Nils Nisse Visser 

Scribbler on a quest to retell old Sussex Folklore (and some Dutch Sealore) within the genres of historical or contemporary fantasy (including Steampunk). Hopes to become a pirate if/when he grows up.

 


SEE OUR COLLEC

WILL'S WAR IN BRIGHTON  

ONLINE LOCKDOWN SERIAL

Chapters Nineteen to Twenty-two

19. GÖRING SENDS HIS REGARDS

Both Gaffer and Gran were of a mind that Will would be much safer in the countryside. He wouldn’t have to take the gamble of random placement of the national programmes. Will’s great-uncle, Fred Maskall, worked a farm in the Weald and letters had already been exchanged so they knew Will would be welcomed there. Mum was dead set against it though. She expected the Jerries to invade any day now and would rather be close to her son when that happened. If the Jerries got a foothold they would no doubt sweep further inland towards London in which case Fred Maskall’s farm offered as much safety as Brighton did. Will had no intention of leaving Brighton either, everything he knew was here and a farm in the countryside held little appeal to him. The matter had been left unsettled.


Will and Jamie met up early the next morning to head to Dyke Road Park in the hope of seeing the ack-ack guns in action. They had more than half of a bag of bull’s eyes left so were adequately provisioned with sweets. The action started as soon as they reached Dyke Road Park for a damaged Heinkel 111 was struggling seawards over Hove at 2,000 feet. It was escorted by two Messerschmitt 109s but the Spitfires which appeared ignored the fighters and converged on the Heinkel. Will and Jamie began to cheer but choked back the sound when the Spitfires collided and suddenly fell away leaving a trail of wing parts in their wake. The Heinkel made its escape and Will and Jamie watched appalled as the damaged Spitfires plummeted downwards like bricks towards the rooftops of Portslade, west of Hove. It all happened in a matter of seconds and there was no time for the pilots to make an escape from the stricken aircraft.


Suddenly viewing the air war from front row seats at Dyke Road Park lost its appeal and in unspoken agreement the boys departed, wandering rather aimlessly down the Dyke Road towards the sea front. They were wary for the air raid warnings seemed to be sounding continuously and there was a lot of activity in the air as planes crossed and re-crossed the coastline, far more than had already become usual. Becoming curious again the boys agreed to go to St Nicholas Church for it was placed on a hilltop which would give them a wide view over the town.


They were just about to turn into Church Street when the sound of a low flying aircraft just overhead caused them to spin around. The boys recognised the airplane straight away; the stub beetle eyed glass nose of the Junkers Ju 88 twin engine bomber was unmistakable and the plane was close enough to discern the pilot’s head behind the glass of the cockpit dome. His expression they could imagine for the aircraft was trailing smoke and both engines were coughing and spitting.


The crippled plane made a sudden dive just as it passed Will and Jamie and then struck a lamp post before hurling itself into the wall that bound the churchyard about forty feet away. Will threw himself to the ground as did Jamie. Will expected the almighty bang that followed but what struck him most were the ear-shattering screams of metal being sheared apart almost as if the airplane was a living creature that was rent asunder. He felt a warm blast of air pass over him as the shattered plane exploded into flame, filling his vision with a fiery yellow sheet and then incongruously vivid green lights as the plane’s flares ignited one after the other. The roar of the fire was added to by multiple sequels of sharp cracks as ammunition ignited and Will kept his head low. Something small and black skidded to a halt right beside Will and he touched it to establish if it was burning hot. It was just warm and he absentmindedly stuck it into his pocket.


When the worst seemed to be over he scrambled to his feet, dazed by the violence of the moment which had banished the clear bright summer’s day and replaced it with a dark smoky haze. Slowly he and Jamie walked forwards. The street was littered with debris, including one of the landing wheels. The engine had come to a stop against the broken churchyard wall and they could see that the tail section of the plane and parts of the fuselage had fallen beyond amidst the tombstones in the cemetery where many headstones had been knocked over and broken. Many parts of the wreck were burning fiercely.


Will stared wide-eyed at a tree on the opposite side of the road. It’s branches were now garnished with torn remnants of a parachute amidst which swung the body of the Jerry pilot in a German flight suit, jagged slivers of metal protruding from his bleeding chest just below his Iron Cross and sightless eyes staring at his burning aircraft.


The boys ducked again as new rounds of ammunition started to pop off. Firemen and ARP personnel now rushed down the street. The firemen didn’t hesitate when they heard the exploding ammunition and came dangerously close to the burning wreckage to extinguish it. One of the Wardens took a gentle hold of the boys and led them back down Church Street.


“Far too dangerous lads,” she said kindly. “Ammo going off and the bloody thing might still have bombs in it.”


Will and Jamie were too dazed to protest and let themselves be led away along Dyke Road and then directed towards North Street. They walked silently, still overwhelmed and occasionally looking behind them at the smoke billowing up from St Nicholas Church. Will was haunted by the sight of the dead Luftwaffe pilot; he had never seen a corpse before. Let alone a dead German enemy. It was very different from the glorious daydreams he had of using his catapult to take pot shots at Wehrmacht troopers who dared to invade his beach.


Jamie was subdued too and for a long time they were quiet. When they reached the Steine Gardens they both turned left towards the seafront. They wandered past the inaccessible entrances of the Palace Pier and the Aquarium till they had followed the Marine Parade to the characteristic seafront verandas of the Royal Crescent Mansions with their curved metal roofs and cast iron railings. There they heard the rumble of approaching aircraft again.


Suddenly an insect like Dornier Do 17 bomber thundered seawards over their heads, its bulbous head at odds with the rest of its sleek figure that ended in fragile looking twin tail fins. Two RAF fighters pursued it, Will recognised the hump-backed silhouette of Hawker Hurricanes and for a moment the dead German pilot was forgotten as both he and Jamie shook their fists at the Dornier and cheered on the Hurricanes.


The Dornier made its escape when four Messerschmitt Bf110 three seat strategic fighters streaked in from the Channel to intercept the English planes at top speed. Even though they outnumbered the Hurricanes neither the boys nor the Hurricane pilots seemed worried for the Bf110s were no match for Hurricanes or Spitfires in a dog fight. The RAF pilots dodged and evaded the incoming fire from the Bf110s and then skilfully forced two of their opponents into making turns where their slow and wide turning circles made them vulnerable to the well-judged bursts of machine gun fire from the Hurricanes.


It was over in moments, one of the Bf110’s splashed into the sea, the three others high-tailed it back to France behind the now distant Dornier, one of them trailing smoke. However, one of the Hurricanes had been hit by a parting burst of German fire. Instead of following its partner into an ascent it headed straight back to the coast, its engine spluttering and the plane dropping in altitude as it approached.


To Will’s surprise the defense batteries opened fire on it.


“NOOOO!” Will and Jamie shouted desperately as they saw the Hurricane shudder under the impact of incoming fire.


The plane followed an erratic course over the seafront buildings to the east, trailing smoke now and Will and Jamie ran to follow it inland even though there was no way they could keep up with it. They could still hear the thud of the impact though and arrived at the end of College Place to find a smashed rooftop of a house from which the tail section of the Hurricane protruded.


A solitary Warden stood in front of the house, visibly shaken.


“Saw it happen,” he told the boys unasked. “He was trying to get to the college playing grounds to avoid the houses. Didn’t make it.”


Will and Jamie stared at the battered roof and tail of the plane. The Nazis seemed to have been really pressing home the attack this day. So far RAF losses had been tallied in the papers where they were just numbers which were generally cause for satisfaction because the Luftwaffe numbers were almost always higher. Today those tallies had been translated into...something different. It was a sober realisation.


They sat down on the pavement staring at the Hurricane’s tail. Will sighed and put his hands into his pockets where he encountered an unfamiliar object. He recalled picking something up at St Nicholas and he took it out of his pocket. It was a very simple leather wallet without inner pockets, a little bit like a book cover really and fine workmanship too.


“Whatcha got?” Jamie was curious.


“I dunno, picked it up at St Nicholas. After the crash.”


He opened it and saw a small photograph and a banknote.


“BLOODY HELL!” Jamie’s eyes grew wide and he grinned from ear to ear.


Will took a closer look, ignoring the banknote for it was the photograph which intrigued him. It was a small portrait photo with white edges, the subject was a beautiful young woman. She reminded Will of that actress Nova Pilbeam he had seen in a Hitchcock picture, on account of her large round eyes and dainty lips which combined to give her a smouldering look that made his heart beat faster. He turned it around to look at words penned down in elegant handwriting.


Felix. Komm bald wieder und sei vorsichtig! Ich liebe dich. B.


“It’s German!” Will exclaimed.


“It bleeding well is, look at that money!” Jamie was over the moon. “Must have been that pilot’s.”


Will picked up the banknote to examine it.


The language was strange and the letters printed in some sort of gothic style. There was a '20' in the left corner, and a picture of a woman holding a flower in front of mountain tops on the right side of the note. Will stared at the lettering: Reichsbanknote. Zwanzig Reichsmark. There was a grey swastika behind the smaller lettering and an eagle astride a swastika below it.


“Can I see?” Jamie was nearly jumping up and down.


Will held up both his hands; the picture in one and the banknote in the other.


Jamie took the banknote and Will was relieved. He looked back at the handwriting on the back of the photograph. So the pilot had been called Felix. And he had a sweetheart. Will turned the photograph over and lost himself in those big brown eyes. Then he carefully put the photograph back in the wallet and closed it.


“Hang on, don’t forget the banknote,” Jamie said.


Will looked at him with a smile.


“Keep it Jamie, it’s yours.”


Jamie’s mouth fell open.


“You sure?” He asked wide-eyed.


Will nodded happily. He had no idea what 20 Reichsmarks were worth, it sounded like a lot, but he doubted he would be able to buy sweets with it in Brighton. It felt good giving it to Jamie who was clearly taken with it. They agreed this material was top-secret to be hidden from all but Mr. Hall and Gaffer and then headed home.



20. LONDON IS BURNING

Gaffer had abandoned his position on the cellar stairs, insisting that Will too remain beneath the makeshift shelter of the strengthened tables. Late on Sunday night the air raid warnings had started their ominous wailing once again and it soon became clear this wasn’t a clash between night fighters attacking or defending a formation of bombers headed for other targets in England. This time Brighton faced a full aerial attack.


The night’s assault on the town wasn’t carried out by large formations of bombers but throughout the night they could hear the heavy rumbling of bomber engines followed by the whistle and crump of bombs being released, sometimes far off and at other times close enough to feel the cellar tremble on impact. A new unknown sound was added which puzzled the cellar’s inhabitants, that of thuds as if solid steel bars were being dropped on the rooftops and streets.


Gaffer took Will outside onto Ashton Street during a lull between the air raid warnings and they were greeted by the spectacle of hundreds of small bright fires coloured red, green, blue, yellow or orange.


“Incendiary bombs,” Gaffer growled.


They could see ARP people around some of the closer incendiaries trying to extinguish them. Occasionally one would suddenly erupt into a small fireball as it exploded and Gaffer told Will that some of the incendiaries would have been packed with explosives and delayed trigger mechanisms as well. Will looked at the ARP workers with renewed respect for surely they must have been aware of the dangers of being obliterated by one of the explosive varieties. Fires large and small could be seen throughout the town where the incendiary bombs had set rooftops alight though some of the larger fires could also be the result of the high-explosive bombs which had been dropped as well.


“Draw out people first, with the fire bombs, then drop the heavies,” Gaffer grunted with disgust. “One thing to do it on the battlefield, another to do it in a town filled with civilians. Damn Nazis.”


The air raid warning sounded once again and Gaffer herded Will back into the cellar.


§ § § § § § §


On their way to school the next morning Will and Jamie passed a street where one of the high-explosive bombs had struck. The sudden gap in a row of terraced houses was a surreal sight. Two houses were gone in their entirety whilst the houses to either side were badly damaged and seemed uninhabitable. One had its front wall blown away though oddly enough the now exposed interior of the house was unaffected, the table near the former wall still held a glass vase with a flower in it.


There wasn’t a house left in the street with intact windows and tens of thousands of shards of glass crunched beneath their feet as they walked along the street. Firemen were just clearing up their gear and an ARP Warden encouraged Will and Jamie to keep walking, there were many of them there cordoning off the area around the damaged and missing houses.


§ § § § § § §


Will, Gaffer, Mr. Hall and Jamie had walked up to the top of Richmond Street as had others from the immediate surroundings. It was the beginning of September and the evening of Black Saturday. After the incendiary bombings there had been a lull in Luftwaffe activities in Brighton with far less air raid warning interruptions than they had got used to. This evening however, it became clear that the Nazis had not yet given up the hope of a victory in the air. Late in the afternoon it had seemed as if it had been business as usual again, with high flying formations of bombers drawing the attention of RAF fighters but as it had become evening there seemed to be no end to it as wave after wave of bombers crossed the Sussex coast heading north, or left English airspace again to return to their French bases.


The BBC had reported that hundreds of bombers had attacked London’s East End. Civil defense services fought the fires that were spreading. But those first attacks had taken place in the late afternoon and now, more than six hours later, waves of bombers were still crossing the coast line and heading for London. The rumour repeated atop Richmond Street was that even Brighton had been requested to send fire fighters to the beleaguered capital. This was cause for pride but then worry; as it became dark there were gasps and curses and prayers all around Will. A good deal of the northern horizon remained light, eerily orange and though it was hard to believe there could only be one explanation for that glow which even now was guiding another formation of German bombers to their target. 


London was burning.


“God help those poor souls in London tonight,” Gaffer said loudly.


“Amen,” Mr. Hall replied.


21. SWEETS, SWEETS EVERYWHERE

Will looked outside the classroom window to see if he could spot vapour trails in the bright blue sky. It was harder than usual to focus on the lesson that was being taught; even the teachers seemed on edge these days. A certain fatigue had set in, mainly caused by the incessant air raid warnings which never did allow for a distinction between the continued aerial brawling between RAF and Luftwaffe fighters and the advent of immediate and present danger in the form of Heinkels, Junkers or Dorniers coming in on an approach run. 


Ever since the Luftwaffe had switched its focus to civilian targets, coastal towns like Brighton seemed to have become the most logical place for returning bombers to release left-over bombs on their way back to France and there had been a marked increase in sporadic episodes of death and destruction across town. Tales of miraculous escapes or tragic deaths were told again and again. Added to this were stories of the hellish conditions in London which was being hit night after night as well as increased invasion fears. Folk had become nervous and jittery although everybody persisted in carrying on their daily business as usual, for the determination not to be intimidated by the Nazis only increased.


The sound of a low flying aircraft received instant collective focus in the classroom. There had been no air raid warning but just about everybody had learned the fallacy of relying on the wailing sirens. Will’s mouth dropped open as he saw a Junkers Ju88 which appeared to be flying straight towards the school and his eyes widened when he saw the bomb bay doors swing open. Mr. Hutchinson saw it too.


“DOWN!” Under your desks now, hands behind your necks! Down!” He hollered.


Will realised there was no time to run to the trenches outside and dived underneath his desk. He could have used his bloody helmet now, he thought, but he hadn’t been allowed to wear it at school for some unfathomable reason. 


He caught Jamie’s eye and the two boys grinned reassurance at each other.


They heard the bomber roar over and for what seemed like an eternity nothing seemed to happen as the class awaited the next turn of events in complete silence. Then they heard a loud thud on the other side of school and that was followed by a deafening explosion which was quickly followed by more. The floor trembled, the windows rattled in their panes and the building seemed to shake. Then a large piece of masonry came crashing through the classroom’s skylight and shards of glass fell everywhere. Some of the children screamed at that but nobody was seriously hurt.


Soon after the order sounded to assemble and to Will’s surprise the teaching staff directed them to the street outside the school rather than the playground area in the back. Flanked by an ARP Deputy Chief Warden the Headmaster explained that the initial thud they had heard was a bomb that had failed to explode and now lay on the playground.


Will sucked in his breath as he realised the implication of an unexploded bomb right next to the school and sure enough the Headmaster told them they were all being sent home for the remainder of the day.


Will and Jamie had a big grin on their faces as they stepped into the day’s unexpected freedom. They tried to follow the route the stick of bombs had taken and managed to get some way because thick clouds of smoke obscured them from the sight of fire fighters and ARP personnel who came rushing into the area. Glass crunched below their feet and there was rubble everywhere, as well as drifting scraps of paper and ashes. Jamie spotted a bomb fragment and tried to pick it up but let go immediately.


“Too bleeding hot,” he told Will regretfully.


Will’s heart stopped when they saw an arm and leg protruding from what was left of a shop front but Jamie laughed at him and told him they were parts of the mannequins which had been in the display windows. Not much further though they encountered a man covered in blood sitting on the pavement and groaning while he was being attended to by two friends.


Things became more grim when they saw a dazed survivor stumble out of the smoke bleeding profusely from a head wound after which two ARP staff ran by bearing a stretcher. The woman on it had terrible gashes on her face and an arm which was barely recognisable because fist sized chunks of flesh had been torn out of it.


Jamie grabbed Will and pulled him into a twitten.


“Let’s leave here,” he suggested and Will agreed. He was relieved for the sight of the wounded woman on the stretcher had shocked him and he recalled what his Gaffer had told him about the sort of sights he could expect to see immediately after a bomb had struck.


They walked to a parallel street where there was no smoke and their interest was immediately focused on groups of children running down the street in a state of excitement.


“What’s going on?” Jamie shouted at one of the boys who was in their class.


“Parsons Confectionary got it Jamie.” The boy didn’t stop but shouted an answer. “Sweets all over the place, the whole ruddy street filled with sweets!”


Will and Jamie started running immediately. They turned left at the bottom of the street. The actual building was still standing. The last bomb had fallen in the mews behind Parsons Confectionary but the force of the blast had blown most of the content of the ground floor right out onto the street. All of the glass jars seemed to have been shattered and tens of thousands of glass fragments reflected the sunlight thus enhancing the bright colours of the sweets which were truly everywhere just as if the road had been paved with them. Dozens of children were already scrabbling for the sweets, some of them with bleeding hands where the glass had cut them but that didn’t stop them. Jamie dashed straight in but Will came to a halt.


“Oh!” was all he could say. This was the sort of thing he daydreamed about sometimes, a town made of sweets like that house in the fairy tale.


Then he saw Mrs. Parsons sitting on the kerb opposite her shop.


He knew she had managed to keep the store running after her husband’s death and was always kind. She was one of the few who would sometimes sell ha’penny worth of sweets to the less-well off kids in the area.


Some of the same kids who were now scrambling around laughing excitedly as they tried to sweep up as many free sweets as they could.


“Hullo, Will,” a voice suddenly said next to Will. Will glanced sideways and saw Brenda clutching a doll with a cracked face.


“Oh hullo Brenda,” he replied absentmindedly. 


He looked at Mrs. Parsons again. She seemed to be totally oblivious to the looting of her inventory; she just sat on the kerb and was quietly crying as she took in the devastated interior of her store.


“You feel sorry for Mrs. Parsons too?” Brenda asked shyly.


Will nodded; there was something about the sight of the tearful woman surveying the wreckage of the business her deceased husband had built up that touched him. It did look dreadful in there. The blast had even ripped up the floorboards and deposited these in front of the shop like an uneven pack of shuffled cards.


Will and Brenda crossed the street too, carefully so because of all the debris on the street. Will saw that Mrs. Parsons was hurt some, mostly light cuts caused by flying glass he figured. He came to a stop in front of her but she didn’t seem to notice him; just sat there with her hands on her lap, gently rocking as tears flowed down her cheeks. Will didn’t know what to do or say. What do you say to someone when they are looking at the destruction of their livelihood? The torn remnants of precious memories?


Brenda led the way; she sat down next to Mrs. Parsons without a word and took one of the old woman’s hands into her own. Brenda gave Will an impatient nod and he followed suit, sitting down on Mrs. Parsons’ other side and taking her other hand into his. He felt vaguely embarrassed at first and hoped the other lads wouldn’t see. When he saw that they were far too busy scooping up their booty to even notice anything else he suddenly couldn’t care less about their opinion.


They sat there for a long time, the boy, girl and shopkeeper; for the ARP and other emergency services had their hands full with the seven explosions which had rocked the streets behind Parsons Confectionary.


The helmets showed the variety of personnel involved. A man with a white helmet with a black ‘W’ on it – Will knew this was a District Warden – directed the other Wardens in forming a cordon around the entry to the street which led to the places where the bombs had impacted. The rescue ‘R’ and ambulance ‘A’ helmeted workers were the ones moving up that street just as the fire fighters were. There were a number of police constables as well and a few lucky older kids who carried the white ‘M’ on their black helmets and arrived on their bicycles. These were the messengers who would convey messages between a site like this and whatever local ARP post was co-ordinating the response. Will had applied to become a messenger but had been told he was too young and ownership of a bicycle was a prerequisite too.


Neither of the children spoke till at last a concerned Warden approached the three and motioned some of her colleagues over.


“Let’s get you to a shelter dear,” she told Mrs. Parsons. “A nice hot cup of tea will do you good. With some extra sugar for the shock.”


“Thank you, children,” Mrs. Parsons said softly as she was helped up.


Brenda looked at Will inquiringly after Mrs. Parsons had been led away. Will felt his eyes water and cursed himself for being soft. Without a word he turned and ran away.


22. THE GHOST COMES HOME 

Though many might have despaired in private moments Brightonians made a point of carrying on. To give up was to accept defeat at the hands of the Nazis. These had shown their true face now. Strafing children on busy streets and parcelling out death and destruction willy-nilly were not tactics to be honoured by lowering the head in submission. If the Jerries wanted a surrender they had better sail over and jolly well walk up the beaches and ask for it in person. Even then they would find this a tedious business. The Dutch, Belgian and French citizens hadn’t been prepared, people told each other. Their loss had been Britain’s gain for all now knew what treatment they could expect if there was an invasion. There was a grim stubborn determination to show the Germans what it meant when folk said “Sussex wun’t be druv.” Even an old war veteran in long johns armed with a shotgun and a small boy in pyjamas armed with a catapult might be able to take out at least one well trained parachutist between them.


Will just hoped that the parachutist wouldn’t be carrying a picture of a German sweetheart on him. Like the one that had belonged to Felix, the dead Luftwaffe pilot he had seen hanging in the tree at St Nicholas Church. It had started to worry him.


Komm bald wieder und sei vorsichtig! Ich liebe dich.


Gaffer had translated it for him. Come back soon, be careful. I love you.


It was probably a sign that the chap wasn’t quite like all the other Jerry thugs, Will had decided. Nobody could write a message like that to a monster. That brought a new worry.


He decided to ask Gaffer about it. Indirectly of course, Gaffer mustn’t start to doubt Will’s patriotism.


“Gaffer?”


Gaffer looked up from the paper he was reading. “Will, my lad?”


“In the war, the Great War…,” Will paused. Gaffer nodded for him to continue. “The Huns who were shelling you, did you think they were…all evil?”


Gaffer seemed to understand what he was asking. “Most of them were just doing their job, Will. The prisoners I saw sometimes, being led to the rear, they seemed like ordinary blokes to me.”


“But they were trying to kill you,” Will pointed out.


“Refusing to obey an order warranted the death penalty, Will,” Gaffer said slowly. “You would be shot.”


“The Huns did that?”


“The English did too,” Gaffer said quietly. Then he turned back to the newspaper. He didn’t like to talk about the Great War.


Will was speechless anyway. He could not believe the British had executed their own soldiers. They were the good side, weren’t they? Gaffer wouldn’t lie though.


Komm bald wieder und sei vorsichtig! Ich liebe dich.


War was clearly more complicated than Will had anticipated.


§ § § § § § §


For the Terrible Trio carrying on as normal meant going to the pictures. Mr. Hall treated the lads to Dark Command in August. They all liked westerns and to see John Wayne and Roy Rogers play in the same movie was a treat. Will also liked the Civil War setting, he had a crazy longing to one day own a US cavalry man outfit, the neat yellow stripe down the sides of the light blue trousers and a dusty dark blue military coat would suit him, he reckoned. He saw himself charging down the racetrack hill on horseback waving a sabre and holding a lance with a white and red striped pennant streaming from it while hapless Wehrmacht soldiers fled in panic in front of him. 


All of them conveniently without Ich liebe dich pictures, of course.


At the beginning of September they had gone to see Errol Flynn in The Sea Hawk and that was even better. Swashbucklers were good to begin with of course, especially if Flynn played in them, but the setting of an England threatened with invasion by the Spanish Armada was superb and Will rooted for the English privateer most fervently.


In Mid-September Mr. Hall proposed going to see the comic drama The Ghost Comes Home, declaring that they could all use a laugh. Will and Jamie fully agreed.


§ § § § § § §


“Mum?” Brenda walked out of the kitchen and into their small yard.


“Lend us a hand, please dear,” Mum was doing laundry. She was boiling one wash but another was ready for the wringer.


“Mummy!” Eddie called from the kitchen doorway.


Brenda hurried to him, ushered him into the kitchen and shut the door. Eddie wasn’t allowed in the yard when a wash was boiled.


Then she helped her mother. Washing was a physically hard chore in all its stages and before too long they were both perspiring.


“It’s a good thing ladies don’t sweat, isn’t it Mum?” Brenda asked cheerfully. “Otherwise I’d feel a bit icky.”


“Icky?” Mum raised an eyebrow. “Since when did you start speaking American?”


“I heard it at the pictures,” Brenda said. “I wrote it down in my Interesting Word Notebook.”


“You and your notebooks,” Mum shook her head.


“There’s a matinee, this afternoon,” Brenda said carefully. “Some friends asked if I wanted to come along.”


She had been elated at school when a couple of the girls had asked her to come. She wasn’t asked often and hoped fervently that Mum wouldn’t give the answer which she dreaded.


“That’s nice,” Mum said. “I’ve got just enough change for two tickets. Edward would probably enjoy it too.”


Brenda felt her hopes sink. She didn’t think the girls would like it if she showed up with Eddie in tow. Or rather, that is what she told herself. Secretly, it would be nice if, just this once, she could go out on her own.


“Mum, can’t I go alone?” Brenda said and then quickly added, “with my friends.”


Mum looked at her, “I am working this afternoon. Till late. Your dad is on a late shift as well. Edward is your brother. Do you propose leaving him on his own? Who will make his tea?”


Brenda bowed her head.


“I am sorry, Brenda,” Mum said. “But we all have to do our bit. I am disappointed in you.”


“I’ll take Eddie,” Brenda conceded. It wouldn’t be so bad. Eddie could charm just about anyone, the girls might even like him a great deal.


“No,” Mum said. “It’s too late for that now. You’ve had your chance. I want you to think this over, very carefully.”


They finished the washing in silence. There was tension between them and Brenda didn’t like it but neither did she think it was very fair of Mum. She hadn’t thought about her parents’ shifts, that was true but sometimes it seemed that she never got time to just be on her own for a while.


Later that afternoon, after Mum had left for the RSCH, Eddie came into the living room with The House at Pooh Corner.


“Tigger time,” he announced happily. “Tigger, Tigger, Tigger!”


For a very brief moment Brenda felt anger flare up and she wanted to tell him that she didn’t want to read to him today. Then she imagined his face if she told him. He wouldn’t understand and then he’d be upset. It wasn’t his fault.


She forced a smile and nodded. The Hundred Acre Wood awaited. Eeyore, perhaps, would understand how she felt.


§ § § § § § §


Will, Jamie and Mr Hall set off for Kemptown to the matinee at the Odeon Cinema on St George’s Road. People called it the ‘Titchy’ as there was another bigger Odeon in West Street.


None-the-less the auditorium at the Titchy was far from small, it could seat hundreds of people and about 300 –mostly children- filled the auditorium this Saturday afternoon. Mr. Hall had got good seats in the middle of the front stalls.


The show started with newsreels which told terrible tales of atrocities taking place in occupied Europe and were followed by various informative pieces. Will liked the Food Flash this time warning people not to throw away food.


“Bread and money are both worth dough,” the man on the screen said and Will smiled.


The next person to appear on the screen was a fat chubby man who said it was generally expected that people in the pictures had S.A. and that he had a very special S.A. The adults and older children laughed, they knew that S.A. stood for Sex Appeal and this man certainly had none of that. He grew more serious and explained that he was making a Spade Appeal in the Dig for Victory campaign. They saw pictures of factory workers and school children growing crops and tending these in their breaks. Will and Jamie shared a glance; they wouldn’t mind such a project at school.


Will liked the catch line too. Straight from the plot to the pot!


The next two items were dull. One exhorted everybody to eat more carrots but Will reckoned they already ate more than enough carrots at Ashton Street so didn’t really need to be told. The second was called Two Cooks and a Cabbage and was an instructive film for young girls to cook properly when called to do so at home and not ruin good food by being careless. Will and Jamie made a  point of yawning loudly.


They paid more attention during a longer dramatization which drove home the message Make do and mend. In it a moth balled suit belonging to a soldier who had gone off to war started talking to the soldier’s wife when she took it out for a jaunt down memory lane. Will liked the concept of a talking suit. It would be smashing if his helmet could talk he was sure.


Then the main feature started. It was not bad, Will decided, though he thought the main character Vern just a bit too foolish. The story was interesting though, but when Vern had just come home to find that his family had spent the travel insurance money paid out because he was supposed to have been lost at sea, the movie was suddenly stopped.


The audience let out a collective groan as a familiar message was flashed on the screen.


An AIR RAID WARNING has just been received. The management suggest you remain in the building but anyone desiring to leave is free to do so now. The Performance will continue.


Will sighed as the lights came on. The whole magic of going to the pictures was broken by these interruptions. An alternative reality which formed a short sweet escape from the world out there shattered like a pupil’s daydream was rudely obliterated by the sarcastic tongue of a teacher. Nobody left to go outside anyhow; the Luftwaffe could already be sweeping down to strafe the streets again or shrapnel and broken glass could be flying about. After a few minutes the lights were dimmed again and the movie resumed.


§ § § § § § §


Around half past three in the afternoon of Saturday 14 September, a Dornier bomber appeared in the sky over Brighton. It had been split off from its squadron by a Spitfire which was chasing it. In order to facilitate its escape the pilot decided to jettison its full load of bombs. Twenty 110 pound bombs rained down on Kemptown. They hit Edward Street, Upper Rock Gardens, Hereford Street, Upper Bedford Street, Rock Street and Kemp Town Place. One of the bombs headed for St George’s Road and scored a direct hit on the Odeon Cinema.


§ § § § § § §


Suddenly there was a loud rattling on the roof of the cinema. Will looked up and started to frown but then there was an almighty crash as parts of the ceiling came down to his right. This was followed by a tumultuous explosion which lit up the darkened auditorium like fiery lightning. Will’s face felt as if had received a nasty sun-burn in a fraction of a second after which his vision went entirely red for a second.


The blast had knocked the air out of Will’s lungs and for what seemed like forever he was stunned into immobility and a deafening silence. The smell was awful. When he regained his movement everything he perceived seemed to be in slow motion and Will had trouble interpreting what he saw. Smoke and dust had filled the auditorium with a murky fog. This was thickest by the right front stalls where it was incongruously penetrated by beams of sunlight which streamed through a massive jagged chasm in the ceiling.


A few figures stumbled from that hellish turmoil of dark smoke and fierce light. Children; a girl clutching the remnants of a shattered arm, a boy trailing shiny blue coils from a gaping hole in his belly. Their mouths were open; they must have been screaming but Will couldn’t hear a thing.


 He looked sideways at Mr. Hall for reassurance and clarification, but Mr. Hall no longer seemed to have a head on his shoulders so was quite incapable of giving an answer. Someone would have to fix that. 


Will wondered if he was deaf because of the blood, his entire head seemed to be soaked in warm liquid and he could feel it pulsing out of him somewhere on the right side of his scalp.


Everything became black and Will passed out. 

I HOPE YOU ARE ENJOYING THE STORY. 

THE LAST REMAINING CHAPTERS WILL BE ADDED SOON


Previously released chapters (1-6) can be found here:

https://www.nilsnissevisser.co.uk/will's-war-in-brighton-(serial)


Previously released chapters (7-12) can be found here:

https://www.nilsnissevisser.co.uk/will's-war-in-brighton-chapters-seven-to-twelve


Previously released chapters (13-18) can be found here: 

https://www.nilsnissevisser.co.uk/will's-war-in-brighton-chapters-thirteen-to-eighteen


Reviews of Will's War in Brighton and Will's War: Exile from Brighton here:  https://www.nilsnissevisser.co.uk/wills-war-reviews