BY NED EGAN
The moon helped the bombers, and they had no fear of RAF fighters: well the Luftwaffe knew that these scarce machines were still being held rigidly in wait for planes trying to destroy airfields – which would be Hitler’s first step towards an invasion. The weather might be lousy, but that man was completely unpredictable.
They’d invade at any time – if the RAF could be wiped out.
So, the big German planes over Coventry had it reasonably easy.
It wasn’t a huge raid, more like some bombers having not much else to do, and the crews saying: “Ah, life’s a bore: might as well go bomb Coventry.”
The ‘digs’ group had gone down into the cellar, as usual, with Steve telling ‘good ones’ to keep spirits up, and handing around a few tots of a vicious brew he’d brewed up with the aid of some potato and apple skins!
The odd whine and ‘crump’ and bang of a falling and exploding bomb went on for hours, with no apparent danger at all. Then – smash! A ‘big one’ whammed through the roof and all the floors and buried itself below the very corner of the cellar! But it didn’t go off!!
That they were all quite shook up by this is no exaggeration! They were well pleased to hear the Warden shortly, banging the coal chute lid and calling down: “They’ve finished now, I think, but best stay there for the All Clear. By the way, have you a bloke down there named ‘The White Haired Boy?’ There’s a strange fellow up the street wants to see him, right now. Said it’s urgent, and to ‘bring his friends.’ I wouldn’t bother if I were you”
At this, Steve gave a gasp of complete surprise. He then asked the others if any of them had been so nicknamed, but they hadn’t. So, he thought, it must be for me – remembering back to his childhood days. But it was impossible! The ‘Tan who had used those few words had died in front of him, back in Callan, all those years ago. And he’d never told anyone about it – a good story about a Black and Tan soldier just wouldn’t be believed. Same as a bad story about a priest —
Now he got a sudden premonition, and started shouting “Out! Out! Out!” at his mates. They thought he was gone mad! “No” he shouted, “I’ve never been more sane! Just this one time, do what I say – we’ll take ‘Lizzie’ with us! Hurry, Hurry!!”
They all moved fast then, in a wild scramble, and in a few minutes were out on the road.
There, he told the rest of the cellar dwellers that he’d once been called such a name – which, strictly speaking – was the truth.
The Warden was amazed at the sudden emptying of the cellar, and told them they were all ‘bloody daft Irish buggers.’ But he pointed down the street, and said that outside the shop on the corner, they’d find standing ‘a strange sorta cove.’ Steve immediately hustled his ‘flock’ along in that direction, carrying the protesting Lizzie with them.
A few minutes later, and they were outside the corner-shop. There was nobody there.
The street was completely deserted.
They looked all round.
No one at all.
“Well, Steve” go Lizzie, “I just don’t know what all that ruddy fuss was ab– ” – and then the whole area shook like an earthquake had decided to join in the war!
Everyone, including Lizzy, was rocked and buffeted about for several seconds.
“What the bloody hell was that?” cried all at the same time! But Steve knew – and he ran back towards the house, screaming, half-hysterical.
He knew exactly what had happened. The Warden – who’d thought them all daft – and who Steve had been panicking about – arrived back at Lizzy’s old address, at the same time.
An address. Only. Of a huge smoking hole in the ground.
It wasn’t his home any more. And it would never again be home to Lizzie..
“Delayed action bomb, big one” said the Warden. Yes, the one that tore down through the corner of the cellar.
The Warden patted his shoulder. They could hear the emergency vehicles starting to growl around the streets, looking to save the odd person. They wouldn’t be bothering too much here. No point.
The Warden then said: “lucky that geezer told me to give you a shout – you’d be a goner only for him. Who was he, anyway? Where is he now?”
“We didn’t find him,Warden. A long story. Will you tell me what he looked like – how was he dressed?”
“Oh, he looked battered, actually looked like he’d been ‘in the wars’ a bit himself, face in a mess; I’d say he’d been roughly handled, didn’t look the best at all.. wearing a strange sort of uniform, old-fashioned looking, never saw the likes before – it was all ripped, bloodstains on it, too. That give you any idea? Do you think you might know him, recognise him from that?”
“Yes,” said Steve slowly, “I know who he was, alright.”
From a great distance – from another time –
a debt had been repaid.
To The White Haired Boy.
The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of The Kilkenny Observer.