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Illingworth House: Chance Child, Part Two - 56

John Illingworth, parachuted into Egypt, has to fight for his life.

John Waddington-Feather continues his dramatic saga of a Yorkshire family, the Illingworths.

The tanks Miriam had seen driving over the border were the spearhead of a full-scale attack on Egypt. Marines landed from the sea and John's brigade parachuted into Port Said to take the military airfield after fighter-bombers had gone in first to soften up the defences.

The Egyptians had anticipated an airborne assault and were in the process of placing rolls of barbed wire and oil drums across the runways when the fighters attacked. Many of the airfield's personnel were killed and the survivors fled into the buildings along the perimeter to snipe at the paratroopers as they came in to land. While he was still in the air, John was hit in the leg.

To make things worse, his plane had overshot the dropping zone and he drifted off course, landing behind one of the perimeter buildings. When he landed he was dragged some distance till he snapped his release box and got clear, leaving his weapons container behind. He struggled behind a large pile of smoking debris and fixed his wound, but he was seen by the sniper who'd hit him and he came to finish him off.

He was young and a conscript like John, the first time either of them had tasted battle and they were scared by the sudden bloodiness and death. Not far from John lay a couple of bodies, the first he'd ever seen, killed in the bombing. Others had been mown down on the runway and somewhere someone was screaming in agony. Smoke and flames billowed everywhere like some kind of hell. A distant crackle of gunfire grew steadily nearer and John prayed it was his own men. He made a tourniquet from his handkerchief and tightly bound the wound to stem the bleeding, but his shoulder, too, hurt like mad where he'd dislocated it on landing.

His first-aid kit was in his container. So was his rifle and ammunition. He daren't crawl out for it in case he was seen, and in any case it hurt like hell to move. He began to sweat freely in the intense heat and felt sick. He lay back against the pile of debris, his mind racing, listening intently for any sound of help. The small arms fire was coming closer, but so was the sound of footsteps nearer, much nearer.

He lay shaking as the steps continued to approach. Then an oil drum was kicked away as if whoever was coming was looking for something, someone and John realised whoever it was was looking for him. He heard his weapons container being lifted and opened, then dropped. The Egyptian would think he was unarmed and the footsteps began again, quicker this time.

John crouched lower and waited, taking out the pistol inside his battledress blouse. Moments later, a dark-haired youth peered nervously round the heap, his rifle at the ready. Coming on John so suddenly startled him and he stared in surprise. His delay was fatal. John fired, hitting him above the left eye and knocking him back. His rifle clattered to the ground as he spun drunkenly and fell sprawling over the mound of debris.

John stared hardly believing what had happened. The youngster lay dead staring at the sky with the look of surprise still on his face, a thin trickle of blood running down from the bullet hole. It had happened so quickly John could hardly take it in, then a wave of nausea passed over him and he began to vomit. When he looked again at the man he'd killed, flies were already swarming obscenely over his face. It was a face that haunted him the rest of his life.


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