The incendiary bullets set fire to the engine and the flames reached back towards the cockpit. The pilot struggled to escape, but the fire embraced and consumed him. Then he fell out of the burning wreck and the canopy of a white parachute unfolded. It gently brought him, swaying and lifeless back to earth. What landed was a charred remnant of a human being. It was taken to hospital and tended. Only a spark of life remained in it.
His delirium was a kaleidoscope of disconnected voices and images drowning in a tempest of emotion. The physical pain had been smothered by morphine, but the emotional pain of failure and loss raged. It collided with terror of the future. The shockwaves knocked him down a black abyss of despair and hopelessness. His screams of defiance died in whimpers too weak to hear. Only the others spoke.
“We’re losing him!” the doctor warned urgently.
“Break! Break!” Ginger shouted, followed by Kiwi booming out: “Hit the silk, mate! Hit the silk!”
“We’ve got to stop them!” Ulli pleaded. “The Nazis are destroying everything!”
Ginger echoed him desperately. “We have to stop them! That’s London burning!”
“I should have known you’d fail again,” his father scoffed.
“I’ve got my wings, Father! I’ve passed the wings test!” he was so proud of that.
“Flying is a sport not a profession!”
“Don’t listen to father, you look wonderful!” his kid sister Sarah assured him.
“My God! His face is gone!”
“What’s his name?”
“David Sebastian Goldman, but he goes by the name of ‘Banks’ in the RAF – apparently his father owns a bank in Canada.”
“He’s Canadian then?”
No, German, Banks tried to tell them, but they couldn’t hear him.
Youthful voices chanted, “Jude verrecke!”
British voices answered: “No first-class club admits Jews.”
“The ground crews know you don’t fire more than twenty to thirty rounds a flight. You can’t do any damage with that.”
“I’d like to recommend you for a transfer to Training Command.”
“Don’t give up, Banks!” Ginger pleaded. “M’Dad’s coming.”
“You don’t need to come back, David. Not, if you fail again.”
“He’ll never fly again, poor chap.”
“If I can’t fly, I’ll die!” Banks protested.
“Maybe it’s better to die?” Who said that?
“Don’t give up, Banks, m’lad. Don’t give up now. You’ve almost made it. You’re in good hands.” The voice was rough and uncultivated, but emotion made it deep and forceful. It broke through the fog of the delirium and drew Banks towards it.
He opened his eyes, but they swam with murky tears blurring his vision. It was dark. The blackout blinds were firmly shut. The only light came from a shaded lamp. The blinds diffused and dulled the flashes that accompanied the steady thud and crump of bombs going off in the distance. They were hitting London again.
His gaze found the hulking figure in the chair beside his bed. The visitor’s big hands were stubby, his dirty fingers played unconsciously with his brimmed hat, and his brow was creased.
“Mr Bowles?” Banks asked, distrusting his own eyes. Why on earth would Ginger’s father be sitting with him here in the hospital?
“Banks?” The man’s face lit up with relief, and he jumped to his feet. “Banks? Are you awake?”
“Yes. What are you doing here?”
“Ginger sent me. He woke me up out of a deep sleep. Shook me that hard that I couldn’t stay asleep. ‘You’ve got to get to Queen Victoria Cottage Hospital in East Grinstead, Dad,’ he said. ‘Banks needs you.’”
“But …” Banks didn’t have the strength to put his thoughts into words. Ginger couldn’t possibly have done or said any of that. He’d been nailed by an Me-110. His Hurricane had flamed and crashed into the burning dockyards during the first big daylight raid on London. That must have been two weeks ago, or more.
“Been here for nearly 24 hours,” Mr Bowles continued. “The doctor was worried you wouldn’t pull through. I’ll go and find the night nurse and let her know you’ve come round.” He was out of the door before Banks could stop him.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish