By Chris Das.
While based on actual events and locations, I took liberties to create the story you are about to read. I created the characters and their lives. Bethnel Green, Teesdale Street, and the Subway Station all existed at the time of the Battle of Britain, but I manipulated the actual events and the timing of history to fit my story. For example, the Cromwell alert went out to military units and it did not go out until around 8:00 PM. This story is dedicated not only to the airmen who won the Battle of Britain in the skies, but also to the citizens who endured and stood united against the terror of the incessant German bombings.
“Cromwell!” The message had just echoed through the radio in the den. “Mother! It’s finally happening,” I said as I raced upstairs. The government had just announced that the Germans were invading.
“Stop yelling like that, Peter,” my mother replied sternly. “You’ll wake up your sister!” As usual, my mother, Janet, was more concerned with Margaret than anything else.
“Mother! This is more important. Cromwell! They said Cromwell. We need to start getting ready for the attack!” Spurred into action, my mother started grabbing the bags of supplies we had already prepared and began humming nervously, like she always did in times of crisis.
It was September 7, 1940.
As fate would have it, I was recently made the man of the house. My father, Thomas Murphy, was now serving as a Flight Lieutenant in Flight Command’s Group 11. While I had begged him to take me with him, he insisted that I was more help here with my mother and my baby sister.
Since he left to fight in France, I had really taken his advice to heart. I attended all the meetings that Mr. Grant, the local commander of the Home Guard, had held for the people of Bethnel Green. I knew all about air raid sirens, how to hang our blackout curtains, and what bomb shelter the Home Guard had assigned to our Teesdale Street neighborhood. While I terribly missed having my father around, I was as prepared as anyone ever was for an attack.
After we woke my sister and grabbed our few necessary belongings, we moved outside into the chaos that was Old Bethnel Green Road. People were running in all directions. Some were screaming and others crying, but nobody seemed to remember anything we had practiced.
Police constables and members of the Home Guard ran around trying to establish some order. That day, they would have had better luck trying to stop the rain by yelling at the sky. Somehow, I led my mother and sister to the entrance to the Bethnel Green Underground stop.
We were all very proud of our underground stop, even if the threat of war had prevented the station’s completion. Before the war, my father had worked to dig out the station and the tunnel. He always used to say, “Every day, people will ride this train and have no idea how many blisters this damn tunnel gave me.” I promised him that I would never forget his blisters.
That was what I missed most… walking around and talking with my father. He never went to university like some of my other friends’ fathers, but he was the smartest man I knew. He’s been gone for months, but it seems like I just watched him walk off to work, carrying his beat-up old shovel over his shoulder.
Just as we took our place in the queue, the now familiar sound of the air raid siren was screeching. This time, however, I heard what sounded like a swarm of angry bees accompanying it. Out in the distance I could see the huge formations of German planes approaching. “Where are our planes? Where is father?” I asked my mother, who ignored my questions to comfort my crying sister. I tried asking the soldier at the door, but he just hustled us inside as he nervously eyed the sky.
The scene in the station was much more orderly than the one outside. People had claimed their own small territories and began to hunker down. I saw a couple of my friends and ran over to them while ignoring shouts of my mother telling me to be careful and stay in sight.
“I wish we could fight,” exclaimed my friend Timothy. I was just about to agree when everyone froze.
The ground above us rattled as if God himself was smacking it. Little pieces of rubble and dust tumbled down around us and some people began screaming. I rushed off to find my mother and sister and was relieved to find them unharmed. We huddled together trying to get my sister to stop crying and praying that the bombs would not locate our station. After what felt like an eternity, the bombing subsided and there was complete silence underground.
In the aftermath of the attack, we enjoyed a tense dinner that mother had prepared the day before. I started fidgeting after dinner because I wanted to go outside and play with my friends. The soldier guarding the door looked at me sternly and said in a deep voice, “nobody is allowed outside, there could be another attack and everyone must stay in the shelter.”
“Another attack?” I asked incredulously. Even though most people were continuing as they had been before, I saw some were beginning to anxiously move about. As I trudged back to my family, I heard my mother humming as she set up our chess board. She was always a very good player, but this time I was almost able to beat her. The game was a fierce one and it took my mind off what was happening for a while.
The siren was going off again! “Oh no! The Germans are coming back,” I nervously said to my mother. While clutching my sister, she assured me that everything was going to be alright. “Peter,” she said, ”why don’t you play with your friends for a while.”
“Alright,” I said as I ran off to find Timothy and Stephen. I found them as they were creeping towards the staircase that led above ground. Timothy pleaded with me. “We really want to see what’s happening. Just for a second.” I immediately agreed and we were able to sneak past the distracted soldier.
I will never forget what I saw that night. My eyes were quickly drawn to the movement of planes engaging in their deadly dance above my city. There was so much light! Explosions went off everywhere, and it seemed fire engulfed buildings left and right. It was only as I turned my eyes down that I realized the horror of what I was really seeing. Buildings I had known my whole life were in millions of pieces and razed to the ground. People were running in every direction. Some neighbors fled the flames, while others fearlessly ran towards the fires to fight them.
My school, Mr. Cooper’s grocery store, the smoke shop on the corner…all gone! I could not find the words to describe the scene before my eyes. I started to ask Timothy, “Why would they…” when I felt a strong hand grab my collar. “You children can’t be out here! You need to go back inside,” a soldier with a face black with ash hollered.
His tone softened when he saw how scared we were, but he persisted we go inside. “This is the worst night ever! How can they do this to us?,” I asked, finally regaining my breath.
The soldier looked down at me with a sad look in his eyes, “This is only the first night in many, I’m afraid, laddie. But don’t you worry, us Londoners, we can take anything old Adolf throws at us. Plus, the Germans are not just messing with us, they are messing with our boys in the sky. Unlike us down here, they can do something about this!”
“Right now though,” he continued, “we better get you lot back downstairs.” As we walked downstairs, Timothy’s and Stephen’s parents and my mother, carrying Margaret, rushed towards us. “What happened? Where have you been? Are you boys alright?” All of them gasped at once. The kindly soldier assured them with a wink. “The boys are alright, ladies and gentleman, they were just helping me on some official soldier business.” Relieved to be reunited, my mother and I abandoned our game and sat together while Margaret slept on blissfully unaware.
The bombing continued for a few more hours until, at long last, it subsided and we could sense daylight. We were allowed to go outside, and while I was temporarily blinded by the light, it was great to get outside. As bad as the damage seemed the previous night, it was so much worse now during the light of day.
We rushed home. “Oh goodness,” my mother gasped. Our house still stood, but both of the houses to the left of ours had been leveled. The Greens and the Caspers were standing in front of what rubble remained of their homes, without a clue of what to do.
Without saying a word, I let go of my mother’s hand and went inside to grab my father’s shovel. I knew we all had a lot of work to do before the Germans came again. Mr. Greene put his hand on my head as I strode by with the shovel. We started to dig, and together we unearthed some photos and jewelry and I could see that boosted their spirits, especially Mrs. Greene’s. As I strolled down the street in a final moment of what I sensed was limited freedom, I heard some soldiers talking, “Park’s boys really gave those Germans hell last night. If they keep taking losses like that, they’ll really have to think twice about coming back this way.”
“My father was up there.” I blurted out.
The soldiers turned to study me. “Your father’s a hero laddie; you should be very proud of him. I know me and all of England are proud of him.” As I walked away examining my fresh blisters, I smiled and thought Father would like that.
CHRIS DAS wrote for school the majority of his life, then began to develop a passion for writing. Unfortunately, upon graduating college, work got in the way. After a few years of hardly writing, he has rediscovered his love of writing. He hopes you enjoy this piece and would love to hear from you! For a more detailed bio, additional writing, and his blog- please check out chrisdaswriting.com