It was a cold, clear day with a kind of peacefulness and serenity that made it hard to believe there was a war waging. Though the signs of it were everywhere from the compulsory grown flax that swarmed over the countryside like a locust plague, to the tiny rations of foods and sugar. Winter was rapidly approaching; the frost bitten trees and plants were testimony to this.
‘’Been no planes for two weeks now,’’ Tom thought. ’’Either we’re doing a ruddy good job of keeping them out or they’re up to something.’’ Tom mulled over this in his head as he walked through the frost glazed ground to feed his sheep. He was in his early forties and still a big brute of a man. Since the war had started he’d been the youngest man in the evacuee laden village. His own sons were off at war, all them in the R.A.F., so far one had been reported dead lost over enemy lines. Tom mourned that son now as he looked up into the sky, as if he could see is son up there leaving them all.
Tom came to a start as he heard the faint roar of planes overhead in the distance. ‘’ Oh God, now we’re done for,’’ he said aloud. The last time planes had come this way on their way to Exeter, half the village of Manaton had been blown up by a couple of bombs the Germans had dropped.
Hurriedly he ran back to the house, hampered by his bad leg, which during the first war had been struck by shrapnel. ‘’Penny’’ he bellowed, they’re coming, ring the warden, they’ll be here soon.’’ Penny who was usually slow and haphazard in her ways ran straight away to the phone, dropping her darning on the way, her long skirt flying in disarray around her as there were gale winds.
While Penny rang the warden, Tom went out and tried to discern where it was the planes were coming from this time. He just couldn’t understand why they would come now, at 8 o’clock in the morning; they always came in the dead of night. ‘’Have they lost their minds’?’’ He wondered.
The roar of the oncoming planes was much louder now, transforming the peace and calm into a growing air of terror.
Tom remembered just how much damage a few of those planes could do on their way, without even slowing down. His stomach and knees felt weak at the thought of it. At the same time it brought about an anger in him, small to start with but it grew into a fierce rage as he remembered his son.
Christian looked down on the frozen rugged land below with bloodshot eyes, he felt completely drained, last night was like a hazy dream to him. Only hours before he’d felt invincible, his first time flying a bf 109. Now, though as he felt the engine grow weaker, he was a stuttering mess, he’d almost broke down earlier, his nerves had been pushed to the limit. He’d been chased for hours by two unrelenting spitfires, till finally, somehow he’d lost them in the clouds above Dartmoor.
The rest of the group he’d flown with had been shot down like insects by a mass of waiting spitfires, invisible amongst the storm-laden clouds of night. As he flew those horrific, fleeting sights came flickering through his head.
To Tom’s astonishment, he noticed that the plane was steadily slowing down. He put his hand up to his forehead to shield the beginnings of the sun’s rays from his squinting, sharp, blue eyes. Through which he recognised the lone plane, ‘’ so it’s one of those ruddy one o nines.’’
By this stage Penny had finished ringing the warden and had come out cautiously to see the approaching plane. ‘’The wardens contacting the airbase, they’re sending up planes’’ She shouted across to Tom, while she held the two evacuees’ hands.
‘’Get into the shelter luv, there’s only one but he’s slowing down.’’ Tom bellowed back with his deep gruff voice.
‘’Will he bomb us Tom, why us?’’ Penny cried back desperately. The two evacuees yelped in pain simultaneously as Penny tightened her grip as she saw the plane come looming across the sky.
‘’I’m not sure,’’ Tom admitted. He knew that the slowing down meant that he was planning a heavy bombing. ‘’But yet there is only one and it is an escorter version not a bomber. Maybe he’s been cut off from the rest of his gang,’’ He thought. ‘’The lord alone knows,’’ he concluded to himself.
Tom set off at a half run and followed Penny and the wailing evacuees into the damp underground shelter. Penny released a sigh of relief as he closed the steel doors. They waited there and listened as the sound of the 109 came closer. A deathly air enveloped the crowded shelter.
‘I hope the house is okay, ’’said Penny abruptly. Tom just put his arm around her in response. The two evacuees; Ronny and Elizabeth sat huddled together, petrified at the painful memories that that sound triggered in them. Then came the sound of the plane’s engine stuttering. ‘’Christ, that’s it, he’s out of fuel,’’ exclaimed Tom, banging his head off the steel doors as he said it. ‘’He’s gonna crash land near here, though the lord knows he’ll find that hard, ain’t a decent flat spot around here.’’
Instantly the mood of despair lifted from the rest at this revelation. Though still shaken, the evacuees and Penny visibly shrunk down as they released their rigidness. ‘’He might just decide to let loose his guns before he goes,’’ warned Tom. Cautiously he lifted the roof door and peered out, ‘’ can’t see him, he must be near above us, going by the sound of his engine it looks like he’ll need to land now.’’ Tom risked it and opened the door fully, the evacuees shrieked in unison as they saw the plane not far away above them.
Christian’s haggard face turned to an expression of raw horror as he read the fuel gauge. The plane under him was light and jittery, the great weight of fuel and ammunition spent as he had fought for his life earlier. The constant image of his mother crying as he’d left home, making him promise to come back had kept him going, even after he felt like just giving up. But this would not help him now as he searched desperately for something vaguely flat amongst the rugged land below. The hills seeming to be more numerous than grass. It was so ironic that it should end here, he felt himself beginning to submit to his cruel destiny.
‘’This is it,’’ he said aloud as he pressed the now unresponsive throttle in vain. None of his minute experience and training could have prepared him for this. The plane plummeted to the ground in a nose dive, falling like a stone, while he struggled at the controls, trying to lift her up. He knew he’d went too far though, as he heard the wings straining under the pressure, followed by a sharp report, like a bullet fired at close range, as they snapped off .
As the plane rapidly dropped, spinning to the ground Christian gave up all hope at controlling the planes wild death throes. He saw his life flashing before his eyes, tears flooded his smoke clouded goggles, all the while he sat like a statue as the plane whirled around, dizzying him. He’d come so close, from surviving the attack in the mountains, disguising himself as a Luftwaffe and stealing a plane just before the raid force took off, to evading those deadly spitfires as he’d came back to England. Only to die now with home in sight.
Tom and Penny’s faces went through several emotions in seconds as they watched the doomed plane with undisturbable gazes, like moths at a light. When part of one of the wings struck the ground a few paces away, they did not flinch, their eyes stuck with rapture onto the plane, watching wide-eyed its final wild moments.
With a deafening crash the plane struck the hard frozen ground. Within seconds flames appeared, quickly enveloping the plane, like a massive funeral pyre. As Tom had watched the plane falling down he’d forgotten it was a German, his ‘’enemy’’ all he could think of was his son dying the same way, he knew how this poor boy’s family would feel all too well. He ran to plane at a far greater speed than his size and limp would suggest. While Penny and the evacuees stared in unintelligible fascination.
The fire was raging now spitting out chunks of metal and plastic. The plane had struck the ground in such a way that the rear had taken the brunt of the damage. Christian had escaped injury from the impact but had been caught badly by the whiplash, blood oozed out of his head like a tap, were it had been hit.
When Tom reached the plane the flames were licking at the pilot’s inert body. Tom had often dreamt nightmares of how his own son and died when shot down in the mountains of Germany. At the sight of the young pilot’s head lolled forward surrounded by flames as he had so often imagined his son he without stopping to think for his own health, lifted away the scorching metal and pulled the unconscious body out.
With his eyes closed to escape the fierce stinging heat tom walked away from the plane with the pilot in his arms. As penny crossed over the hill she was shocked to see Tom with the man in his arms, as she approached them sudden realization dawned on her and her face turned white.
When Tom opened his dry burning eyes he felt the pain reach his scorched hands and he dropped the body to the ground. Like a ghost Penny had appeared in front of him unmoving, looking all the more like a ghost as he saw the colour of her face.
‘’Oh Tom it’s Christian!’’ She cried aloud. She ran to him and put her woollen jumper to his head, trying to stop the awful bleeding. Christian’s clothes and body had been badly bitten by the fire, but as Penny was clumsily stopping the bleeding he opened his eyes, saw Tom and Penny’s joy filled, ecstatic faces, mumbled something incoherent then slipped back into unconsciousness, with a happy peacefulness upon his face.