The photo in this post is of my Father and Mother and Lily their first born child. It was taken in February 1919 when my Father returned from the war, it was the first time he’d seen his daughter. Before the Second World War began our family had grown to six, three girls three boys, I was the youngest. Below is a short story of one wartime adventure my Father was involved in.
After driving for about thirty minutes, they had managed to put little more than five miles between themselves and the front. Suddenly and without warning, a German aircraft appeared overhead. Neither man could believe a plane would be flying this late and in such weather. The pilot was obviously lost and had come out of the clouds hoping to spot a landmark. Unfortunately he spotted the car instead, and was turning to attack. The plane circled low ahead of the car, preparing to turn and make a strafing run. My father brought the vehicle to an abrupt halt, almost landing the colonel in the front seat. The German had levelled off and was flying straight down the road toward them. Its single machine gun began stuttering as a line of tracer came toward them. A neat row of muddy splashes raced toward the car as the shells hit the road. For a split second the two men sat motionless, caught in a hypnotic trance, fascinated as events unfolded in slow motion.
Neither soldier knew how they managed to leave the car with such speed that day. As they hit the ditch, the car was raked with gunfire and burst into flames. The German plane disappeared as suddenly as it had arrived, and an eerie silence fell over the thunderous cacophony of gunfire and gasoline exploding.
Slowly and carefully the men crawled out of the muddy, water-filled ditch. Standing alone on the deserted road, their sodden uniforms dripped mud and water, forming puddles around their feet. Looking around carefully and warily, they saw no one nor heard anything. The heavy silence was only broken by the crackling fire consuming the remains of the car. They listened to the hiss of snowflakes hitting the flames and the red hot metal of the burning wreck.
They checked themselves for injuries, but fortunately found nothing more serious than a few scrapes and bruises. Standing shivering in the cold, they estimated being about 25 miles from camp. Both men moved nearer the burning wreckage to benefit from its heat. Standing in the warm glow of the flames, the colonel tried to decide the best course of action. They were more likely to find help sooner if they headed back to the front line, approximately five to ten miles away. But it was already dusk, and it would be dark long before they reached the trenches. Floundering around the front at night could be extremely dangerous. Not only would they risk enemy fire, but they could easily be shot by their own troops. Passwords were needed if a patrol came upon them – passwords they didn’t have.
Their safest option was to strike out for the base camp some twenty-five miles away. As darkness closed in and the temperature dropped to freezing, their clothing became stiff and heavy. The ground under foot was strewn with ruts and potholes. Walking through the darkness of night on such tracks was not good. In addition, they were almost completely unarmed. The colonel had a sidearm; my father had two pouches of ammo on his webbing, but it was quite useless without his rifle.
Added to this combination was the constant danger of being spotted by a patrol. It would have mattered little which side they were from. The normal practice was to shoot first and ask questions later. It was a long slow slog to camp and they stopped often to rest and listen for sounds or movement. Both men were scared and close to exhaustion; hunger and cold were taking a heavy toll. It continued snowing and the clouds blocked out any hope of moonlight, challenging their sense of direction. Much of the time they were sure they were lost; then they spotted something familiar and their hope surged back. The hours dragged on interminably until the first faint rays of light dawning through the overcast sky began to lift their spirits. Surely (they must have thought?) they were safe now. Somewhere around six o’clock, they stumbled over a rise to see whispers of smoke coming from campfires ahead.
Read the complete story in my book “Lily & Me”
God Bless and keep reading