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Illingworth House: Chance Child - Part One: 101 - A Flash Of Light

...a flash of light exploded around him. His canopy shattered, splintering in his face and a great roaring deafened him. He felt a searing pain in his back...

Fighter Pilot John Illingworth's luck finally runs out.

John Waddington-Feather continues his epic story.

He returned from leave the next day and resumed his patrol duties over Belgium. His leave had done him a power of good and he felt at peace with himself and the world. He felt Helen's presence growing stronger, too. She returned again and again, smiling and reassuring, always there at the back of his mind. She looked exactly as she did when he had first met her; her face radiant, always smiling; her eyes sparkling as she welcomed him with open arms.

It was a beautifully clear night, perfect for patrolling. He hadn't seen an enemy plane for weeks and his routine would have been boring had it not given him time to think about the past and the future, a future which looked full of promise now that he had made contact with his son.

Below him, the Belgian countryside looked serene, dusted with snow, which threw into relief the pine-woods and the farmsteads stretching away into the distance. The sky held few clouds and a winter moon hung full-bellied on his starboard wing. The universe was at peace, anticipating another peace not far away.

It was 1945 and, come the spring, the war would be over, the end of a bloody war which had left him and Europe broken and changed. He was weary of it all and was looking forward to building a new life, one in which his son was involved. Perhaps he would even start afresh in civvy street and return to the family firm. His father would like that.

He banked to look at the night sky, a star-filled canopy above him. As he gazed at the galaxies there, old memories stirred, as they did so often now. His mind focussed on his old love, his only love, and he saw Helen's face smiling at him through the cockpit canopy. He wiped his eyes and she was gone. He was tired he knew and his mind was playing tricks. "Helen, Helen," he moaned softly, but no voice answered him. "Helen, oh, Helen my love!" he called again, searching the night for her image.

But there was no reply. Instead, a flash of light exploded around him. His canopy shattered, splintering in his face and a great roaring deafened him. He felt a searing pain in his back and began coughing blood. He had been hit.

A German fighter came swooping from the bank of cloud above and caught him unawares. It fired another long burst, then banked like a hawk to come in for the kill. He couldn't move. He was paralysed and could only watch helplessly as his plane spun out of control. Waves of pain flowed through him for some seconds, then a sudden calm, an acceptance of the inevitable and he closed his eyes.

Another burst from the Messerschmitt finished him off. His plane burst into flames and plunged, a ball of fire, into the forest below. Flames leapt and crackled all around him and the pain became unbearable till he lost consciousness. Then, nothing. A void. And he felt himself floating gently he knew not where, with Helen's voice, distant at first but drawing nearer, ringing in his ears.

His plane broke up as it hit the ground, ripping off branches from the fir-trees it ploughed through and igniting small islands of fire in the wood. For a while the flames burned fiercely, then burned out. By the time nearby villagers arrived, there was nothing but twisted metal and smouldering debris.

The impact threw his body clear and they found it crumpled and burnt in the undergrowth some metres away. They wrapped it in a blanket and carried it to the village church, where the priest interred it. After the war it was re-interred in the war cemetery some kilometres away.

They found the locket with Helen's picture in still hanging round his neck. Somehow it survived the holocaust and was sent back to his father along with other possessions. When he received it, the old man couldn't bear to look on it so great was his guilt and he sent it via Grimstone to Mary and Joe. Grimstone also bore a letter, a cri de coeur, from Sir Abe; a letter concerning John Greenwood, his grandson.


To be continued next week.


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