Happy Anniversary Darling: A Ride Back to 1944

I am the second generation cousin of a tail gunner who died on an operation to Stuttgart, Germany, in 1944. Bud, and the rest of his Lancaster bomber crew, were men I never met. They died long before I was born. However, their presence in my life is an unexplainable constant.

Today, the 25th August, marks a special day, a wedding anniversary gift to remember. One year ago my husband and I did a taxy ride in Just Jane, a Lancaster bomber at the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre in East Kirkby, UK.

I had requested the tail end turret and as such I was on my own, just like Bud. I imagined being closed behind those doors, cramped in that tiny turret, sitting bundled up in warm gear, lifting off the ground, feeling disjointed from the aircraft in this most vulnerable of places and looking constantly in the ink dark skies for night-fighters.

I’m bumped and jostled about as we taxy on the grassy field. I can hear nothing but the thunder of the engines in my ears. I see naught but cloudy skies.

When the ride is done and I crawl out of the turret, I take one last look behind me to say goodbye.

I am not alone. ©

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Linus and his Fetching Blanket

The nightly ritual starts as always with me getting my dog ready for bed. He is an outside dog so I make sure he is kept warm in the cooler months by starting the process with a doggy jacket. Its well worn, a patchy green quasi military coat that has been mended multiple times, each time getting closer to a perfect fit. With that in place I go back to the dishes, the internet and whatever else is on my agenda.

An hour or so later when I’m about to head off to bed I go out to put him into his dog house. By this time he is quite happily laying comfortably snuggled up on my blanketed bean bag that he has most shamelessly appropriated. Scrunched into a gangly ball, head half cocked with nose stuck into the nervously nibbled fleece, eye nothing more than a slit, he naps. No matter how quietly I move he always registers me before I get to him. The eye lid rises, the tail wiggles and the head finally shifts from its contorted slumber to full alert.

We spend a little time snuggled up together on the slowly compressing beans. A pat, a snuggle, a little one way conversation intermixed with the odd lick and groan to tell me he has no idea what I’m saying but he loves me anyway and then its time for bed. This is not unlike putting to bed a child. He sometimes refuses to get off the warm and well dented bean bag so I end up just putting a blanket over him and tuck it in around him. Most nights however, he reluctantly moves from his warm spot to the cold but better sheltered dog house only two feet away and situated next to my bedroom window. Once settled, in goes a blanket over him, not to mention the already well padded, pillowed and blanketed interior. He seems to like having the blanket covering him. He snuggles down and with head lowered he becomes nothing more than a heap of blanket. He gives a bit of a snuff and a huff and I know I’m not needed any more, he is already on his way to slumber land.

Shortly there after, crawling into my own bed, out goes the light and I too become little more than a heap of doona. About twenty minutes later there is a shifting in the dog house. As usual the one eye flicks open, this time mine, not his, and out of the dog house pops a light tan blanket floating about like a ghost in the night. Lap, lap, lap, lap, lap, lap, silence and then a few moments later back comes the magically transfixed piece of fleece. Thump, bump, humf, and all is quiet once again.

Most nights he keeps his blanket, sometimes he even walks out in the morning with it still slung over his back. A Houdini trick that only he seems to know. Other times I go out to find the blanket vanished.

“Ok, where have you left it this time?” I ask, hands on hips. Eyes look earnestly up at me as the tail wags from side to side. No answer of course. Telling him to fetch doesn’t work either. He hates doggy games. If you throw a ball to him he steps aside and lets it fall to the ground beside him. He looks at the inanimate ball and then looks at me as if to say, “Well this is stupid!”

Sometimes I give myself a fright coming up on the blanket in the dark laying out front in the driveway as we head for our morning walk. It takes a moment to focus on the fact that the sprawling twisted mass is actually a blanket and not an animal. Other times its not so easily found. In that case, after we’ve come home from our walk, we go blanket hunting. Linus excitedly follows me around. The wagging tail speeds up with each false attempt at finding the newest drop spot for his blanket and that ball throwing look appears once again, “No, not there either Mummy!”

Eventually I find the dewy covered blanket along the back fence line. The game is done. ©

The Far Side

I walk my dog early in the morning. I’m usually awake before the alarm goes off so when it beeps incessantly on the nightstand I’m already half out of bed. With the addition of oversized clothes, a quick brush of the hair, doggy bag, lead and flashlight we are off out the door, out the gate and down the road.

Most mornings I’m the only dog walker crazy enough to be out by 5:30am. Others follow after but often I’m on my way home when anyone else braving the early hours is just starting out. I like this quiet time. It suits me just fine not to see another living soul while we walk along the road moving off the side once or twice for a few local ‘tradies’ to pass by on their way to work.

About a third of the way into our walk, alone in the dark and flashlight swinging back and forth, not really using it for the benefit of sight, more for preserving my life from on coming traffic, I almost step onto something protruding from the tarmac. As I side step the mound and point my flashlight downward I see a cow plop. This is not the first time this has happened.

My brain registers it on the odd-o-metre, but I continue on. A little farther down the road and some more dark mounds can be seen in the early morning light. Climbing the hill another little surprise or two await me. Yanking the dog aside so he does not step in it I come to the realisation that this is not normal.

The first time it happened I had just passed it off as a rogue cattle beast but the number of presents left for my dodging pleasure suggest something a little more robust than one, either that or this beast was in a spot of trouble. The first time I worried that I might actually stumble upon the beast(s) and get trampled. I’m not exactly a farm girl in the truest sense of the word. The big animals are frankly, BIG! This time I wondered if the farmer realised his cattle were sneaking out of a night to party hearty on the roadside.

By morning I figured they must get back through their little, wait, make that a LARGE escape hatch in the fence and saunter around as if nothing had happened and they had been snug in their fenced fields all night. Perhaps they were waiting just out of sight in the growing morning light watching to see if the idiot walking her dog in the dark would step on one of the large poo bombs dotted along the road. I could see the Far Side comic picture now with cattle in army helmets, a hoof on the dynamite detonator and the remnants of exploding poo swirling in the air with dog and owner incapacitated on the ground.

As before no cattle were seen on my walk and we returned home sans poo on shoes or paws. Perhaps next time I’ll be awake enough to keep my flashlight slightly ahead and down but sooner or later I bet the cattle will get the last laugh.  ©

Picking Up the Pieces

Early that evening I was taken out to the field. My guide had been worried that the field would still be full of crops and there would be nothing for me to see. Whether he had requested the farmer now using the land to cut a swath or not I do not know but when the vehicle stopped and we got out there was only one cleared section, the section where the plane had crashed. It was as though a message had been spoken to the above and the Red Sea had parted; in this case it was a field of corn.

 We walked over the clipped plants looking for tell tale signs of the crash. My guide was concerned we may not be able to find remnants of the plane without the ground being tilled over. For a good twenty years the ground was lighter and nothing grew in the spot where the plane had dug into the fertile earth. With the passing of much time the earth had healed itself and once again was producing sustenance for the living. We walked around looking for bits and pieces that might be parts of the plane. I had no luck in finding anything. My guide’s son however was eager to help and with sharp young eyes dug up various bits and pieces that were very much likely to be the remaining vestiges of the Lancaster. It was a though the earth was expelling her story and in doing so sealing the wounds that had once left her barren.

I was in the end given a number of pieces most of which were small but indicative of a Lancaster. There were pieces of perspex bubbled from heat and melted and twisted bits of aluminium mettle along with an unheated piece which looked as though it might be a joiner plate with rivets. These small pieces were an amazement to me to be found so long after the crash. It was as though the boys refused to give up sending a message to those willing to seek. We are here, we existed, do not forget us.

Standing there with the sun setting over the field and the village I realised the boys could not have crashed in a better place. There they died between the Black Forest and the Vosges Mountains in beautiful farm land with the church seen in the distance. The crash site clearly remained in the memory of my guide’s family generation after generation. What more could a relative ask for when it came to providing a final resting place for their loved one? Here they were surrounded in beauty, respected, loved and remembered.  ©