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Give Us This Day
The All Clear siren had sounded. Wearily, Johnnie Kershaw clambered into the cockpit of Spitfire K9926 cleared for his last test flight of the day. Seeing Mike Pinkerton standing on the tarmac he called out, “How about a drink later Pinkie, what’s your programme?”
“I shall be here for a while, how long will you be?”
“I’ll see you in the bar in about forty five minutes. There seems to be another bloody problem with the ailerons. I wish we could get to the bottom of it.”
The familiar sound of the Rolls Royce Merlin engine thundered as the aircraft taxied along the rustic runway and then suddenly, just at lift off, there was silence. Mike turned in time to see the Spitfire’s nose embedded into the grass at 45 degrees. Mike, a fire engine and ambulance, bells ringing and lights flashing sped to the scene. Johnnie, still in the cockpit and clasping his head in his hands, did not look up.
“Are you OK Johnnie, what the hell are you playing at?” Johnnie’s eyes appeared through the cracks of his fingers, followed by a series of expletives, and then as he climbed out of the cockpit “Why the bloody hell did she do that (always a she when there was a fault!) - completely cut out on take off.” Johnnie leaned over the shoulder of the aircraft mechanic asking for an explanation when Pinkie impatiently interrupted.
“Oh come on Johnnie, you’ll find out soon enough. We’ve both done our bit for today – last one to the bar buys the drinks.” With that they sprinted towards the Hampshire Aeroplane Club only to be waylaid by the agitated work’s manager, Len Levison.
“We’ve just heard that the Woolston Factory has been bombed.  We have lost all communication with them but believe there is absolute carnage. Those German bastards...”
There was no hanging around, not even a quick drink. Mike jumped into Johnnie’s Riley and followed the ambulance as it sped out of the main gates with its bells shattering the ominous peace of the neighbourhood. Not a word was spoken as they drove through the back streets of war-stricken Southampton, just a dreaded fear of what they may encounter. They could see clouds of black smoke billowing into the late afternoon sky and then the full impact of the disaster lay before them.

Complete chaos. The dead and wounded were being stretchered to the waiting ambulances, firemen attempting to dowse the leaping flames while pulling victims from the burning buildings. The intensity of the heat, the acrid smoke and the wailing and screams made any kind of order impossible.
While Johnnie and Mike were deciding where they could best be of use they heard desperate screams from a woman. “Help, help my darling babies are buried, I can’t find them.”
Silhouetted against the smoke stood a young woman, her soot-blackened face streaked with tears, clutching a baby. “God, God, where are you, I need you,” she implored.  The two men hurriedly went to her aid. She was hysterical. Her twin daughters aged two were buried among the blitzed ruins.  Johnnie gripped her firmly. Rubble and shards of glass crunched beneath his feet.
“We are here and will do everything possible to find your children. Please, calm down and answer a few questions.” The hysteria continued. Johnnie shook her. “I’m sorry, we cannot help you unless you cooperate with us. Every moment is vital so STOP screaming.”
She stopped and when she had regained her breath she said her twins, Annie and Biddy, were playing in the front room when the bomb fell. She had been in the kitchen, feeding baby Paddy. She then pointed vaguely to where she thought they must be buried.
Mike took her arm. “Come my dear now, it’s vital that you sit down out of the smoke and keep very, very quiet so that we can listen for any cries or movement.” With that he guided her to a broken wall and removing his sweater laid it down for her to sit on.
Mary O’Reilly, with baby Paddy nestled into her breast, sat motionless staring into space trying to recall what had happened. Apart from an ear-shattering explosion, she remembered nothing, not even how she had come out unscathed. ‘Brendan, where is Brendan?’ This thought suddenly flashed through her mind. “Oh no! My husband Brendan, how can I find out if he’s safe? He works on the assembly line at the factory.”
“Please bear with us, nobody can do any more than they are doing already and it will, I am sure, be many hours before we know the fate of so many people.  Try to be brave. Your name again?”
“Mary,” she meekly answered.
Johnnie continued, “I know this is an horrendous ordeal for you and so many others. Mike and I realise the urgency of the situation but we have to work slowly to prevent any more debris caving in on top of your little ones. It would really be a good idea if you and little Paddy could find a safe haven in someone’s home. This awful smoke cannot be doing him any good.” Mary was not to be moved. She felt a complete sense of helplessness.
Paddy, her rosary beads and her deep religious belief were now her only solace. While deep in silent prayer, sitting on that bombed site, memories of her childhood in Ireland came flooding back. For the first time she questioned her faith.
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