The white haired boy

Part 2

They roared into the yard, and after much shouting and bawling, the Tans went in to their mess {cookhouse} for some grub. He heard much roaring talk of a ‘treacherous b*****d’ ‘traitor’, and ‘turncoat’. Also a snarled ‘leave ‘im there to bloody snuff it.’

Steve, always on the lookout for a chance, and curious about the shouts, climbed up on the lorry, and got the shock of his life! Thrown in a corner, covered with blood, was a man – obviously badly injured or dead. His hands were cuffed behind his back; a locked chain looped through them, and was secured to a steel grid behind the cab. And — he was wearing the ‘Tan uniform! But it was in bits and rags. Steve moved up close to the man, and bent down to see him more closely. After a minute or two, one eye opened, in the badly-beaten face. The lips moved, whispered: “water, lad…”

So he jumped down, got a mug that was always by the rain tank, and filled it. Back he got, on to the truck, and gently fed the water into the lips, into the parched ruined mouth, of the doomed man. After a few minutes, he’d slaked the man’s terrible thirst, and got the ghost of a smile from the wreckage of a face. “Thanks, lad…..” came the faint words.

“Jaysus – why are you chained up, Mister – what the hell did you do?” Steve had to figure out the garbled reply, which roughly ran: “Ah, stupid, I was. Got a letter that my girl had dumped me, stole a Lee Enfield and sold it to one of your fellows, got drunk, got found out, they’ll shoot me in the morn, if I live that long. I was a traitor, lad, but I’ve killed enough people now for the King, and I’m sick of it all. I’ll be glad to go ….”

“Can I set you loose, mister?” Steve whispered back, urgently. Another wisp of a smile. “No, I’m done for; legs are shot through… not worth botherin’, anyway… Get away now, before they catch you. By God, you’re a fine little chap…”

“But what’s your name, mister – I’m Steve – I can write – can I send a message to your Mammy – where is she? Maybe tell her something from you?”

“No, lad – we lived in Yorkshire, and she’s long gone; nobody left – and it’s all up with me. You look like the little brother I used to have – he was blonde as well. Ah, he’s gone now, lost him at Flanders. Christ. When he was little, we used to call him the ‘White-Haired Boy’. Sometimes he comes to me in dreams…. I’m ravin’ a bit now, lad, not long to go … Thanks forever, get away with you now before they catch you”….

With that, his head fell back – and a clatter of approaching boots sent Steve running like the wind…

Many years later, he went away, just before the 2nd World War, to England, and started work in the town of Coventry. Not long afterwards, the German bombers came over, and had a real go at erasing that City from the earth. The Brits were hugely upset that anyone should have the temerity to do to them what they had been doing to others for centuries – albeit they’d used cannon and battleships – and fighter planes against Iraqi tribesmen!

But that bloody Hitler! A mere Corporal! {Not a mention that he’d won two Iron Crosses for bravery in the Great War, where he was wounded – and gassed. Yep – by the Brits. Did you know that, reader?} Of course, had he been an officer – let him bomb away! All would have been forgiven. Anyway, as usual – I wander …

Moriya reckoned she’d got a message back about Steve, not long after the first big raids. Whether it was a letter, or word of mouth from some returning worker, she never said. It could have been a – dreaded – Telegram, carried by the boy on his bike from Kells Post Office, or a night-flying carrier pigeon.. Or it could be one of her spirit friends – telepathy – or a ‘woman’s intuition.’

Maybe a mixture of them all. Moriya could tell fortunes, was often too close for comfort with her predictions. Tolerably lucky regarding the times she lived in; they used to burn women for less, the bastards.

Yes, a woman – Bridget Cleary – had been burned to death on suspicion of being a witch within twenty miles of Moriya’s home – in 1895 – when Moriya would have been fifteen. Bridget was taken from her sick bed, over to the fireplace, where urine was thrown at her, and she was urged to “get rid of them fairies yiz’ve brought int’ll this house.”

There was a childrens ditty that ran for years afterwards: “Are you a witch or are you a fairy – or are you the wife of Michael Cleary?” After further torture, her husband burned and buried her. He reckoned she was a ‘changeling.’

The British authorities gave him a long sentence; the Church would probably have given him a medal. For killing a ‘witch’.

Anyway, back from my usual ramble… The gist of the ‘received’ message from Steve was this. He was living in ‘digs’ in Coventry, and the bombers were overhead, just about every night. His landlady, a kind woman, didn’t believe in Air Raid Shelters, and was crippled with rheumatism, so she wouldn’t even try to get to one. But she did have a well-protected deep cellar, and Steve and his fellow-lodgers would carry her down there when the sirens went. And wouldn’t leave her on her own. So, they’d all six of them camp there, until the ‘All Clear’. There was a vertical round chute channelled down from near the front door to the cellar, into which the fuel man tipped the coal.

So, using that, they could hear the ack-ack guns, the bombers, and, of course – the bombs. The local ‘Blackout Warden’ also knew of the pipe – and the people – and would sometimes shout reassurance down to them while on his rounds. More times he’d close the lid, in case of incendiaries.

The particular night I have now got round to was moonlit, and the Air Raid sirens had long been wailing their sad warnings of coming death……..

To be Continued

Ned E


The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of The Kilkenny Observer.

Previous Natural solutions for anxiety in young children
Next Up to 43% of people don’t have a pension