releasing tension his gloved finger flicked pages to C.
“Oh hell…” He read some of it. “Invasion readiness. Invasion expected at any time. Pilots must be on instant readiness for scramble.”
Troy saw Metcalfe on the floor by him and grabbed him by the shoulder; Metcalfe stood.
“What is it, old man?”
“Cromwell,” replied Troy.
He showed the book to Metcalfe; the dark-haired Hampshire born pilot swore and shouted for everyone to stop. In various stages of action, the pilots stopped. “We’re on instant readiness, we can’t leave the field. Not until we get the stand down. Invasion’s expected, gentlemen.”
The mood fell and everyone stayed where they were, not knowing what to do.
“September 6, 1940”
Corporal Dianne Simms in charge of Banjo’s Plot Room extinguished her cigarette as she sat in the building’s canteen. At her table sat the American Karen Wainwright and Frenchwoman Juliette Pontoin. Dianne was tired, having been on duty all week with little sleep. Moving blocks to denote raids on airfields, she knew that Biggin Hill had taken a battering in Kent. But who hadn’t?
“I am too tired to move,” groaned Karen as she stretched her arms and checked her watch.
“I agree, too tired,” murmured Juliette. “If only I was able to see the men, to know they are okay.”
“I know how you feel,” agreed Dianne, thinking of Conrad. He was in the thick of it, so was the rest of Spectrum Squadron.
A phone rang somewhere in the building and Dianne nudged Karen’s arm that was resting on the table by the Briton.
“Any more cigs?”
“No and even if I did, they’ll be mine,” Karen said. “What with rationing and the air raids, I’m in short supply.”
“You’re a Yank, can’t you pull some strings and get some?” Dianne said emphatically.
Ten minutes later, they and four other Waafs were plotting the latest raid; the attack was coming in three prongs of groups and towards three airfields in the area. Gosport, Thorney Island and the Isle of Wight. The speakers on the walls squawked pilots as they went into battle.
“This is Scarlet lead, we’re airborne. Direct us, Banjo.”
In the gallery, Group Commander Charles Gray replied via his telephone. “Scarlet, Banjo. Steer zero-six-zero, trade building over Portsmouth bound for Thorney Island. Twenty-six plus.”
“Acknowledged, engaging shortly.”
Gray hung up the telephone and watched his Waafs move the plots across the map, due to the airfields being targeted, the concentration of German bombers was over the Portsmouth isle. Banjo and its commanding airfields were not far from Portsmouth and Fratton. Gray’s glass of water began rattling and he stared at it; he then looked at his right leg thinking he had been unconsciously tapping it against the table leg.
Yet his leg was still and the water in the glass was rolling like the waters of the Solent in winter. The pencil on his table rolled and fell off, now he thought it could be an earthquake.
A quake in Portsmouth?
Dianne Simms rolled her headphones off and placed them on her shoulders. Her eyebrows knitted into a frown.
“Anyone hear that?”
Gray heard it; the rumbling of aircraft engines, and hundreds of them it seemed. It was getting louder, drowning out any speech. Gray got to his feet. “To the shelter!”
The Waafs began ditching their equipment as Gray was shouting orders to his officers. Whilst they did this, the world came to an unexpected end or it seemed like it. The whistling of bombs joined the cacophony of engines and explosions sounded; one of the room’s walls blew in and Gray fell. He landed heavily on the plot room floor and looked in time to see the gallery begin tilting onto him from above.
Then it went black.
“Say again, Banjo,” Metcalfe shouted into his radio.
He fell silent, having tried dozens of times, unsuccessfully. He stared ahead as the Spitfires raced southwards and could see the bombers that were their targets. Just behind the marauding bombers was a pillar of black smoke. Just where Banjo’s control building was.
“Attack at will, Spectrums, flights acknowledge.”
Splitting into three flights – Blue’s flight down to three fighters – Spectrum Squadron flew against the German bombers without hesitation. Metcalfe led his flight in a head on attack that made some of the Heinkel bombers jerk nervously. Streams of tracer fire rippled across the sky against Germans or RAF men. Words overflowed words as pilots shouted warnings.
“Fawn to Scarlet, enemy fighters coming from above,” warned Edward ‘Winky’ Wilkie.
Scarlet glanced upwards as he jerked his rudder and brought the Spitfire in a scything turn to port. The fighters were as always the Messerschmitt Me109 but these had red noses and stark red numbers.
“Hell. Scarlet acknowledging, all fighters, enemy bogies attacking.”
Trinidadian Seymour Griffith aged twenty-one had been largely in the background of Spectrum Squadron. Call sign Green, he had kept to himself and had merged into Adam Svenson’s flight without preamble. Now he flanked Conrad Turner above the changing landscape of Portsmouth and neighbouring suburb of Fratton.
“Green to Black, what now?”
“We keep fighting,” Conrad answered knowing without asking that Seymour referred to the fact that they had lost Adam, the American had been lost in the melee of the dogfight. Ahead of Seymour, a He111H dropped from formation, undamaged but in a vain hope at dodging the Spitfires that flitted around like anxious wasps at a picnic. “Okay Green, lets get that bastard. Teach him for trespassing in our park.”
“Roger wilko,” Griffith answered.
Beside each other, Conrad and Seymour closed the distance on the lone He111. They parted so that they could individually take a respective side, Seymour the left and Conrad the right. Seymour noticed an arm waving from the gun bubble atop the He111 by the radio mast; it was the gunner perhaps gesturing to the pilot.
The Spitfires attacked the bombers engines in rapid tandem; Seymour hammered the left Junkers Jumo engine with ten second bursts of tracer fire. The propeller began to feather and then stopped, black smoke blanketed Seymour – he pulled up, spiralling into the sky. He fell above and beside Conrad; he was hammering the engine too but it wasn’t stopping. Suddenly the engine exploded and shrapnel peppered Conrad.
“Black, you okay?” Seymour frantically cried.
Black shook his Spit and the rasp reply came back. “Some fresh holes but lets get moving.”
The He111, mortally wounded, nose-dived and crashed into the Portsea channel.
Seymour ‘Green’ and Conrad ‘Black’ winged their way back into the raging dogfight.
Thirty minutes later, Conrad’s chief Erk was studying the Spit as Conrad leapt from the cockpit, his boots thudding on the wooden wings. “Bloody ‘ell sir, somebody jabbed you with a knitting pin.”
Conrad shrugged; beside them another Spitfire swung its tail to a stop. “Merely brushed me.”
Troy Tempest ran from Cloudbase onto the grass before the Spits and shouted. “Get back up there!”
“Says who?” shouted back Bradley Holden swinging his legs off the wing of his own Spitfire.
Paul Metcalfe remained in his cockpit. “We’re not even rearmed or refuelled.”
Troy waved his arms frantically. “Orders from Fighter Command, more bombers inbound.”
“Why not Banjo?” Metcalfe pressed.
“They were bombed.”
The comment was made matter of factly, enough though to shock everyone within ear range. Metcalfe thought of Juliette, Adam of Karen and Conrad of Dianne. Adam’s romance with Karen had bloomed in the past week, covered over by the invasion threat. But Metcalfe regained composure rapidly. “Okay. Erks, get these topped up now, you’ve got five minutes.”
It was the longest five minutes in history.
Throughout the remainder of September 6, 1940, the Germans hammered with their bombs any airfield they could find and the docks at Dover, Portsmouth and Folkestone. They struck at Dover Castle –Admiral Beatty’s HQ – and at Hythe just down the coast from Dover. As night fell, the Germans made two more raids – this time on Harwich and sunk five destroyers.
When the raiders left the shores, silence fell and Britain licked its wounds.
As the sun began to win its battle against the night, the Home Guardsmen in Dover stood by their dazzle painted post. There were five in total, all aged sixty to seventy and wielding rifles. They drank their tea and talked about general events that did not really preoccupy the minds of those outside of Dover. Not any one of them noticed the shadows on the lane behind them; even if they did, they would not have reacted in time. One Home Guardsman disappeared from view as a hand came across his mouth and dragged him behind the post hut. A figure appeared wearing a flat helmet that bore an eagle clasping a swastika in its talons.
He slit one man’s throat but was discovered; his comrades opened fire on the other Home Guardsmen and their presence was now exposed. The small team of German paratroopers, who had landed by glider during the night, now ran for Dover Castle as more gliders swooped in. In the English Channel, a dark line of ships began to appear closing towards the coastline.
Squadron Leader Paul Metcalfe stood with some aching pains from where he had been lying on the huts floor; he reached for the phone that was jangling incessantly. Troy had fallen asleep at the table and was rubbing his eyes groggily.
“This is Fighter Command, the enemy is landing at points around Dover. Your squadron is to fly to Dover and make attacks on the enemy. Airfields in the area are available for refuelling and rearming.”
Metcalfe exhaled and nodded as if he could see the man at Bentley Priory. “Right.” He hung up.
By now the men of Spectrum Squadron were awake. “Chaps, the Germans are landing. To your aircraft.”
Sombrely, the men of Spectrum Squadron took to the air minutes later, heading further east from Portsmouth, they eventually made out columns of black smoke from Dover. The air around the town seemed to be a seething pot of confusion, aircraft dotted the sky and explosions of shells drifted upwards. The sun was making the surface of the English Channel shiny, hard to see the ships dotting the channel.
“Head for the channel,” ordered Metcalfe. “The barges are our targets.”
The Spits dropped to hug the land and crossed the beaches on which men of green and grey uniforms battled. As they raced across the waters to assemble for attack, there was a bright explosion aft of Metcalfe.
“Seymour just got hit!” exclaimed Conrad Turner. He broke formation as a wave of enemy Me109’s swept past firing.
Metcalfe jerked his yoke around and tore skywards; nearby Henri Verdain’s Spitfire rolled over onto its back, glycol trailing. A body dropped clear and the chute extended; seconds later, he splashed down into the channel. Metcalfe couldn’t speak; fear gripped his heart as Me109’s assaulted the Spits scrambling every which way they could. There was smattering of explosions everywhere, black puffs of smoke, tracer fire. He closed his eyes.
The years ahead, wasted breath.
Wasted breath, the years behind.
He opened them and saw blue sky; for a moment he thought he had died but the spluttering of his engine alerted him to the fact he was very much alive. Cannon fire crisscrossed the chaotic sky; Spitfires were scattering to the four winds with a Me109 each. Metcalfe shouted orders but two more Spits were struck, one feathered smoke before nose-diving and the other’s wings folded onto the cockpit.
Eventually the Hampshire born man ordered a retreat. Contacting the local control room, the surviving Spectrums were directed to RAF Woodchurch – that was a few miles from Folkestone. Upon landing, the sounds of battle could still be heard, with the rattle of guns and thuds of shells. Only six Spitfires remained.
The pilots gathered around Metcalfe’s Spitfire; the pilot made notations on a piece of paper leaning against the port wing. He made notes of who were there, pilots killed were Seymour Griffith – RAF Commonwealth, Steve Blackburn – RAF Eagle and Gordon Tracy also RAF Eagle. Left –Metcalfe, Adam, Conrad, Winky and Bradley.
“Poor Gordon,” mourned Conrad. His black hair slick with sweat. “Too young.”
The fact they were all in their early twenties slipped everyone’s mind. Paul Metcalfe glanced at Adam Svenson across the wing.
“We’re down to six, the Luftwaffe’s everywhere. What now?”
“We keep on until the Germans get this far.”
“Surrender?” asked Bradley Holden. Dirt smeared his face and the American looked tired, more than the others.
“I’m not surrendering,” declared Conrad, receiving a gentle tap from Holden. “Not to the Nazis.”
“It is too early to talk about surrendering,” Metcalfe said. “I, on the other hand, am not. Not now, not ever. I’ll go down fighting, as for the rest of you, you can decide for yourself.”
“I’ll fight,” Adam said firmly.
“Moi aussi,” Henri Verdain nodded emphatically.
Conrad Turner, Bradley Holden and Edward Wilkie simply nodded their feelings clear. Metcalfe pinched the bridge of his nose wearily. C’est le guerre.
“Thank you all. Let’s get refuelled and rearmed. We’ll hit the enemy, where we can.”
It had been six hours since Operation Sea Lion had begun. The name given to the invasion of Britain by the Germans.
Britain’s hour was at hand.
Wearing a tin helmet in the Fratton cottage, Group Commander Charles Gray AFC DFC pressed the field telephone to his ear. His blue eyes were narrowed in concentration.
“Your pilots have not been seen in the area, but six fighters have been operating out of the Folkestone pocket.”
Gray tilted his head as the words settled in from the Fighter Command man. “Thank you.”
Dianne Simms –also sporting a helmet – saw Gray hung up. “Any sign of them, sir?”
“It looks like some of them are in Folkestone,” Gray murmured. “Anything new Dianne?”
The Londoner consulted her board; she leant against a temporary plot table. “Dover’s fallen, Admiral Beatty surrendered last night. The Germans are pouring more men into the town and look set to be heading for a breakout.”
Gray swallowed and sighed. “The wolf is upon the fold.”
Major Helmut Lang felt as seasick as he had ever did. The old barge was more used to the Rhine than the width of the English Channel. It was the morning of September 9 – Sea Lion Plus Two – and the weather was still holding. Lang was on a barge carrying one of five barges carrying tanks.
The only travel on water the Munich-born Lang had ever done until now, had been on a paddleboat, on a small lake. Even then he had been ill. Yet his uncle was a U-Boat captain, but then again, Uncle Willy was from Wilhelmshaven.
Lang heard a buzzing and shook his head. Probably the barges motor, he thought. He glanced towards the rear where stood his men. Their pale faces met his; the waves beyond his peripheral made him sway.
“Mein Gott,” he breathed.
Just then, aircraft roared overhead and a barge blew up. Lang swore again as the Spitfires –six of them – came for another attack. Their roundels glittered in the September sun, their Merlin engines cackled loudly. They now came in six abreast and Lang slammed to the bottom, rolling against the nearest Tiger Tank.
Lang felt the barge begin to heel over to one side, the cold water from the English Channel began filling the base and shouts of German became panicky were heard everywhere.
“Where is the Luftwaffe?” screamed Lang.
At this point, the Tiger by him was torn from its chains and landed atop the wailing major. Shortly after the barge, capsized and sank.
By the time Luftwaffe fighters were scrambled from Manston in Kent, the Spits had gone and only two barges remained.
“September 10, S+3”
The woods somewhere in Kentish countryside proved a startling remainder of the fact that a mere two months or so ago, the pilots hid in a wood like this in France.
Both times the Germans were coming.
The pilots gathered around Metcalfe’s Spit port wingtip as he held a torch at the map spread out.
“Okay, chaps. Jerry’s just broken out of the Dover Pocket, radio chatter suggests that their heading northwards for London but expanding westwards to capture Portsmouth intact. We’re going to strafe military columns, be careful not to hit refugee columns. This is Britain, they’re our own.”
The pilots got into their Spitfires and seconds later were moving to take-off.
Invasion preparations were being triggered across the occupied lands and the areas were soon to be swept up by the marauding Germans. British Resistance cells were being activated, simple Britons recruited following the outbreak of war a year ago. This was Churchill’s Secret Army, known under the heading ‘Auxiliary Units.’
The British were confused in reaction. Using a combination of Commonwealth troops, they held the line at the Kentish border, but the Germans were hell-bent intent on taking London. A bigger hold was being prepared north of London.
Charles Gray was bundling papers into the burning rubbish bin, soot streaked his face having stoked two previous bonfires outside. The cottage had been Banjo’s command centre for only three days. In all his life in uniform, he had never retreated and that had earned him his decorations from His Majesty George V.
Corporal Dianne Simms came up to him with a framed photo; it was of His Majesty King George VI. “Shall I burn this too, sir?”
Gray took it and scowled. “God no, Dianne, this is our ruling Monarch.”
He tore the frames off and rolled the picture up; he placed it in his breast pocket. Dianne Simms continued packing papers in and after a while, stood watching the flames; her face lit red, her tears seemed like drops of lava.
“Jerry’s coming!” shouted Troy Tempest. He had stayed behind when Spectrum went east and determinedly found his way to Banjo Command.
Dianne looked with wide eyes to Gray; the white-haired Group Commander took her by the shoulder. “Get into the lorry, I’ll be out in a minute.”
Gray ran to the living quarters at the front of the cottage – outside a blue Ford lorry waited – he grabbed the gramophone and placed it by the door.
A short while later, he leapt into the lorry. It soon rumbled northwards as further behind, German motorbikes and sidecars came to a stop. Behind, a field car stopped, and a major commanding the small convoy, a tall well-built chap who had his helmet pulled low, jumped from it. He walked into the cottage and paused as he saw on the wall opposite a hastily scrawled message:
WE’LL BE BACK, YOU BASTARDS.
It was only then that he heard from a gramophone the song There’ll always be an England.
“Washington DC, September 15, S+8”
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt relaxed in his wheelchair in the White House garden. The sun was bright upon this little slice of Eden. It was a pity that across the Atlantic a war was being fought.
One of Roosevelt’s aides approached the president as he smoked and saluted. “Excuse me sir, the British Ambassador to see you.”
“Show him here, please.”
Phillip Henry Kerr –Eleventh Marquis of Lothian – was sixty-two and Ambassador to America since 1939. The suit he wore was as smartly furnished as ever; he doffed his cap as he stood before Roosevelt. “Morning Mr President, I bring a message from my government.”
Of course you do. Roosevelt gestured to the brick wall of the rose bed. “Do sit, Mr Ambassador, I understand its not a good seat but there you go.”
Kerr made the most of it and waited for Roosevelt to prompt him. “German forces are now surrounding London, Downing Street is under artillery attack. The Prime Minister wishes me to reiterate that he requests American support.”
Roosevelt removed the cigarette from his mouth and held it between his right forefinger and second finger. He had no doubt that requests were a politer way to demand. Churchill had been requesting help ever since Dover fell.
“Even if the U.S.A. were to lend help to the United Kingdom, surely London would’ve fallen and with it the government?”
Kerr held his hat in his fingers and rotated it as he replied, “We are preparing rearguard action at Luton to halt the Germans any further. Liverpool and Cardiff will be kept open at any costs. They are being declared fortresses in the event the Germans break the Luton Line.”
So its come to Britain declaring its cities fortresses and fighting in the countryside?
Roosevelt was silent and could feel Kerr’s expectant gaze upon him, he could also imagine Churchill wanting to fight to the death.
“All right Mr Ambassador,” Roosevelt said firmly. “We’ll help you. Tell your government we’re coming.”
Kerr stood. “I must leave and pass this on quickly.”
The next morning as it became celebrated in a battered London, the American Congress watched on as on September 16, 1940, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared war on Nazi Germany.
On September 17, two aircraft carriers –Enterprise and Wasp – set sail from Norfolk, Virginia, with a convoy of destroyers and troop ships bound for Great Britain.
“London, September 17 1940. Sealion Plus Ten”
Even as the British Army stalled the Germans at Luton, a column of Panzer tanks rolled through the Admiralty down The Mall towards Buckingham Palace. Behind them infantry marched grinning, a scene reminiscent of the Champs Elysees victory parade. Upon reaching the grand gates of the Palace, the General in command – Erwin Rommel –walked into the grounds with his aides, one of them wielding a swastika banner that would be flown from the Palace.
Standing in uniform, looking brave, was King George VI; beside him were his wife Queen Elizabeth and one of his daughters – Princess Elizabeth. Rommel recognised the king and saluted him with a hand to his cap.
“Good morning, Your Majesty.”
The king spoke German but stuttered in English, “Morning.”
“I am General Erwin Rommel, representing the German Wehrmacht commanded by Field Marshal von Runstedt. I declare that an armistice has been signed by your Lord Halifax and you must now enforce this by radio.”
“If I must,” the king said dryly. “What has happened to Winston Churchill?”
Rommel looked ill at ease suddenly. “Herr Churchill was shot dead defending Downing Street.”
Indeed he had. Days before as front units ran up the street Churchill had appeared from behind sandbags and shot two soldiers dead before he was shot dead.
The king paled and his lip trembled but he stiffened. “Such is war.”
The swastika shortly hoisted, the king made his speech.
In Luton, their Spits standing in a nearby park, Spectrum Squadron gathered once more around Metcalfe as he sat on a bench, a portable wireless on his lap. Luton was totally British, the line was being held two miles south of the town and it was already brimming with uniforms.
“And now His Majesty King George VI, Emperor of India,” the clipped accent of a BBC announcer intoned emotionlessly.
The king was not a great public speaker but this time he managed to sold commanding. Paul Metcalfe pictured him in the Palace, wearing his naval uniform and keeping a brave face.
“It is my solemn duty as your monarch to inform you of the death of Winston Churchill, who died whilst in the service of his country…”
“Bloody hell,” swore Conrad tears stinging his eyes, as were Paul and Adam’s.
The king continued: “But now I must declare that all fighting must cease. I have been requested to say this by the Germans. To the loyal soldiers still fighting, I ask you to lay down your weapons and surrender peacefully. I am sure that once the fighting is over, the Germans will release prisoners of war after a brief time. To you all, civilian and soldier alike I say –good luck and may God save this great nation.”
As the words trickled off, somebody in the park – it was full of people listening to the radio – began singing God Save the King.
An hour later, General Bernard Montgomery announced that the Americans were on their way and that the British would continue to hold the line at Luton twenty-five miles north of London.
Stalemate was settling in.
Paul Metcalfe stuffed his hands into the pockets of his long jacket on this thirteenth day of German occupation. He stood on the northern end of Westminster Bridge by the shadow of Big Ben –the hands of the big clock were directed at 1314. Metcalfe waited by a newsstand of the Evening Standard, posters declaring Formation of New Government under Lord Halifax! And Germans declare Martial Law.
Since armistice on September 17, the Germans had been unable to press further north than the line held on that mournful day. As a result, the occupied land extended from Portsmouth in a gradual curve to north of London, around the city’s northern limits – with areas before London – and to the Thames estuary.
The occupied land – known as the Occupied Zone - was held from the ‘free’ land by a No-Man’s Land of two miles width. If you were to look at a map of Britain with the Occupied Zone coloured in red, then it would appear that Britain’s backside was sore.
In theory, the Unoccupied Zone –the area of land without physical German presence- was to come under Halifax’s new government –puppet government thought Metcalfe – but General Alan Brooke – recently bundled by his aides across No Man’s Land into Luton – declared that they would continue to fight the invaders.
Net result – a general state of uncertainty, chaos and confusion.
But there was no outright fighting between the German forces and surviving British Armed Forces and so it was all quiet on the western front. As for the Yanks? Who knew? Nobody knew what the Americans were doing, whether they will still coming or not.
Metcalfe bought a paper and moodily read Halifax’s inauguration speech, co-signed by General Rommel. Halifax had always been on the German side, not literally, but he had wanted peace with Germany and was keen on appeasement. He became such a problem to Churchill that the late Prime Minister had been about to send Halifax to Washington as British Ambassador. The invasion had changed all that. He was literally about to leave as Panzers rolled ashore at Dover but stayed. He remained hidden in London until the capitulation and then was sought by the Germans. They knew he had been wanting a peace weeks ago, he shared this belief with Hitler. So, Halifax was made the leader of Britain. To many in the free zone north of No Man’s Land, he was nothing short of a coward and a traitor.
“Weather is rather cold,” came a crisp British voice at Metcalfe’s elbow. A quick glance showed a man to wear a homburg hat with black overcoat. He had blonde hair and wore black-rimmed glasses.
“They say its colder in Berlin,” murmured Metcalfe not looking directly at the man and keeping his gaze random. “Congratulations on making it this far into the OZ. I’m Metcalfe.”
The man took the introduction without reaction. “McClaine.”
Metcalfe folded up the paper and nodded towards Parliament Square down the road behind them. “That way.”
Silently, they walked into Parliament Square, on the square before Westminster, swastikas and Union Jacks fluttered together as well as the Union swastika –essentially the Union Jack with a swastika on a white circle central of the union. Metcalfe was not happy about this mutilation of his flag, but he couldn’t do anything about it and silently brooded about it. He hoped that Halifax got his come-uppances for this heinous crime. They crossed onto the square passing a marching column of German soldiers. McClaine and Metcalfe sat on a bench looking towards Parliament.
“What is the plan?”
Metcalfe gave him a scrap of paper. “Here. A series of hit and run strikes across the capital on German targets. Commit these street names to memory and destroy that paper.”
“I thought we’d be doing top notch resistance work.”
“My dear chap, I don’t know what you did before the invasion, but the resistance is not all espionage. We’ve got to hit the bastards hard and hit them long enough until the Americans come.”
“Right.” McClaine tore the paper into bits and stood. He doffed his cap. “Be seeing you. By the way I was in the navy.”
With that, he left and Metcalfe soon went his way. Within minutes, he was at Horse Guard Parade and collected Adam Svenson – wearing a business suit – and they moved onto St. James Park.
“I met the contact. Hopefully things will start moving sooner or later. Probably tonight and then onto the next couple of days.”
Svenson nodded, kicking at leaves as they moved on across the park. “Is he trustworthy?”
“I think so. Heard anything from Park?”
Air Vice Marshal Keith Park – 11 Group’s CO – had escaped before the Germans swept over Bentley Priory and captured Dowding. Park was Brooke’s commander of the RAF – sometimes known as the Free Royal Air Force –and was in any effect Metcalfe’s boss. Although officially, the survivors of Spectrum Squadron were incorporated into the British Resistance – this had morphed from the make do cells to a higher level of structure – they still came under Park’s command.
“Nope, communications only in event of absolute emergency,” replied Svenson. “I’ve heard through the grapevine that the American force that left on the seventeenth has rounded Northern Ireland. Should make landfall at Liverpool tomorrow.”
Some hope. Metcalfe paused and as a result, do did Svenson. His gaze was on Buckingham Palace; there were swastikas everywhere, and a large banner showing Hitler’s face across the balcony.
“With only the rump of the UK occupied, the Germans can’t hold. They’ll either have to invade the rest of the islands, and perhaps whilst the Yanks disembark, or take their chances and fight us off long enough for a spring offensive.”
Svenson faced his old friend. “Paul, we’ll win. I’m with you until the end. Besides, if we make it, I’m going to ask Karen to marry me.”
At any other time, Metcalfe might’ve whooped or clapped but he simply dipped his head. “Now let’s get to Chelsea, we have little time.”
“Formby, near Liverpool, evening September 30”
Black-haired, moustachioed General Alan Brooke commander of the British Armed Forces – and in part ‘Free Britain’ – stood from the conference table in the council building to meet the helmeted figure that entered the dull-looking room bedecked by Union Jacks.
“Welcome to Britain, General.”
General George S. Patton Junior, commanding officer of the American Relief Force – the ARF – took off his shiny black helmet and extended his right hand. “Thank you, General.”
Brooke gestured for Patton to sit; compared to Brooke ,Patton was well built –the shoulders of a football player and the look of a man who has seen war. Indeed, Patton had served in France in 1918 and this moment – September 1940 – was now his moment of destiny. He had been chosen at short notice, over his old friend Dwight D. Eisenhower, to command the ARF.
Patton spoke in a squeaky voice: “I’m personally eager to take the fight to the Germans.” His tone emphasised on the word ‘fight’. “I assume you have a plan, General?”
Brooke raised an eyebrow. “You can assume correctly, General.”
Brooke stood and went to a nearby map of Britain that had been altered to show the Occupied Zone and tapped a black dot above the northern red line. “Here is Luton. This is our headquarters, really. Sooner or later, the Germans will try to drive us from there and make for Scotland like the clappers.” The last word threw Patton momentarily as Brooke continued, “I suggest that with the forces we have, we move in three lines towards positions north and slightly west of London,” Brooke’s finger pointed them out.
“Luton, Braintree and Oxford.”
Patton stood to get a better look and saw the places mentioned as being parallel to the Occupied Zone. “Then what, General?”
“Then we get some reinforcements move them down to a line north of Southampton on the western edge of the OZ.”
Brooke fixed Patton with a look. “Will the Americans be sending reinforcements?”
“A second force will leave Norfolk in a week, ETA being October 10.”
“We should hold.”
“I hope so, General Brooke. I want to pin the Krauts to Big Ben.”
“Chelsea, London, evening September 30 morning October 1, 1940”
Dianne Simms’ family home was in the better part of London, Chelsea – or so she’d have the others believe. Not all of Spectrum Squadron was in the white-bricked Simms home as night settled and curfew enforced. Only Adam, Paul, Conrad and Bradley were here – the others were out, on various assignments. However, Dianne, Karen and Juliette were present. There was no sign of Charles Gray though. The women had reached safety with Gray after fleeing Portsmouth and were quickly absorbed into the resistance. Gray was also take in, he should’ve been here at the house but could easily be on a different assignment elsewhere.
“Hyde Park is our target. Let’s make sure Jerry doesn’t catch us.”
“That would be the general idea of this exercise, Paul,” Adam pointed out as they slipped out of the house. Few streetlamps worked since the occupation of London, primarily to counter any British raids. It hadn’t stopped the Germans bombing Cardiff though.
Paul Metcalfe, Adam Svenson, Conrad Turner, Bradley Holden, Dianne Simms, Karen Wainwright and Juliette Pontoin were dressed all in black. Each carried a handgun, two grenades and enough plastique explosive to destroy a vehicle. They managed to get to Hyde Park without crossing a German patrol and crept through a hole in the southern fence to move towards the Serpentine. On the bridge were two tanks; by the lake’s shoreline towards the bridge were three half-track vehicles –vehicles with wheels forward and caterpillar tracks aft. These were tempting targets for the British Resistance.
A shadow from behind an oak tree made the Spectrums pause and Metcalfe whispered, “Come on.”
“Wimbledon.” Ian McClaine appeared speaking the password. He had been their rendezvous for this night and operation. “Sorry, old chap.”
Metcalfe waved him aside. “No matter.”
The other resistance man had passed the primitive test, the well-known theory that Germans couldn’t for the life of them say Wimbledon. Other favourites for the resistance were Wolverhampton, Woolworth’s and Warwick.
The group scattered and divided to take either target, one group consisted of Paul, Adam and Conrad. The two Britons and American opted to take the tanks on the bridge. The bridge was on the western edge of the Serpentine and was a throughway for traffic; right now, the two tanks were next to a checkpoint and six Germans were present. Unseen by the Germans, Metcalfe, Svenson and Turner placed their explosives under each tank. As they were moving away, a bright explosion lit the bridge and immediate area. The three men could feel the whoosh from the explosion. Metcalfe scowled as the half-tracks brewed; the shout of German began on the bridge.
“Christ!” he whispered. “Get moving!”
The three men stood and began running, in the process moving before the reacting Germans. Shots were exchanged and shouts of German intermixed with those of English. Conrad tripped one soldier and took him down; they rolled on the road just as the tanks exploded. Debris landed in the Serpentine sending up fountains of water. Conrad was dragged from behind and ended up on the roadside further down from the smouldering tanks were a staff car waited.
A German officer looked down at him. “It is all over for you, Englander.”
Conrad swore in Czech and it went frightfully black as he was thumped on the head from above.
“Who set off the bloody charges too early?” snapped Metcalfe as he closed the doors to the Baker Street safe house. The members of the raiding party had found seats and didn’t look too happy, either with Metcalfe or the Germans.
“Somebody, answer me!” he fumed. “Because Conrad’s been captured as a result of them going off early.”
“We were hounded quickly by the Germans,” Adam piped in.
McClaine raised a hand. “I did.”
“Why in God’s name did you?” Metcalfe went to where McLaine stood by the room’s fireplace.
“Shock and awe, I thought it would do the trick.”
“Did the trick all right,” grumbled Metcalfe. “We’re down one man. A good man who’s also a good fighter pilot, bloody hell!”
Nobody else spoke.
Conrad Turner thought himself resilient. He had proved it when he escaped his homeland and had proved it again when he flew against the Germans. Now, as he sat tied to a wooden chair in a dark room somewhere in London, he doubted that resilience.
The door opened and a light switched on. Two black-clad soldiers, their collars bearing the double crooked runes of the SS and their helmets the death’s head, stepped in. Conrad’s stomach tightened; those were the people that oppressed his country. The two SS men stopped and behind them a third man in army grey –Feldgrau the Germans called it – entered. He too was SS and the leaf on the collar denoted him as a general of Gruppenfuhrer. His hair was silvery grey and his build athletic, he was tall and his boots gleaming.
“Morning, I am General Kitz of the SS-GB.”
Conrad didn’t reply. “I am investigating terror activities against the people of this land. You are no doubt behind them – or at least you are one of them. A tree has many branches, yes?” Kitz removed his gloves. “Silence will do you no good, what is your name?”
The clenched voice of Conrad made Kitz smile. “What is your first name Herr Ball?”
“Hitler has only got one.”
It sunk in Kitz and the SS general went red; he slapped Conrad across the face. “Insolence will not be tolerated!”
Conrad bit his lip and fell silent. Kitz glowered. “The arresting soldiers reported you spoke a foreign tongue, one speculated it was Czech. Now, with Czechoslovakia being a province of the Greater German Reich this means you are an enemy of the state, for no doubt you are a Czech.”
“Go to hell,” Conrad swore. “One day all Europe will be free of Nazi tyranny.”
Kitz nodded and stepped back. Here, the torture began with German efficiency. It would last hours and with Nazi precision, be as hurtful and as damaging as possible. During the torture Conrad fainted and the torture halted until he woke, then they would continue until he fainted again. The process was continuously repeated until morning.
“October 4, 1940.”
Between October 1 and October 4, the Germans rounded up and executed forty known members of the British Resistance. In that time also, the resistance – now morphing into its French equivalent – killed twenty German soldiers in a bomb attack in Dover and destroyed three German fuel dumps at Portsmouth, Brighton and Folkestone.
Hitler ordered the invasion for the remainder of Britain for October 20 before winter settled in, although the winter of Britain was tame compared to most. Hitler had in mind the invasion of Russia. He needed Britain eliminated so that he had no thorn in his back whilst fighting Russia. The codename for the continuation of the invasion was Operation Phoenix. As the Germans sent in two more Armies into the Occupied Zone, and Halifax complained to no end, the British Resistance and British-American Coalition geared for further action.
“Park Crescent, Northwest London”
The buildings at Park Crescent in Marylebone were formed in a curve, indeed like a crescent. They might look posh in appearance, but in this dreary time of occupied London, they were either empty or home to squatters. In the second building’s basement, Bradley Holden and Dianne Simms stood over a map of Central London. Pins marked areas searched by Metcalfe, Svenson, Karen and Dianne for Conrad.
The American scratched his unshaven chin. “We’ve checked everywhere, even the Gestapo chambers at Whitehall.”
“Maybe he’s in the Tower of London,” suggested Dianne. “It’s not that fantastical a suggestion, I’ve heard that the Gestapo have places there.”
Mentally, Holden pictured the medieval castle by Tower Bridge on the Thames’ northern bank he had seen a couple of times on forays into the city both before occupation and after. That area of London, The City, was now in the Occupied Zone. Tower Bridge had four large swastika banners hanging from its upper walkways; the Tower of London was festooned with medieval styled swastikas.
There was a knock at the door; Bradley and Dianne looked at each other. Bradley took to the stone steps leading to the hallway saying, “I’ll answer. If we don’t, then it’ll be suspicious.”
He opened the door and gasped in surprise. “Conrad!”
Dianne pushed past Bradley as the battered-looking Czech pilot collapsed gratefully into her arms; the door still open Dianne cradled him as he sagged. Bradley looked down at Conrad; not a bit of his face was untouched by either a cut or bruise. No doubt the rest of his body was covered in the same way.
“You look like hell, buddy.”
“Thanks,” mumbled Conrad. His brown eyes found Dianne’s. “Germans, coming.” His voice was suddenly dry.
Dianne frowned. “What?”
The voice had become raspy and the two words hung in the crisp air. Bradley whirled to run for the basement; down there was his Colt handgun. As he did, bullets stitched the hallway wall and there came a shout. “Halt!”
Dianne held Conrad tighter as the Czech began to weep. “They tortured me, I’ve betrayed you all. I’ve betrayed you all. Forgive me.”
“I forgive you,” she whispered fiercely as the troopers stormed into the building.
“Do not move,
one said in accented English. She stayed still, then the soldier was pitched
backwards as bullets tore into his chest. Bradley killed a second soldier
before the third sprayed him with an Schmeisser machine gun pistol. Dianne
closed her eyes as blood exploded in fountains from Bradley’s
The soldier who had killed Bradley Holden, Royal Air Force, looked sadly down at Dianne who felt his gaze and met it.
Tears stung his eyes. “I do not like killing.”
“In war, there are such that we do,” she said and waited to be led into captivity. Bradley had got off lucky by being shot dead. Ho doubt the Gestapo would wait in line for her.
Rounding Park Crescent were Paul Metcalfe and Adam Svenson; the two pilots had left Karen Wainwright and Juliette Pontoin at a room in the Savoy where two resistance members from Luton would meet them.
They paused suddenly as they saw the Wehrmacht lorry –a captured Bedford –and Dianne being led into it by German soldiers, followed by a sullen Conrad. The Germans then lifted two dead comrades and headed towards the lorry.
“They used Conrad as bait. The poor bastard must’ve been beaten black and blue,” whispered Adam.
“They might know where other cells are, but I doubt it,” Metcalfe murmured. “We don’t know many others.”
“Easy for you to say, they’ve got them…” Adam’s voice trailed off as they saw a casually clothed body gathered from inside the Park Crescent building. “Bradley,” he moaned mournfully.
Metcalfe could not help but feel tears. He blinked them away; how many of his squadron would he loose before this war was over?
Svenson and Metcalfe collected two bicycles locked to the railings opposite to the buildings. As the small German entourage headed east, the pilots headed north.
With Karen and Juliette back in Luton, Henri Verdain and Edward Wilkie seconded elsewhere, Conrad and Dianne prisoner, Bradley, Seymour and others dead, Metcalfe and Svenson were truly on their own. Safe to say the last dregs of the unit once known as Spectrum Squadron. They didn’t know what had happened to the squadron’s adjutant, Troy Tempest – they had left him behind on invasion day. They even know less of what might had happened to Group Commander Charles Gray.
The years ahead now indeed seemed wasted breath to Paul Metcalfe as he cycled with Svenson into London’s suburbs and closer to friendly lines. Eventually, they turned into a park with dense trees; the area seemed like the park that time forgot. Fortunately for the two, it was also the park that the Germans forgot.
Leaving their bikes, they walked a short distance to a clump of grass. Birds chirped somewhere as Metcalfe whipped back the grass to reveal a wingtip; with Adam’s help, he kept pulling it back to show a Supermarine Spitfire Mark I. He then helped Adam and together they uncovered two Spits. One had been Adam’s since France, the other Paul’s replacement aircraft since being shot down shortly before the invasion.
“What are we doing, Paul?” asked Adam in equal tones.
“Taking the fight directly to the enemy.”
“You can’t be serious, the push south isn’t expected until the end of the month.”
“This isn’t about the offensive,” Metcalfe said grimly. “Its about our friends.”
“Paul,” Adam Svenson was almost whispering. “We’ll get Conrad and Dianne back.”
“What about Bradley? Hmm?” snapped Metcalfe. “No, this time they’ve had it coming. The Germans, I mean.” He snarled and turned his back on Adam. “No more defensive action.”
Adam walked to his Spit and climbed into the cockpit after lowering the side door; he started the engine – the Merlin coughed and caught. Metcalfe whirled and Adam waved. “Come on, you Limey.”
Merlin’s echoing around the park, the two pilots moved forward. Gradually, they picked up speed and, retracting undercarriage, followed the park as it curved upwards.
Metcalfe winged up into the air rolling onto his back and dived; Adam copied his move and together they levelled out, following a perfect roll to the right way up. Already, they were flying into North London but continued onto the city’s centre. As they did, Londoners that saw them cheered them on. The sight of roundels and indeed, Spitfires – that symbol of freedom – raised hopes. But realistically, what could two Spits do against the occupying Germans?
Rounding above Oxford Street, Metcalfe sighted a marching column of soldiers on the street. “Blue, down below.”
“Lead the way, Scarlet,” came the scratchy reply.
Metcalfe came down on the street from Oxford Circus; Adam followed a couple of seconds later. The two Spits roared down the street; Metcalfe opened fire and cut a swathe down the soldiers. Those who didn’t fall scattered like ants. Svenson swept the road behind Metcalfe.
Rifles cracked but they didn’t hit the Spits nor did their sound puncture the cockpits. Metcalfe just missed a lamppost and soared above Selfridges on the corner of Baker and Oxford Streets. The Spits now had been reported by a panicky Non-Com to the nearby Luftwaffe base at Northolt. Fighters were scrambled.
The Spits came back one last time, their cannons eating up stretches of road and destroying a red phone box in which the Non-Com had phoned. Continuing over Oxford Circus, Metcalfe saw someone on the railing by the Underground sign. He just made out what the person was doing with his fingers.
V. For Victory.
Smiling and pulling skywards with Adam, Paul wagged his wings in salute and then executed a victory roll. They were gone before the Luftwaffe could arrive.
“October 7, 1940”
Dianne Simms’ trousers were tatters of what they
had been when she had been thrown into the small dungeon cell in the bowels of
the Tower of London. Her sweater was more intact, her long red hair matted with
dirt and sweat. In the three days of imprisonment, she had been first slapped
Kitz and then ‘interrogated’ by
two female SS auxiliaries. She shivered as she remembered what she
endured. Instead, she tried to picture
The screams from next door were enough to fill her cell and in desperation she buried her head between her knees. The screams were Conrad’s, they had to be.
The door to her cell was thrown open, rebounding with a metallic thud of the stonewall. Her jailer came in, keys jangling against his Luger and wielding a tray. “Food and drink,” he grunted gutturally.
Dianne glanced at the tray as it was settled and the jailer left. She took the small portion of bread and nibbled on it like a rabbit; the orange juice was almost green and her stomach rebelled. Her eyes caught the newspaper on the tray; they gave it as toilet roll. But the headline – dated two days ago – was what attracted the Londoner’s attention.
TERROR FIGHTERS KILL VALIANT SOLDIERS!
She read the article and read how the ‘dastardly English cowards’ strafed a column of soldiers in London, braving the lampposts and ‘small arms fire’ to kill. A picture had been caught showing two Spitfires angling upwards; it was hazy but clear enough to show the markings.
“Paul! Adam!” she exclaimed.
The door was opened again and she threw the newspaper down; it was Kitz and her stomach rebelled again.
“Morning, Fraulein Simms,” he said courteously.
“Humph,” she grunted. Dianne could feel the screams even if they had now stopped.
“I report to you that the invasion of the rest of Britain has begun.” Kitz’s eyes gleamed. “We have also captured more of your fellow freedom fighters. For your release, tell me where the terror pilots are.”
Dianne blinked. First the news the Germans were conquering the rest of Britain and now this question.
“Why would I know where they are?”
“We’ve done some checking through files in the Air Ministry.” Kitz placated her with the coldest of stares. “There is a squadron listed in the south of England known as Spectrum Squadron. They flew Spitfires. The markings of the terror fighters matched two of those in the fact sheet. We also saw that Spectrum’s control centre was nearby and you served there. The rest seems straightforward, Fraulein.”
Dianne stood, her legs shaking. “Never will I betray my friends! Never!”
“The British spirit… I am however German.” He advanced on her. “You will tell me, Dianne.”
Dianne backed against the cold unflinching
wall as much as she dared and then charged him; she didn’t know later why she
did –but she did it. The momentum garnered enabled her to knock
She knelt by him. “You bastard, never underestimate the British character. What you and your fellow ‘Aryans’ have done is nothing more than inhumane.” Dianne’s voice broke under the stress and so she took the Germans’ gun belt. On the belt was a dagger, presented to SS officers upon graduating into the Security Force. She took it; Kitz’s eyes followed the blade. He didn’t have time to do anything.
Dianne made two quick motions across his throat with the dagger and then cleaned the dagger, holstered it and stole into the corridor. Her jailer was sleeping on a chair, head against his chest and chair against the corridor wall. Dianne killed him as she had Kitz and found his keys; she had to act fast least she get caught. Dianne unlocked the cell by the dead jailer and sighted Conrad, the pilot literally battered black and blue and lying on the floor.
“Dianne,” he gasped. She knelt by him and cradled his head to her chest.
Dianne went into the corridor and hurriedly stripped the jailer down; she left the blood-stained vest behind and dressed Conrad in the rest of the uniform. “We can get out, make for No Man’s Land. Hope the Germans haven’t reached it.”
He stood by himself and murmured, “Let’s get a vehicle.”
“Right,” she answered and they walked out. They passed no one and when they did, Conrad used enough strength to declare he had orders to move her to a new prison.
They were faraway in their ‘borrowed’ car when the alarm sounded.
In response to the German invasion of the Unoccupied Zone, the Americans and British as well as Commonwealth troops consisting of Canadians, Australians and New Zealanders waited, and then during the night charged into the No Man’s Land north and just northwest of London. They met the Germans twenty miles from North London and fought them hard, the fighting grew intense as the Allies drove them out of the occupied lands. This fight would not be an easy one.
Spectrum Squadron’s surviving members were present in the liberation, except Conrad Turner who, after fighting for two days, collapsed from injuries and spent the liberation in field hospitals.
It was November 5, 1940 that the Germans left , almost two million were captured in a pocket at Dover, four million escaped across the Channel before the US Air Force and US Navy secured control of the narrow waterway. Resistance continued onto November 7. The liberation spelt the end for Nazi Germany. Over the next few months, the Americans sent more men into Europe. The invasion of Europe by the Allies started in June 1941 and although initially unsuccessful, it caught the Germans off guard enough for the allied troops to make gains.
The allies were able to invade Germany in November 1941 and even the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour in December wasn’t able to stop them. The disintegration of the German Army had begun in England and now was coming to an end. Although the Battle for Berlin lasted a month, the German troops defending it, surrendered followed by the rest of the Army. Against the Fuhrer’s wishes, on December 22, 1941. Hitler was captured by the Allied, but took cyanide whilst on route to a prison held by the British. The war ended with the whole of Germany being occupied by the allied forces, New Year’s 1942.
The war on Japan ended in early 1943 following the destruction of the Japanese Navy and swift invasion of Japan by joint American and British forces.
It was all over.
“London, November 1990”
I watched the last of the six Spitfires fly above Westminster and disappear, engines throbbing and quietening. That had marked the end of the celebrations commemorating the anniversary of liberation. A column of veterans marched down past the Embankment; they would gather on Horse Guard Parade for final celebrations. Queen Elizabeth II watched with tears in her eyes; she remembered how her father had been imprisoned in the Tower of London until liberation. He had died in 1944 from his mistreatment at the Nazis’ hands.
After the march ended, I worked my way through the crowd to the RAF memorial dedicated to those in the Battle of Britain and subsequent invasion/liberation. The memorial was made of shiny black marble, with a pilot in mid-run atop the monument and a Spitfire and Hurricane next to it in smaller marble. There were ten columns of names that stretched down the five-foot length of the monument and across six feet between emblems. I ran my finger over the grooved names and eventually came to golden words that read –RAF AIRCREW IN RESISTANCE AND LIBERATION DUTIES – SEPTEMBER-DECEMBER 1940.
It was here I found their names, as they should be.
Pilot Sergeant Adam Svenson DSO, DFC (Finland)
Pilot Officer Henri Verdain DFC, AFC (France)
Pilot Sergeant Edward Wilkie DSO, DFC and Bar (Australia)
Squadron Leader Paul Metcalfe DSO, DFC, AFC (United Kingdom)
Pilot Officer Conrad Turner DSO, VC (United Kingdom)
Good to see them all listed, Adam still known as a Finn. He lives in Boston now, with his wife Karen. Frenchman Henri had earned his AFC actions in the liberation of France, had become becoming a fashion designer and sadly, died a few years ago. Edward Wilkie, still Winky to his friends, stayed in Britain after the war and returned to medicine in England. His sons all fly in the RAF and are out east at the moment. Conrad Turner was one of six Victoria Crosses earned during the liberation. He earned it for his actions, testament of character and fighting on after recovering from injuries. He married Dianne soon after and stayed in the RAF until 1945. They had six children.
Finally, my dear father Paul Metcalfe. Before being posted to the invasion forces, he spent the intervening months marrying Juliette, reforming Spectrum and trying to find Group Commander Charles Gray. He eventually found Gray, but unfortunately too late. Gray had been separated from the WAAFs after reaching their train at Fratton for Birmingham. Captured by the Germans, he was transferred to the Channel Island of Alderney, which had been transformed into a concentration camp in its brief occupation under the Germans. He died there and was buried by his fellow prisoners.
My father fought on, earning a Distinguished Service Order for leading Spectrum on a daredevil mission into occupied Norway. He stayed in the RAF to train pilots after the war, but retired to work for Adam Svenson’s fledgling law firm in Britain. I was the youngest of the Metcalfe seven children, and it was often said I resemble my father greatly.
I stood back from the memorial and then felt a hand on my back. Turning I smiled at the man standing there.
James Turner looked just like his father; we first met a few years ago at a Spectrum Squadron reunion. James, unlike me, was in the Royal Navy. He had flown Harriers during the brief Falkland war. We shook hands. “Thought you’d be here, haven’t seen your father.”
“He’s coming to the dinner gathering at the palace tonight,” I answered. “Something I can do for you?”
James nodded. “My father wants to see you, he’s by the Cenotaph.”
James led me to the Cenotaph on Whitehall; although the Cenotaph was in the middle of the road we were able to cross easily. Dozen of flowers littered the steps of the monument and I watched my feet. A red-haired young woman was supporting a white-haired man; they were facing the flags of the Royal Navy, Royal Air Force and Army. They turned as James called. “Father.”
Conrad Turner looked a little frail but the fire that had kept him going to eventually see Czechoslovakia free was still in his eyes. I recognised the woman as Conrad’s younger daughter. Rhapsody was her name. Her full name was Rhapsody McKnight – she had married in college but it fell through soon after – she was attractive and like her mother. I thought Rhapsody was a nice enough name.
“Adam,” said Conrad in a strong voice. I was named after Adam Svenson, my godfather. “I am glad to see you. How is Paul?”
“He’s fine.” I repeated what I told James about the banquet at Buckingham Palace. “What is it that you wish to see me about, Mr Turner?”
“Firstly, you’re Paul’s son and I’ve known you for thirty years. Secondly, I have something that I want you to give to your father.”
He retrieved an envelope from his pocket, and handed it to me. I felt something hard inside and also some paper.
Conrad explained, “It’s a letter from Troy Tempest and a photograph.”
I felt some excitement, the Spectrum adjutant had vanished after the war’s conclusion. No one knew where he went. I took the photograph out and saw six men crowding round a Spitfire’s wingtip. I recognised my father pointing to something on the wing and Conrad in mid-nod. I turned it over and saw a scrawled piece of writing.
Spectrum Squadron. RAF Hornchurch, Kent, September 1940.
“It was taken by an Erk that was waiting to refuel our Spits,” Conrad went on. “As with many events in the war, he ended up serving with me and mentioned something about it. It wasn’t until recently I got it. As for Troy, he survived the war but died in a motoring accident in 1950. Damned shame, he was a good man.”
I pocketed the letter and photo. “You are coming to the banquet?”
“Mm-hmm, but I wanted you to give it to Paul. I’ll see him, but you know...” He looked to Rhapsody after finishing the line. “We may as well go to Horse Guard.”
“Are you coming, Adam?” asked Rhapsody.
“Yes, I’ll walk with you.”
I walked with the Turners to Horse Guard and amongst the gathered veterans, we came across my father and mother. Paul Metcalfe had aged since and looked weak, but he was well enough. James went to talk with Juliette, Rhapsody and I hung back as the two comrades exchanged emotional embraces.
“In war, comrades strengthen their bonds,” murmured Rhapsody and I nodded gently. We watched them talk and I could see my father using his right hand to describe a manoeuvre. I nodded once more and smiled at Rhapsody.
“That they do,” I replied and looked to the sky in time to see the Red Arrows roar overhead.
The memory of Spectrum Squadron would live on for some time, that much was certain.
Title art and widescreen background image taken from Xbox game "Blazing Angels: Squadrons of World War II".
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