An airman shook Ginger awake, calling urgently. “Sergeant! Wake up! You’ve got to get up!”
“But we’re not on readiness until this afternoon,” Ginger protested, still half asleep, his fine, red hair falling into his eyes, his pyjamas twisted as he turned over in answer to the disturbance.
“It’s not readiness, sir. You have a telephone call. At reception, sir.”
“A phone call? For me?” Ginger couldn’t remember ever receiving a telephone call before. He threw the covers aside and staggered – still not fully awake – out of bed. Green turned over and pulled the blankets up over his ear, muttering something vaguely rude. Ginger grabbed his dressing gown from the back of the door and stuffed his bare feet into slippers, and then went out into the corridor. It was quiet. Most of the sergeants were already at their posts. Only the pilots had the morning off. It was a gloomy morning; fog clung to the ground, dimming the light from the windows.
It could only be his Dad. No one else would phone him. Or had something happened to his Dad? What if there had been some kind of accident? His father was doing that thatching job. What if he’d fallen off the roof and broken his back like Sanders? Ginger started moving faster.
He hurried down the stairs. In the reception was a switchboard manned by a WAAF. She motioned him to one of the wooden phone booths, and a moment later the telephone in it rang. Ginger grabbed the receiver. “Bowles. Sergeant Pilot Bowles,” he improved.
It was his Dad’s voice. Ginger let out a long sigh of relief. “Did you hear the PM’s speech last night, lad?” The senior Bowles sounded excited, almost breathless.
The swing in emotions had been too rapid, and Ginger found his eyes watering. Annoyed with his weakness, acutely aware of his fragile nerves, Ginger answered with uncharacteristic cynicism. “I’m glad the PM thinks we’re turning the tide of war, Dad, because, frankly, it doesn’t feel like that from where I’m standing.”
“That’s not the point, Ginger! I mean, it was what he said about what we all owe you. After the BBC broadcast, everyone started congratulating me – people I hardly knew! Total strangers, even. They came up to me in the pub – I was down to town to shop and stopped in ‘fore coming home for just a quick one. But the radio was on, and after the PM spoke, everyone started slapping me on the back and congratulating me – but it was all meant for you.”
The thought of his despised and ridiculed father being the centre of approving attention was so poignant that Ginger had to fight back tears again. He was glad that his father was still talking excitedly. Mr. Bowles was saying breathlessly, “I had to tell you that, Ginger. The PM was speaking for all of us. We know you’re all that stands between us and the Nazis. We know what the Nazis would do to us – if it weren’t for you and your mates.”
“They still might, Dad. No matter what the PM said, we haven’t won yet.” It came out rather harsh, because Ginger was so confused by his own emotions that he could only cope by being hard.
“I know, Ginger. But we’re all behind you. And I’ve never been so proud in all my life.”
“Thanks, Dad,” Ginger’s voice softened.
“Wish I could come and see you, lad. If I came to Chichester, could you get some time off? Just a couple of hours, I mean? Time for a quiet pint together?”
“It’d be an awful lot of trouble for you, Dad.” Part of Ginger desperately wanted to see his Dad, but he was a little afraid of it, too. He couldn’t introduce his Dad around to the others; they’d laugh at him for his country clothes, speech and manners.
“But you could get the time off, couldn’t you?” His father pressed him.
“I don’t know, Dad. I got a right to three days every fifteen, but we’ve got a new CO, and he’s Cranwell. He chopped three pilots—”
His father wasn’t listening. “Three days, you say! That’s good then. I’ll see about coming to visit. Is there somewhere cheap I could stay?”
“Don’t worry about that, Dad. I can afford a hotel for you, but I don’t really think I can get leave. Not three days, that’s for sure—”
“One day’s all I’m asking for, lad. Or an afternoon. Just to see you again.”
“Well, I suppose I could ask, but don’t you think—”
“I’ll look into it tomorrow. Now, you take care of yourself, all right?”
“I do my best, Dad.”
“I know you do. That’s how you got where you are. Take care of yourself!” He shouted it into the receiver and then hung up before Ginger could hear how choked up he was – but Ginger heard anyway. They knew each other too well.
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