Miss Townsend abruptly stood, clapped her hands for attention, and announced that they would break up into groups by year, each regrouping in their respective classroom. The pilot and navigator would speak with the upper and lower sixth, the flight engineer with the fifth form, and so on. The assembly then dissolved.
Ten minutes later Terry shyly joined the assembled Third Form, and Georgina felt the wave of disappointment roll over her pupils. Because Miss Townsend had dispersed the assembly before he spoke, nobody knew what he did or why it was important. His bulky sergeant’s uniform looked too big for him, while his slight stature, irregular face and dark-framed glasses robbed him of all glamour. Georgina overheard a boy ask whether the RAF was so ‘hard up’ that it had to take men who were half-blind.
Georgina glanced at Mr Willoughby. He thumped his cane vigorously and bellowed: “Silence! We have a visitor!” As a modicum of quiet spread, he turned to Georgina. “Miss Reddings? Would you like to make the introduction?”
Grateful for his intervention, Georgia hastened to the front of the classroom and turned to face the children. “Sergeant Tibble didn’t get a chance to tell you about his trade in assembly, but before he does that, I want to share with you what his pilot told me: Wireless Operator Tibble saved the lives of the entire crew when the aircraft was very low on fuel after a long flight and their airfield was closed due to fog. They diverted to another station, only to find many aircraft already circling to land. Fortunately, Sergeant Tibble identified an airfield which could accommodate them and provided the weather information necessary for the pilot to fly there safely below the cloud. So never underestimate the importance of a wireless operator.”
These words did the trick; interest in Terry increased — although Terry muttered as he passed Georgina on the way to the podium, “If the skipper said all that, he was lying.”
In only a few humble sentences he explained his job before admitting, “And no, I can’t see very well. That’s why I wear these.” He drew attention to his glasses. “But in my job, it’s not your eyes that count — it’s your ears.” He pointed to his ears before adding, “And the hardest part is learning Morse Code. Do you know what Morse is?”
A general mumble suggested most of the pupils had at least heard of it. Terry turned to the blackboard and briskly wrote down the letters of the alphabet and their Morse equivalents. “Now listen!” he commanded as he drew a whistle out of his pocket. “Who can tell me what letter this is?” He blew three short and one long blasts. A dozen children raised their hands and several waved them wildly.
“Just shout out the letter to me,” Terry told the children. Delighted, the children did. “That’s right! It’s V for Victory,” Terry confirmed. Turning to Georgina, he asked “Do you want to try?” She declined. “What about you, sir?” Terry asked Mr Willoughby.
The former sergeant major took the whistle to blow S-O-S. Again, many pupils recognised it. “So,” he asked, “what about this?” Excited shouts from the children correctly identified “BBC”. With a stiff bow, Willoughby turned the whistle back over to Terry.
“Ready for whole words?” Terry asked, and the whole room responded in a loud, shouted affirmative. Georgina couldn’t remember the children being so excited and involved in anything before.
To great and escalating enthusiasm, Terry blew: “England,” followed by “Kirkby” and “Lincoln.”
“Shall we do a whole phrase?” Terry asked them. Georgina and Willoughby exchanged a smile as the children shrilly demanded more.
Terry attempted “God save the King!” — but they guessed the phrase after the first two words, so Terry announced he’d do something more difficult. Before he could finish, the bell rang. Their time was up.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish