Ginger didn’t get away. His pursuer hammered him from behind at such close range and with such perfect aim that his engine burst into flames. Ginger flipped the crate over and dropped out before he even had time to consciously be afraid. He found himself tumbling head over heels and his brain screamed at him: Ripcord, ripcord! There had to be a ripcord somewhere. His hand groped. He started feeling sick – whether from the tumbling or the fear, he didn’t know. With a terrible jerk, his parachute opened. He was no longer falling through the sky but gliding gently downwards.
Slowly, his breathing settled somewhat. Ginger had a moment to realise he was alive after all – and then he looked down and saw he was out over the water. Instantly, he was seized with new terror. It was his worst nightmare. Worse even then being burned to death in his aircraft. God was getting his revenge for letting him live a week longer than he should have. He was going to kill him slowly. He thought of Davis, washed up a day later, and he knew he was going to die down there all alone in the cold-blooded sea.
Ginger couldn’t swim. If his life vest didn’t inflate, he would drown at once. But even if it did, his chances of rescue were almost nil. He’d had no time to make an R/T transmission. The others wouldn’t realise what had happened until he failed to land. No one would know where to look for him.
And yet, despite his terror, Ginger couldn’t entirely abandon hope. Maybe there was a ship somewhere that could see him? Ginger looked frantically at the sea beneath him. It was empty. Ginger searched the sky again, hoping for some friendly aircraft that could report his position. Instead he saw one of the German bombers, billowing black smoke as it limped across the sky. He could hear the rough, irregular throb of its engines through the still air. One was running very roughly. Even as Ginger watched, it went dead. Maybe the pilot had turned it off to stop it from over-heating or to save fuel. But the aircraft was sinking faster now. Apparently, there was not enough power in the other engine to keep it aloft. Ginger watched in fascination. He saw little black specks drop away from the bomber and realised it must be the crew bailing out. Seconds later, parachutes blossomed over them. He counted.
Four men were floating gently on the same breeze he was. Then the bomber sliced into the water and disappeared.
For a moment the death of the bomber was comforting. After all, it was more likely that someone from the shore would see those four parachutes than his lone one. Surely a boat would be launched for them?
Then he plunged into the water, and it was sheer terror again. The Channel was bitterly cold. Ginger went right under and struggled wildly to get back to the surface. The sheepskin of his flying jacket and boots absorbed the water and started weighing him down, dragging him under. Worse still, the parachute was spread out over him, so that even when he surfaced he could see nothing. The silk clung to the surface. Panicking, Ginger tore at it trying to get out from under it, completely forgetting the release button. Struggling against it and the waves and the weight of his boots was too much. He started drowning.
Swallowing huge mouthfuls of numbing, salty brine, however, triggered a survival instinct so powerful that it overcame his despair. He somehow managed to kick off his boots and release the parachute harness. Clawing at the silk, he found a way out from under it. He was back under the sky. His panic subsided enough for him to find the nozzle of his Mae West and start blowing it up.
That was not easy – not when you’re dog-paddling about in cold water. His arms and legs were getting tired already. He knew that if he didn’t get it inflated, he would definitely drown. He blew again and again. God, give me strength, he kept praying unconsciously. Give me air. Slowly, very slowly, the life-jacket puffed up and started to buoy him in the water. When Ginger realised it was actually holding him up, he closed his eyes and thanked God.
This sense of peace and gratitude did not last long. As soon as he recovered a little from the exhaustion of getting out of his boots, out from under the parachute and blowing up the life-jacket, he became aware of his surroundings.
There was absolutely nothing to see but the grey sky overhead and the grey sea around him. The gentle swells, invisible from the air and insignificant even from the deck of a ship, nevertheless blocked out all vision when he sank between them. Even when he rose up on them, the view was the same – endless sea and sky. He couldn’t see the coast at all. He didn’t understand that at first – until he worked out that there must be a very thin low-level haze over the water. Or maybe it was just “patchy fog.” Whatever it was called, the visibility was much reduced in this spot of water. That made the sense of isolation – and his chances of rescue – worse than ever.
Ginger had always liked being alone. Walking alone on the moors was his favourite pastime. Though he wasn’t alone on the moors, of course. Usually he had Bessie with him. And there were always rabbits and hares, birds of all kinds, mice and foxes…. Ginger had never felt alone on the moors or in the sky.
Flying had always been like communion with God. But the sea had nothing divine about it. The sea was cold, contemptuous, and dark. It wanted to swallow him, to drag him down to the dark depths where only sea-monsters lurked.
For Ginger it was very simple. God was in Heaven – and that was the sky above him, which, just a few minutes ago he had been able to touch with the wings of his Hurricane. The sea, on the other hand, was worse than the earth: it was the Devil’s territory. The thought chilled him even more than the cold water. The fog cut Ginger off from God as well as from observation.
Ginger tried not to think about where he was, but what else was there to think about? What would they tell his Dad? Missing in action. How long would his Dad hope for good news? How long before his Dad realised there was no hope? And what would he do then? Ginger could picture his Dad crumpled up in his old chair with Bessie whimpering in sympathy and distress at his knees. He could picture Bessie pawing helplessly at his Dad’s knee with her soft white paw. He could picture his Dad clutching the old dog to him and crying until he’d soaked her silky head with his tears. His Dad didn’t have anyone else in the whole world. It wasn’t fair for him to be left alone….
Ginger lost all sense of time. He supposed that time seemed to crawl because there was nothing to do or see. His hands and feet started to feel numb. He forced himself to kick his legs and wave his arms. He knew it would keep his circulation going, stop him from dying of exposure. Funny that he could still hope for rescue. But hope dies last of all, perhaps.
The fog seemed to be thinning. The sun burned through it from overhead. That encouraged Ginger for a bit, but then he realised that, though better, it still wasn’t good enough for him to see the coast.
Then he heard aircraft engines. Not distant aircraft engines far overhead, but the throbbing engines of an aircraft flying low. At first, he thought it must be another bomber trying to ditch. He searched the sky in the direction of the sound and could hardly believe his eyes. It was a flying boat! A rescue plane! It had large red crosses on its wings. It was flying lower and lower.
Ginger started waving and shouting. Although he knew they could not hear him over the sound of their own engines, he shouted for sheer joy. He shouted and waved, and the aircraft continued right past him at its stately pace. Ginger’s shouting became more desperate, hysterical almost. “Over here! Over here! Can’t you see me! Are you blind! God, help them to see me!”
The flying boat banked slightly and started flying in a large curve. A chill slithered down Ginger’s back as he saw the German crosses on the body of the plane. It was a Luftwaffe Air-Sea-Rescue plane, apparently looking for the downed bomber crew. Following the flying boat with his eyes, Ginger saw a flare shoot up, and realised that the bomber crew was not very far from him. The flying boat waggled its wings in greeting and flew with a new purposefulness towards the downed Germans.
Ginger started “swimming” after it. It was too far away, of course, and he couldn’t swim, but he could kick and paddle with his hands and somehow make his way nearer to it. Maybe he could get near enough to make himself heard. Maybe they would see him when they went to take off again. He’d be a prisoner, but prisoners weren’t dead. He’d be able to write to his Dad. The war would eventually end; it might even be over very soon. At the moment, Ginger found it easy to believe the Germans would win the war rather fast.
What happened next was the most horrible part of the whole, horrible day. Out of the vast sky overhead, a vic of three Spitfires swooped down on the flying boat just as it was trying to land, and they shot it up.
Ginger was screaming again. Screaming at them to stop. Waving at them to stop. Leave it alone! It was on a rescue mission! It was his only hope of survival! It was the only way he’d ever see his Dad again. Stop it! Stop it!
But three undisturbed Spitfires are very effective weapons; the clumsy, slow, unarmed flying boat was an easy target. They tore its high wings from their struts, set its petrol tanks alight, and punctured its pontoons so it could not stay afloat. In just minutes Ginger’s rescue became nothing but a stinking, spreading oil slick on the surface of the water between him and the bright yellow life raft with the four German airmen in it.
Ginger sobbed himself into a state of unconsciousness. Not only had he lost all hope of rescue, the injustice of what had happened overwhelmed him. It was against everything he’d been brought up to believe in. If only the enemy had done it. If only it hadn’t been British planes that had shot it down. What was he fighting for? What was he going to die for? A country that shot down unarmed rescue planes? It was no better than shooting at Red Cross ambulances or medics. It was barbaric. It was what Ginger thought he was fighting against.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish