The staff and pupils at Kirkby Grange School were used to the sound of aircraft engines — so used to them that they knew at once that this was different.
“That’s not on approach to East Kirkby!” One of the boys announced, interrupting Mr Willoughby. “It’s off course!”
Mr Willoughby spun about with a frown, but before he could utter a word, another boy spoke up excitedly. “It’s flying towards us!”
Yet another boy joined in, declaring in excitement rather than alarm: “And it’s way too low!” He jumped up and dashed to the windows. The other pupils rushed after him. Mr Willoughby growled, “Back to your seats!” But although he banged his cane on the floor for emphasis, they ignored him. To Georgina’s amazement, the Third Form teacher shrugged and surrendered to his own curiosity, limping after the boys. Georgina and the remaining pupils followed at his heels.
The large, neo-Gothic windows offered a splendid view across the school grounds, but they could still see no aircraft despite the drone of engines getting closer and closer. What if the aircraft were out of control for some reason? What if the crew had bailed out and it was crashing? There had been a number of terrible incidents over the last year that resulted in aircraft crashing into the English countryside; most had been in bad weather, but there had also been some accidents due to technical failure. Georgina knew that crews had orders to jump if they had reason to believe they could not land safely, and while they were supposed to point the aircraft towards the sea, what if it didn’t have enough fuel to reach the coast? Georgina felt a tiny tremor of fear — followed by a flash of empathy as she registered that in Germany there would be no doubt: hearing the inexorable approach of aircraft engines meant death and destruction were on the way.
The near deafening sound seemed to be directly overhead, and the whole room trembled. Pencils danced and rolled on the desktops. Something on Mr Willoughby’s desk started rattling. The panes of glass in the leaded windows vibrated. Seemingly out of nowhere, a giant shadow crossed them, and a Lancaster banked hard to fly practically in front of their noses along the length of the building. One of the girls screamed and several cowered down, but the boys could hardly contain their excitement as they shouted and shoved, trying to get a better view.
The heavy bomber flew so low that the leafless rosebushes in the garden bent in the artificial gale churned up by the engines and remnants of the last snowfall were blown sideways. The boys jumped up and down, and one of the boys shouted in rapture. “It’s Z for Zebra!”
“KC-Z!” Another improved on his colleague. “The Squadron letters are KC!”
Kit! It hit her like an electric shock: KC were Kit’s squadron’s letters. He must be the one flying the thing! What was the term? He was “beating up” Kirkby Grange!
“KC is 617 Squadron!” A third boy exclaimed excitedly.
“It’s one of the Dambusters!” a fourth shouted, jumping up and down even more ecstatically than before.
“Maybe it’s your fiancé, Miss Reddings?” One of the girls suggested, turning to look over her shoulder at Georgina with a sheepish smile. Several of the other pupils turned to gaze at her, awestruck with envy.
Georgina laughed, but she felt a childish pride too.
Already Zebra was gone, climbing steeply and banking back to the southwest.
Mr Willoughby looked over at Georgina with raised eyebrows. “I’m not sure that was the best means to convince Miss Townsend of the advisability of a visit by RAF aircrew.”
Georgina looked back at the crowd of boys still pressing their noses to the windows or arguing excitedly about what height and speed the Lancaster had been flying along with a dozen other technical details. “Then again, Mr. Willoughby, it’s considerably safer to have aircrew come and talk about their aircraft than decide to show it off.”
Willoughby laughed. “True, but I hope your young man doesn’t mind getting a ticking off when Miss Townsend complains to his CO.”
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