a twinge of guilt as I smeared the lard on my rusting bike chain.
Lard was on ration, but oil and grease being hard to come by left
me with little option.
I pumped away at my treadless well-patched
tyres (acquired from our local rubbish tip) trying hard not to notice
the numerous cracks and bulges which grew alarmingly with each stroke
of the pump. I tightened the strand of wire (substitute for a missing
brake rod) and as my back brake blocks had disintegrated some time
ago, hoped that the single remaining front blocks would at least
help slow me down in an emergency! I then tightened the string holding
on my front mudguard and with a sigh of satisfaction, declared to
my friend... "Im ready."
It was Sunday, April the 8th, 1945. A beautiful
sunny spring morning. Birds were singing, buds were bursting &
temperatures were rising. We had decided to take a bike-ride.
So, with tyres resembling Python snakes that had swallowed a colony
of rabbits, we set off along Cut-throat Lane, (Coleman
Road) towards Evington Village.
We rattled and clanked our way past Blacky
Fields, scene of many raids, onto farmers potato
clamps to supply requirements for our campfire feasts, and then
eventually Shady Lane P.O.W. camp. It was here, only a year before,
at the age of twelve, I had the unforgettable experience of tasting
my first Wrigleys Spearmint Chewing Gum. Tents had appeared
over night, like Magic Mushroom's... and within these miniature
Aladdins Caves, Trestle tables groaned under the weight of
Camel Cigarettes, Chewing Gum, tins of exotic meats
and foods we had never seen or tasted before. These Treasures
were dispensed by Gods (who spoke like the Dead
End Kids and Roy Rogers combined) to the hoards
of grubby, green-candled nosed, ragged trouser-bottomed Dennis
the Menace and Just William look-a-likes who descended
on the camp like locusts... Yes... The Yanks had arrived!
On to Stoughton Airfield. Scene of many
a fascinating hour, watching the Dakotas and gliders taking off
and landing in almost round the clock training for D.Day and the
Rhine crossing. With the absence of traffic and petrol fumes we
were able, above the rattle of our bikes, to take in the fleeting
sounds of Family Favourites, hand pushed mowers, cows moo-ing and
lambs bleating. Which mingled and blended with the tantalising smell
of roasting beef (evidence that the locals and farmers were not
restricted to the meat ration.) Newly cut grass, blossoms and farmyard
manure all produced a cocktail of sensations, which could only portray
a typical peaceful English summer Sunday. The war was coming to
an end, rations were easing and it felt good to be alive.
We arrived at the junction of Station Road
and Uppingham Road. Our bicycle inner tubes were porous, as well
as being the wrong size, so we decided that we needed to stop for
a rest and feed our tyres with a few more rabbits.
Looking over the countryside toward Scraptoft,
there was a simmering haze covering the rolling green fields and
in the distance we heard, then saw, a Lancaster bomber with an accompanying
Spitfire tagging behind, droning majestically towards us. We had
seen many bombers over the years, but as always, the sight never
failed to arouse our interest.
We turned our attention back to our bikes.
A minute or so later the drone of the engines changed abruptly to
a high pitched scream. We looked up in alarm and to our horror as
we saw the Lancaster in a vertical dive, descending at terrifying
speed toward the ground, only a few yards from where we stood. We
tried to run, but our legs could not move. We were rooted to the
spot. Just when we thought that our end had come, a miracle happened,
with engines howling, the plane suddenly began to pull out of its
dive, as if trapped inside a giant invisible U-bend of a waste-pipe.
The wings bent to breaking point as it swooped over Station Road
at tree top height and began a vertical climb over Coles Nurseries.
Our fear changed to relief and then to anger and indignation where
we found ourselves shouting abuse at the pilot for acting
the fool. Our
anger, however, was short lived, and quickly turned to horror when
we witnessed the plane, high over Thurnby Railway Station, turn
on its back and plunge earthwards once more in another vertical
dive. We saw its black silhouette disappear below the horizon of
the railway embankment and a split second later a tremendous Orange/Red/Black
mushroom of fire clawed its way into the Blue sky, followed by a
delayed hollow booming thud.
Our legs came back to life, and with childish visions of heroic
rescue of airmen from burning wreckage we sped down Station Road,
over the embankment, and ran along the back of gardens where people
were standing like statues. I passed a woman with a baby in her
arms. Tears were falling from her cheeks.
The site of the crash was covered in a layer of smoke, but as we
got nearer we were confronted with an incredible sight. There, in
the meadow, stamped as if by a giants hand, was a scarred
outline of the Lancaster. A large crater was created by the fuselage,
with four others made by the engines. Unbelievably, the leading
edge of the wings, tip to tip, could be clearly seen, marked purely
by scorched but otherwise undamaged grass. The field was strewn
with small pieces of debris no larger than the page of a newspaper.
Our hopes of rescue vanished as we jumped over the small brook and
ran to the edge of the main smoking crater.
As we looked into this pit, ammunition was exploding, sending puffs
of ash into the air like a volcano ready to erupt. We were not sure
if any bombs were in there, so we retired to a safer distance. It
was then that I saw that the local Bobby had arrived.
He was looking at what I thought was a meaty bone a dog had brought
into the field. He had a strange shocked look in his eyes and when
he said, "Dont touch it" the tone of his voice prompted
me to look again... With a numbing sense of shock I realised I was
looking at what appeared to be a human shoulder blade! I then saw
a sock... inside was half a foot... Up to this point it had been
as if it was all a dream, but now reality and shock began to filter
through my brain and I felt sickened, sad and helpless.
The accompanying Spitfire returned to check the scene
clearly see the pilot as he banked his plane to view the smoking
craters below. The sound of bells announced the arrival of the fire
engine and at this point the Bobby asked us to leave.
The day had changed... Sounds of music, animals and mowers were
abruptly replaced by the thud and crackle of exploding ammunition,
fire bell's and tears. The smells of the countryside had dissolved
into an unforgettable stench of burnt fuel and flesh... The summer
haze now acrid smoke...
We made our way slowly to Station Road. The woman with the baby
was still rooted in the same spot... I found myself thinking of
the unfortunate families of the airmen, who were soon to receive
those awful, heartless, Buff Telegrams...
...We regret to inform you...
I dont remember the journey home.
By Terence C. Cartwright
1st July 2002