Ginger looked up at the stars, bright and vivid in the night sky, and it felt as though they were strangers to him. The whole world was alien. It couldn’t really be that he’d watched three RAF Spitfires destroy a Red Cross flying boat. It had to be a nightmare – except that he could never have thought up something so horrible. He realised he must have been very naïve, and now he had lost his innocence.
“Oh, I’m sorry!” The upper-class accent made Ginger almost jump out of his skin. He turned and found himself face to face with the padre.
“I didn’t mean to intrude,” the young clergyman apologised, and started to retreat guiltily.
Ginger felt he had to say something. “It’s all right. I was just looking at the stars.”
“Beautiful, aren’t they?” the padre agreed at once, stopping to look upwards. “Are you all right, by the way?” he asked, still looking upwards. “I heard you’d been shot down and were in the Channel for hours. Have you seen the MO?”
“No. I’m fine. Physically.”
The question was put so softly, but so intently, that Ginger wondered if the padre had really just chanced upon him after all – or had he followed him out here intentionally? Suddenly it didn’t matter. Ginger burst out angrily, “I saw three Spitfires shoot down a flying boat which was landing to rescue aircrew. It had red crosses all over it, and it was landing right beside the raft with the airmen in it! There couldn’t be any question about what it was or what it was doing. And we shot it down – not Jerry, not the Nazis, not the Hun! Spitfires of the His Majesty’s Royal Air Force with their roundels bright as day! Why?” Ginger turned to face the padre as he flung the last question at him. He saw the clergyman’s eyes widen behind his thick lenses.
Colin was shocked. He licked his lips nervously. “I don’t know,” he answered honestly. “I suppose there must be a reason. I’ll try to find out.”
“Don’t bother. It’s too late.” Ginger told him harshly, forgetting entirely that Colin was an officer and an Earl’s grandson. “Two of the crew survived, wounded, and were in the raft with me. The others must have drowned – trying to help save their comrades. At least they try! We don’t have anything like that, do we? We don’t have air-sea rescue, and no one gives us rafts or flares or blankets. All we have is a silly Mae West that we have to blow up ourselves! If I’d had a lung wound, I’d have drowned before I could get the vest inflated!”
Colin was horrified to think that the Nazis showed more concern for their downed airmen than England did for hers. He felt indignant and was determined to say something to someone in the right place. His grandfather sat in the House of Lords, for a start. He could raise a question, even demand an enquiry. Colin firmly believed that that was the most important aspect of being a Peer of the Realm: having the means to make a difference. He took his responsibilities as a peer – or future peer – very seriously. However, he did not believe in boasting about that influence, so he said nothing to Ginger now. He just mentally noted that he must ring his grandfather in the morning and explain the situation to him. Hopefully the old man wouldn’t go off about Nelson having done without air-sea rescue, or some such thing….
To Ginger, Colin said, “Sounds to me like you could do with a beer—”
“Alcohol isn’t the answer to everything!” Ginger flung back at him bitterly.
Colin felt his own helplessness. “Tea, then. Would you like to join me?”
“No. I just want to be left alone.”
That hurt, but Colin accepted it. “All right. Good night then.”
No sooner had Colin retreated into the darkness than Ginger felt guilty about it. At least the padre had taken an interest – the only one in the whole squadron to do so. And he was right. Ginger could have used a beer – as long as it wasn’t in a large noisy crowd. But it was too late; he’d chased away the only officer on the whole Station who had ever been nice to him.
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