A Wing and a Prayer

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Chapter 13

The next few days started with the normal routine of breakfast, followed by the bumpy ride up the lane to pick up McCulloch and then wind their way up to the field. They were becoming very efficient as a team, cutting and dismantling the port wing and getting the wheel and undercarriage out. They removed the 20mm cannon on the wing and it was McCulloch, this time, who commented on the size and weight of the gun.

“Christ! That certainly wasn’t designed for shooting rabbits, was it?”

McCulloch then looked into the ammunition magazine, which still held it’s full complement of lethal cannon shells and added,

“I take it these are effective?”

Klein briefly looked over at Andy, feeling slightly awkward. To another German, or German ally he would have smiled and boasted about the range and damage that these things could do, but now he felt very embarrassed,

“Unfortunately, yes,” he said, hesitantly, with no elaboration.

They continued cutting up the metal panels and loading them on to the trailer, while, back at the farmhouse, there had been a delivery.

Mags had just cleared away the breakfast and was tidying up the remains of the previous evening when there was a knock at the door. She opened it to see George Urquhart, the postmaster standing grim faced, with a box at his feet, which had RAF markings on it. Mags just instinctively greeted George with a broad smile before being stopped in her tracks when she saw his cold, featureless expression and then the box,

“Hi George! How are y . . .”

Mags looked down at the box and then looked back at George in stunned silence, while he slowly bent down to pick it up. Mags’ eyes were starting to fill as she took the box from George and he said,

“I’m so sorry, Mags. Of all the things I have had to deliver to you. I’m sorry.”

Mags tried to smile and said, waveringly,

“Don’t worry, George. We were expecting this sooner or later – it’s taken a while, though.”

The postmaster stepped back from the door and said,

“Give my regards to Andy, will you? You know where we are if you need us.”

Mags tried to smile again as she nodded and George walked away, a tear, already running down her cheek.

She closed the door and put the box on the kitchen table, and without taking her eyes off it, sat down at the table and ran her hands over it gently. She then took a deep breath and slowly began to open the box and lifted out various items and put them on the table, one by one. She lifted out a pack of playing cards, three paperback books – two Westerns and a book about wildlife, an unused cinema ticket, dated September 14, a silver cigarette lighter (with the initials D.T on it, probably another dead airman’s , or one that he won in a card game), the sum of three pounds, four shillings and sixpence, and at the bottom of the box, a sealed envelope addressed simply to ‘Mum and Dad’.

The letter, of course, was the last letter to home, the one that every airman wrote before a raid in case they didn’t come back that night. Mags summoned enough strength to open the letter, with her hands shaking, and began to read the last thoughts of her dear son, before he flew off, the certainty of his impending death that night over strange and hostile land, closer to his thoughts than ever.

Swinderby, September 11, 1944.

Dear Mum, Dad.

I hope this letter never reaches you, but if it does, I just wanted to say a few things in case I don’t make it back. You will understand when I say that I can’t tell you where the raid will likely be tonight, but it’s going to be big and there is a good chance that some of us won’t make it. I just want you to know

that I am not alone, I have many friends here that I would (and do!) trust with my life, and they are all a good bunch. I believe that what we are doing is right and in amongst all this mayhem, have enjoyed flying. I just hope that doing this will make a difference.

So, I’d better go. Briefing is in half an hour, then we’d better get the kite organised! I love you both and want you to know that I always think about trudging up that lane some day soon and seeing you both there, waiting for me.

Love, Jim.

Mags finished the letter and broke down, weeping uncontrollably. It was the final confirmation for her that Jim was dead and would not be coming back. She felt worse for the fact that there was no grave and she didn’t know where his body had ended up. She cried hysterically, her head on the table, a torrent of emotions running through her. She felt self pity, profound sorrow for Jim, and then sheer guilt at feeling sorry for herself. She felt hatred, not so much towards the Germans, but to the RAF for being so irresponsible. It was the RAF who sent these boys up in ’planes with barely any protection, gave them odds of six weeks lifespan and expected them to go and fight their lousy war for them! Bloody Churchill and all the other lousy politicians! What does he know about losing someone close? She then felt uncontrolled sorrow for Jim, who never had a chance to achieve anything in life, cut down in his prime when there was still so much of life to live. As she sobbed and looked up at the box again, she thought of the unfairness of it all that a mother should never have to bury her son.

After a while, Mags, pulled herself together a bit, put all the items back in the box and placed the letter on top of the articles. She put the box away on a table in the corner of the kitchen and tried to carry on with her house- work. It was a futile gesture. She dropped a mug while drying it and as it smashed to the floor, she burst into tears again and ran out of the house, leaving the debris on the kitchen floor. She ran out into the yard and up into the field behind the house. There was a

large cluster of rocks there that faced out towards the mainland and she sat down on one of the rocks and just gazed out over the water. In the summer this was a very picturesque spot, with a clear view over to Ayr and Troon on the mainland, and over to the North, the peak of Goat Fell. Looking down to the South, there was the glistening of the water of the Clyde estuary, the seascape interrupted only by the Ailsa Craig, the volcanic plug that stood up out of the water that locals nicknamed ‘Paddy’s Milestone’. It was a tranquil and contemplative spot and just where Mags needed to be at this time.

As she stared out to the sea and the mainland beyond, she thought about Klein’s parents and wondered when it was that they got a parcel delivered to them. What did he say in his last letter? Was he as dismissive and routine as Jim? Or was he more forthright and factual? She wondered how his parents reacted and how they were carrying on with their lives, and even spared a thought for Klein, who must still be worried about their chances of survival when the bombers were still pounding the German cities night after night. She stayed there for all the time that Andy, Klein and McCulloch were working on the ’plane and never even heard, or saw them as they trundled down the lane in the distance.

The trailer was loaded up to breaking point and making the tractor harder to handle as Klein hung on to the sides and the farmer negotiated the turn from the field on to the lane. Klein was getting used to the smell of the cooking oil coming out of the tractors exhaust, and not feeling hungry every time it wafted behind the tractor to where he was sitting. McCulloch looked up behind the house and saw a figure sitting on the rocks seemingly gazing out to sea.

“Is that Mags up there?” he questioned.

Andy looked over and said,

“Aye, it looks like it. What’s she doing up there?”

Andy shouted as loud as he could, over the tractors engine, and sounded the horn,

“Hey! Mags! Down here!” and waved.

There was no reaction from her, and Andy never thought any more of it.

“Ach, she’ll not be able to hear us for this thing,” he said referring to the tractor noise, and carried on trundling down the lane.

McCulloch was still watching the still figure, though, and had a gut feeling that something was wrong. He very quickly, and correctly, guessed that, since he had delivered the telegramme telling them that Jim was missing, maybe the RAF had finally sent Jim’s possessions on. As they turned into the farmhouse, McCulloch said to Andy,

“Look, Andy. I’ll just get off here and I’ll go and see John about melting this stuff down. I’ll just cut across the fields.”

Andy looked as puzzled as Klein, as McCulloch jumped down and the farmer asked if he was coming back this afternoon.

“Give me a call. I shouldn’t be too long.”

Andy was concerned and asked,

“Are you o.k ?”

“Aye, aye, fine. I just think I should let John know as soon as possible that we can get this stuff to him. Give me a call later.”

Andy called back,

“O.k. I’ll call you later, then,” and put the tractor into gear and trundled into the yard.

When Klein jumped off the trailer, Andy said to him,

“What was all that about?”

“What do you mean?” replied Klein.

“Well, it was just kind of sudden.”

Andy then laughed,

“Maybe we’re working him too hard!”

The laughter was abruptly cut short when he and Klein walked into the Kitchen and Andy called out for Mags. Getting no reply, he said,

“That must be her sitting up there on the rocks, right enough. What’s that all ab . . .”

Andy’s words were cut short as he turned to go back out the door and saw the box in the corner of the kitchen. Like Mags, he saw the RAF markings and knew exactly what it was. Klein stood impassively as Andy walked over to it and opened it up. He picked up the playing cards and then took the letter out of the

envelope and read it. As he read it, he bit his lip hard and then put the envelope back in the box while still holding the letter.

“Oh shit,” he said, softly to himself, as he looked towards the window.

Klein also knew what this box was and what it finally meant for them.

“You must go and see her,” he said quietly.

Andy simply nodded his head, and walked towards the door, with the letter in his hand, patting Klein on the shoulder as he went out the house and made his way up to the rocks where Mags was sitting, gazing out to sea. Mags never turned her head as Andy came up to where she was sitting and as he sat down beside her, she took his hand and held it tightly.

“Are you o.k?” he asked.

Mags took a deep breath and said,

“Aye. I’ll be o.k. It was just a shock that I wasn’t prepared for. I forgot that they would send all his possessions back to us.”

Andy added,

“There wasn’t much in the box, was there? Not much to show for a boys life.”

Mags then said,

“We have Jorgen to protect now. I never thought about it before, but his parents will be going through the same thing as us, so we must look after him. We must make sure that he gets back to his family in one piece and in good spirits. That’s all we can do for either of them, now.”

Andy nodded and after a pause said,

“Don’t take this out on the lad.”
Mags replied,

“What do you mean?”

“Well, you know, don’t take it out on Jorgen. I know he’s German and all that, but things have been going so well, and he is just a kid. He isn’t responsible for the war or the way it’s fought.”

Mags laughed slightly and said,

“I wouldn’t dream of it. It would be easy to take out our grief and anger on him, but that’s not fair. I know he isn’t responsible for any of this. He’s as much a victim as anyone, now.”

She then looked out to sea again and said,

“It’s actually made me more determined than ever to protect him from all the shit that’s going on over there. We would be failing ourselves as human beings if we handed him over to our lot, or if we sent him home.”

Andy gave her hand a squeeze and said,

“Are you ready to come back down, now?”

Mags smiled, nodded and replied,

“Yes. Let’s go.”

They stood up and held hands as they carefully walked back down the hill towards the house. Meanwhile, Klein had been unloading the trailer and stopped and watched them coming down the grass, wondering what the reaction would be towards him, now. He was nervous that this box had opened up old wounds, and maybe it was too much to expect much more in the way of sympathy or compassion from them now. It was after all, because of his fellow countrymen that they do not have a son any more and he would always remind them of it, just by being here. He stood motionless as they approached and Mags saw the serious and expectant look on his face as he stood beside the trailer. Mags looked at him and simply smiled and as they got closer she said to Klein,

“Well, I know one thing for sure. There’s at least one pilot on this island who will live to fly airliners if we have any say in it.”

She then came up to Klein and hugged him tightly,

“You’re not going anywhere, lad, unless it’s back to a safe country. You’re no damn use to your family going home in a pine box!”

As she said it she started sobbing slightly,

“We’re going to make sure that you won’t fight again and end up like Jim!”

Klein was feeling very humbled and still felt, somehow responsible, for their son’s death.

“For what it is worth,” Klein said,

“Our pilots were always trained to shoot at aircraft, not men. There was never any question of shooting at airmen who had baled out, and we would always watch and hope for all the crew

to get out in time. We always had the highest regard for our opposites, whom we considered to be gladiators of the sky. We all believed that we die with honour, whether we die collecting whisky for the Christmas party, being hit by a flock of geese, or by bombing the enemy before they bomb you.”

Klein then added,

“I am not going anywhere, now. I promise you. I feel that I now have a sense of belonging here.”

Andy, who normally, would have scorned Klein for this attitude to honour and glory, saw his reasoning behind it and was happy to let it go if it made Mags feel better.

She let go, and dried her eyes again, smiled at Klein and said,

“Come on. Let’s go in.”

Lunch was a subdued and silent affair this day. As the three of them ate, the drab cardboard box in the corner dominated all their thoughts and emotions. Despite the best efforts of Andy and Klein to carry on with a normal conversation, the box in the kitchen was dominating every thought, every word, every emotion. It was starting to control their lives already. There wasn’t a lot of conversation and the loud ticking of the kitchen clock only emphasised the awkward silence in the room. It was Mags who was first to crack, but in a way that neither Klein nor Andy expected.

“Right!” she said, getting up and she went over to where the box was, picked it up and marched briskly away with it and placed it in a large cupboard at the other end of the house. She marched back and sat down again and declared,

“To hell with that! If Jim really is dead, then we can honour him, rather than mourn him!”

“Eh?” Andy replied,

“Now that we know for sure, we can concentrate on moving on with our lives and doing something positive with it.”

She looked at Klein and said,

“This just makes me all the more determined to make damn sure that your sorry arse doesn’t end up back in Germany and end up dead. From now on, lad, we are going to do all we can to make sure that your parents might mourn you today, but tomorrow they’ll be celebrating your homecoming.”

She then raised her tea mug and said,

“Here’s to the downfall of that prick, Hitler!”

Andy looked at Klein, and then laughed and held up his mug,

“Aye, I’ll go along with that!”

Klein, raised his mug and laughed too, and said,

“Yes, to that Pr-ee-k Hitler!”

They clashed their mugs together and carried on with lunch.

When lunch was finished, Mags announced that she was going to set up the dark room again and process some more photographs while Klein and Andy went back up to the ’plane to do some more dismantling. Mags began to clear away the dishes and table settings and Klein and Andy headed back out to the tractor.

“Shall we call herr McCulloch?” he said to Andy.

“Naw, I think we’ll manage. He was obviously spooked by Mags sitting up on the rocks. He must have guessed that the parcel from the RAF had arrived and thought that we would be best left alone to deal with it.”

Klein nodded and jumped up beside the drivers seat on the tractor as Andy got up and hauled himself in behind the wheel, and said,

“He’s a tough bastard, but he’s sensitive, too, you know?” Andy said, pausing before pulling on the starter button.

“Aye, he’s alright is Gordon! He’s a good mate,” he added.

Andy pulled on the bakelite starter knob and the old diesel engine coughed into life with a burst of black smoke from the exhaust that smelt strongly of the chip fat!

Mags watched through the curtains as they trundled through the yard and onto the lane that would take them back to the crash site. She sat back down at the kitchen table and organised her thoughts and her emotions. Her son was dead – that much was clear. So what of the future? They had an enemy airman in their hospitality and he was as scared and as confused as anyone of his age, caught up in this chaotic war. Jim would always be in their thoughts and would live forever in their hearts, but rather than grieve and wallow in sorrow, Mags recognised they had been given a golden opportunity here, with

Klein’s situation, to show a more positive side to the killing and destruction of this war. It was almost as if she believed that instead of being punished by having a son taken away, she was being given a chance to help a soul in distress. It was as if Klein’s arrival was a test of character to see if they could prove the world was wrong by fighting nations for territory and power. She decided that if, Klein was right, and that all pilots die with honour, then Jim would want them to ensure that Klein lives to fly again. From that moment on, Mags became the most stringent defender of their guests asylum on their soil. Mags shook herself out of her thoughts and got up to set up the dark room, to process the last of the photographs she had taken of the ’plane being dismantled.

Andy and Klein trundled into the field where the 109 lay and the routine of setting up the cutting equipment and dismantling parts of the ’plane continued. This time they started work on the front of the aircraft and cut the twisted propeller blades off easily and the engine cover. They were careful to remove the guns on top of the engine casing and their gearboxes that enabled the guns to fire through the propeller blades without damaging them. They then began dismantling the Daimler Benz engine by removing all the ancilliaries – the supercharger, the fuel injection equipment, fuel and air filters, intake tubes, hoses, pipes and a whole host of small parts that made up the engine. By the end of the day, they had the engine stripped to nothing and only the block and the propeller reduction gears remained. This was easily removed by the gantry and lifting crane, that they had taken up a day or so before, and the trailer was loaded up once more. The trailer managed the load without any assistance from the extra axle that Andy was going to make using the wheels from the undercarriage, however, he knew he would definitely need it for the cockpit section!

The day ended with the customary covering of the wreck with undergrowth, now getting smaller and smaller as the bits started to stack up in the MacLaren’s barn, and they trundled back down the lane and into the farm yard. This time, it took longer to unload as the engine parts were very heavy and by the time they had finished it was pitch dark. In the

farmhouse, meanwhile, Mags had set out all the developed photographs she had in the utility room to dry while she started on the evening meal. There were various shots of Klein and Andy working on the ’plane and unloading the trailer in the barn, along with a few shots that were posed and could have been from any normal family album, except this was no ordinary family, now! Mags had been processing her photographs all afternoon and had the latest results hanging up to dry in the utility room. Andy turned to her and said,

“How did you get on today?”

Mags smiled at them and replied,

“Fine. They’re hanging up in the back there if you want to take a look.”

Klein and Andy dried their hands and went through into the utility room to see the results. As Klein looked up at all the pictures, he said to Andy, as he gently held one between his fingers,

“You do know that these pictures could be a problem later?”

Andy looked at Klein and replied,


“Well, they are evidence of my stay here. I don’t think you can put them in your family album, shall we say!”

Andy looked back at the pictures and it suddenly dawned on him that they had incriminating evidence all over the place, even once the ’plane had gone!

“Christ, you’re right!” he exclaimed,

“We’d better make sure we have everything in the one place, in case anyone comes looking. Better safe than sorry, eh?”

Klein nodded and they went back through into the kitchen.

“Hey, Mags!” Andy said as they approached the kitchen,

“The lad, here, has just thought of something - Don’t go showing those pictures to anyone.”

Mags just laughed and said,

“Oh, don’t worry. Did you think I was going to hand them around the island?”

Andy, felt a bit silly for thinking that his wife could be so unguarded and replied,

“Well, no, obviously, but . . .” and Mags cut him off,

“I’m not that daft. Jorgen can take some with him back to Germany, but that is the only place they’ll be going, I can assure you!”

They had just got the dinner ready and were about to eat when the telephone rang and the excited voice of Gordon McCulloch at the other end told the farmer that Clark, the Smithy, could melt their aluminium down.

“That’s great!” said Andy,

“When can he do it?”

“He can come up and collect it tomorrow. He’ll take your van and mould a false floor from it and make up several of these and we can just take it over to Iain whenever we like! He just needs to dig a pit out the back to pour it into.”

McCulloch then added,

“Iain is coming over too, at some point, as he is anxious to see how much we’ve got here.”

Andy replied,

“We got the engine out today, so there is some cast iron as well and loads of copper piping.”

McCulloch then said,

“Great. Look, I’ll see you in the morning. I’ll come up with Clarky and we can start ferrying some of that stuff over to his foundry.”

He then added,

“How’s Mags? I just knew there would be a damn box there and reckoned that you all needed some time alone, you know?”

Andy just said,

“Thanks, Gordon. She’s o.k. Your instincts were right, whatever they were, so thanks for that. I’ll see you in the morning, o.k? Cheers, Gordon.”

“Cheers, Andy. See you in the morning.”

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