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Illingworth House: Chance Child - Part One: 92 - "My God! I'm Done For!''

...On his last sortie, he was caught on the hop trying to finish off an ME 109, which he had shot up. He thought he had downed it and banked away, but the German was bluffing. He climbed suddenly then came in head-on, blasting away like mad. One burst of fire hit John's engine, sending oil spurting across his canopy and blinding him. A second burst caught his petrol tank, which burst into flames...

John Illingworth is shot down after being outsmarted in aerial combat over England.

John Waddington-Feather continues his unmissable story concerning the lives of a Yorkshire mill-owning family. To read earlier chapters please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/illingworth_house/

The bombing eased off as the German losses mounted and he managed a brief visit to Yorkshire. The Goldsteins were devastated by Sydney's death and found his visit a great comfort. He was their only link with their dead husband, son and brother. Seeing him cushioned their grief, but it brought home to his father how vulnerable his son was, how he might lose him at any time, and that threw everything into a different perspective for Sir Abe.

Gradually it dawned on Reich Marshall Goering that he had lost the air battle over Britain. His losses were enormous, and without superiority in the air, any invasion was impossible so Hitler switched his attack to Russia, leaving the Luftwaffe to bomb London.

A new blitz began in the spring of 1941, when London was pounded night after night. By the middle of 1941 twenty thousand civilians were dead and many more injured; and the seemingly unending tide of bombers also took their toll of fighter pilots. John Illingworth's squadron was regrouped several times and he himself was shot down twice. The first time he parachuted to safety and was unhurt. The second time he was badly injured. He had been in action often near the place where Sydney was killed, for the German bombers still came in by that route, the shortest from France.

In time he changed his battle tactics, rarely concentrating his fire on one plane, but raking whatever target he could before flying right through one enemy formation and taking on another. On his last sortie, he was caught on the hop trying to finish off an ME 109, which he had shot up. He thought he had downed it and banked away, but the German was bluffing. He climbed suddenly then came in head-on, blasting away like mad.
One burst of fire hit John's engine, sending oil spurting across his canopy and blinding him. A second burst caught his petrol tank, which burst into flames. Then began a weird, dreamlike flashback. As the flames licked his cockpit, the memory of that strange flight over the moors near the Swastika Stone with Sydney Goldstein came flooding back in slow
motion, and he began to panic. It was happening again, this time for real, and he was trapped.

The oil across his canopy caught fire and the Perspex began to melt, dripping onto his helmet and jacket. Instinctively he looked up just as a huge molten lump broke away. It fell onto his face and neck, searing through his jacket and clothes, so that he smelled his own flesh burning. He screamed in agony and began threshing this way and that to get out of the burning plane, which was now spinning out of control.

"My God! I'm done for!" he thought as he struggled to pull back the blazing canopy. It jammed and the melting Perspex burned through his gloved hands to the flesh. The pain from his face and neck was unbearable and the vision in his left eye had gone. The Perspex sliding down the left side of his face had bared it to the bone.

Suddenly the whole canopy broke free and went scudding into space. It left him at the mercy of the flames roaring and licking all around. The heat was intense but somehow an ice-cold part of his brain told him to roll the plane over. The flames and heat disappeared at once and, despite the cruel pain in his hands, he freed himself from his seat-harness, and the next moment he found himself hurtling through space.

The same ice-cold logic ordered him to pull his release cord and he felt a sharp drag under his armpits, then a loud crack above his head as his parachute canopy developed. The last thing he remembered before losing consciousness was seeing a blurred mass of green countryside rushing up to meet him. Then he hit the deck and all went black.

For some time he remained unconscious. When he came round he had no idea where he was, nor could he see. A mass of bandages swathed his face and head and he lay in what seemed a dark tunnel where strange sounds echoed and re-echoed. Then he lost consciousness again. This went on for weeks. He had no sense of being looked after; no sense that anyone was there. He heard nothing except those ghastly unintelligible sounds coming at him through the dark and nightmarish dreams.

Then gradually his senses returned. He could still hear, yet all was silent
except for the hum of the ventilation system and the distant clicking of heels walking along a corridor somewhere beyond him. He could smell disinfectant and the sweeter odour of some kind of oil, which had been applied to his burnt flesh. As it recovered, the pain became intense and he was dosed regularly with morphine and more bandages were put on.

Dressings came and went, were applied then cut away and replaced with fresh ones day in day out. He became aware that he was propped on pillows, but was so weak he couldn't even lift his hand. For a while he lay half-conscious trying to make sense of his surroundings; then as the frightening memories of his burning plane came back, he began to shake.

Night after night he had nightmares, re-living again those hellish minutes when he was trapped in his cockpit and hurtling earthwards. He attempted to speak, but couldn't. His lips were barely there and his mouth felt like a furnace. When he opened it, nothing came out and he began to weep impotently. He tried to lift his arm to feel his face, but his arm wouldn't obey him and remained limp on the bed.

He drifted back and forth like this for weeks, then one day when the bandages had been taken from his eyes he saw the blurred figure of a nurse bending over him, and stared at her silently. The unbearable pain down his face had gone, replaced with a dull throbbing sensation and an overpowering itch. In places the pain and itching were so intense he wanted to tear away the skin, but he couldn't move. He had a violent headache and his throat was raw, but he discovered that he could speak with some effort.

"Where am I?" he managed to croak one day, trying to bring in focus the young woman by his bed. It was the first time he had spoken and his question took her by surprise. She was slim and bonny and stood back smiling, going out of focus. "Is it you, Helen?" he asked. "Is it you, my darling? Please speak to me."

The nurse looked puzzled a moment then smiled again, gently wiping his brow. "You're in Highfield Hospital, in Sussex," she said quietly, "and I'm Nurse Kelly." She picked up the photograph of Helen they had sent from his mess and held it before him. "Is this Helen?" she asked.

He stared hard, looking sadly at the nurse for some moments. She was Irish and spoke with a soft lilt as she explained where he was; then she went on with her work. He watched her for a while and said he was thirsty. She stopped what she was doing and held a container to his lips. He took a sip or two, then sank back exhausted by the effort of lifting his head. He watched the nurse bemusedly as she straightened his bed. When she left he continued to stare blankly at the ceiling.

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