By: Andrew Carrisbrooke.
This is a short tale of a man who hid a secret from the one he loves, borne out of pride and shear love for his wife.
Only for that secret to appear to them both to haunt him further for his deed and to force an admission, he did it!
31st December 1945.
It was nearing midnight at Staningfield village hall near Bury St Edmunds, were a new years eve dance was slowly approaching that magical moment to cheer in another year.
The weather outside was freezing cold with heavy sleety rain slowly turning to snow and surprisingly the very first snow of that winter.
Inside couples danced to a Quartet of Piano, Bass, Drum and Trumpet, with the players impeccably dressed in tails.
It had been a good night, with the band hardly taking a break in almost 4 hours to the delight of the many, who simply wanted to hold their partner and dance the night away and all hoping this night would not end, but go on and on.
They laughed and drank with a heady intoxication of nervous relief, almost forgetting those past years of war that had caused so much hardship and pain, leaving not one person untouched by loss, beit family, friend or acquaintance.
This was truly a time to forget all those woes and losses for just a small time and to become intoxicated again on life with their partners almost as it were before, but then it would never be the same for anyone for many years until those war-time memories were replaced with many others to dilute the stark facts of what they had all faced and their individual battles within their minds to get over fear and such terrible times.
One recently married couple danced and hugged each other unable to draw themselves from the love of their partner. They were John and Catherine Connery who lived 12 miles away in the Village of Kedington, near Haverhill.
John was smartly dressed in his Squadron Leaders Uniform and was stationed at RAF Stradishall as he had since 1943 and had met Catherine, a pretty local girl on a chance meeting at a tea dance in Haverhill.
Catherine admitted she had seen John on a few occasions before and always seemed drawn to the quiet man with his striking black hair and kind face and knew she would one day meet him and longed to be in his presence.
The Band played a nightingale sang in Berkley Square and Catherine held on to the shy man tightly as they danced with their heads resting against each other, but suddenly the band stopped.
John kissed Catherine as the singer announced it would soon be Midnight and counted down from ten with all joining in, then there was a cheer and John kissed Catherine again. "Happy new year my darling."
"Thank-you John it is going to be such a beautiful year?"
Suddenly, another RAF officer with a handlebar moustache tapped John on the shoulder, whilst holding his wife around the waist, laughing and clearly a little drunk.
"Whatto, John old sport, and Cathy, you look ravishing."
"Hello, Dennis. I didn't see you earlier?"
"Just gort here old thing, about half an hour agojust enough time for a couple of snifters and to glide around the hall with my beautiful wife here."
John shook her hand. "Hello, Geraldine," and then whispered in her ear. "How do you put up with him?" he said joking.
"His family has lots of money, but I just wish he had a little of your charm."
"Cathy, we must meet up in Bury for some shopping and lunch at the Angel."
"That would be lovely Geraldine." Catherine then looked at John questioning whether he minded. "Would you mind darling?"
"Of course notit will do you good to get out."
"Such a lovely man isn't he. Why don't you say things like that Dennis?" Geraldine then looked around her realising Dennis was heading to a closing Bar.
"Oh, he's orf again, see you soon."
John hugged Catherine. "You could have married someone like Dennis."
"Oh Please!" She then laughed. "He's such a bore."
After congratulating friends, they all began to leave. John got their coats and hats and wrapped up well before venturing out into the heavy snow, with the snow beginning to settle on the cars and gravel car park.
"Will we get back?" asked Catherine with uncertainty in her voice as she walked beside him shivering.
"Yes, my dear. It's a very slow moving front and moving south- west. It's only been snowing for a quarter of an hour at most. If we drive hard like the wind we will get ahead of it and tucked up in bed with a hot cocoa before a single flake hit our bedroom window."
Catherine smiled feeling certain that were true.
They hurried across to the far end of the gravel car park and into their small Austin. Catherine shivered as she closed the door and sighed as the temperamental car started first time. She then smiled and rested her head upon John's shoulder as the car pulled away.
It was a couple of miles of winding roads to get back onto the main road to Haverhill.
It seemed pitch dark and there were still no road signs on minor roads, having been removed during 1940 to confuse any invading forces.
John felt disorientated and could hardly see through the windscreen for the large flakes of snow.
Then John noticed a Red Telephone box on the left and a white gate opposite and sighed with relief as if instinctively knowing where they were.
A turn left and then right and the main road was beneath them and a few miles down the road the snow appeared to turn to sleet and then to rain. John turned to Catherine now sleeping soundly. "Not long now my love. Soon be home!"
It was 5 minutes later as they drove through Chedburgh, John noticed it had become noticeably colder with ice forming on the windscreen and a frosty breath coming from Catherine's mouth, but he then spotted a checkpoint ahead with two MP's on motorcycles one of whom waved them down with a torch. The car came to a stop and John opened his window. "Squadron Leader Connery. Any problems Sergeant?"
The MP shone his torch into John's face, but said nothing. He then waved them on to continue their Journey.
The car pulled away leaving John feeling puzzled.
"Who was that?" asked Catherine sleepily.
"A checkpoint. We're near Strad, but there hasn't been a checkpoint there for some monthsnot since July, when live ops flights ended." John shook his head thinking something was wrong.
His Commanding Officer knew where he would be that evening, and knew if something was on, he would have been contacted, but even slightly puzzled they continued driving towards RAF Stradishall, where the main road ran through the Station Quarters area.
As the car neared the Aerodrome, John realised it was in Operational Combat blackout, which seemed odd. Perhaps manoeuvours he thought as he undid his window or possibly the first of those rumoured New Jet Fighters of 265 Squadron coming to stay for training.
He slowed the car as it approached the buildings. All seemed quiet, but for the sound of truck engines, but then in the distance he heard the distinct sound of a Merlin engine of a single seater fighter, possibly a mark two or three spitfire coughing and spluttering as it neared for landing.
He knew the sound of the engines like it were a pulse, having arrived with his Squadron of mark two Spitfires this very night; three years earlier and it evoked so many memories within his head for his arrival had been far from routine...crashing due to an ice build up on the flaps.
That night had been a bitterly cold night with temperatures dropping to minus 10 degree's and hitting a shower of freezing rain on decent.
John almost broke into a cold sweat and shook his head as the car passed the main gate, but all seemed quiet but for the few-armed Soldiers guarding it's access with seemingly little purpose as the ember'd ends of their cigarettes could clearly be seen in the darkness.
John wiped his brow and sighed deeply before Catherine, who was now awake, touched his face gently seeing him sweating in the cold frosty air.
He turned sharply with a start and with fear in his eyes, but then realised he was driving his car and not where his mind had taken him.
He paused but then smiled at her. "Sorry my darling, just a few ghosts catching up with me."
"I understand John." She said touching his arm.
"You must rid all those demons and move on."
John smiled. "If only I could? I have so many."
They were now approaching Barnardiston, a small hamlet of just a few houses and church, with Kedington their home Village just 3 miles further away. John noticed a flake of snow and then another and within seconds the snow was falling so heavy.
It got deeper and deeper as if it had been snowing for hours and then the engine of the car died suddenly and came to a halt.
"Bugger!" said John.
"I thought you said it was a slow moving front John?"
"It was. I haven't seen it this bad since and I'd rather not talk about that."
"More Ghosts?" Catherine knew John had experienced so much during the war and he refused to tell her anything of his past. It concerned her that so much pain was held deep within him.
John tried to start the car, but nothing he then got out and lifted the engine cover, but the snow was so heavy and it was so cold his hands became stiff and he knew it was fruitless. He then heard someone calling and looked up to what he thought was a light coming from a distant Farmhouse. He waited with his hand by his cap visor shielding his eyes from the snow and slowly but surely saw two dark figures near.
"We've broken down," called John as they neared ever closer.
The wind started to blow to a moderate easterly and picking up and swirling the already laying snow to a blizzard.
Suddenly John felt a hand grab his arm. "Hello young man," said a voice. John turned to see a stocky elderly man and a young lad of no more than twenty with their clothes almost covered in snow beside him.
"I'm the Farmer on the hill. If you get your good lady and follow me, my wife has some hot cocoa on the stove and a roaring fire in the hearth. My boy will get your car going, but come and warm yourself until then."
John didn't know what to say. He opened the passenger door and picked up Catherine now asleep and John feared hypothermia may have begun to set in to his beautiful wife and quietly sobbed as he carried her behind the Farmer, feeling this had been his fault.
It took an age to get to the Farmhouse and John began to think he would never get there. The wind blew off his cap, which he left, but suddenly found himself climbing steps and a solid door opening releasing light and heat calling him in.
He neared and a large homely looking lady grabbed his hand and showed him in where he placed Catherine on the sofa before a blazing fire.
"You must be perished you poor loves, get out of those cold clothes and I'll get some hot cocoa."
John took of his coat and began to take Catherine's coat off.
The lady came in with the hot drinks and placed their coat before the fire to dry as Catherine slowly woke.
"Thank-you, I don't know how we can ever repay such kindness," began John to the Farmer's wife.
"Oh, think nothing of it. The snow always gathers there and we knew someone would not get through until we've cleared a path with the tractor. We do it every year and always make sure we are here for those unfortunate few especially you new boys."
"Well thank-you again, you are very kind."
By now Catherine was slowly warming up and sipped on her cocoa.
"You stationed at Strad?" asked the woman.
"Yes, but we live in Kedington. The first cottage over the bridge opposite the old maltings."
"Oh yes, I knowdidn't know Mrs Martin had died."
Within 20 minutes or so, the farmer returned. "Your Car is started and we've cleared a path for youand it's stopped snowing, but it's freezing so be very careful."
John and Catherine put on their coats and thanked them for their kindness, being determined to thank them with a gift the following day.
John held onto Catherine as they walked back to the car. Catherine got in and John nodded to the Farmers son before getting in and driving slowly away.
John then realised he'd forgotten to pick up his hat from the steps. It was his best dress hat, but it would be there in the morning.
In the morning the snow was almost gone and John and Catherine breakfasted on toast and marmalade. Catherine could see something bothering John. "Is everything alright John?"
"Yes, I was just thinking about last night. I don't know what would have happened if it hadn't been for those kind people. We must repay their kindness?"
"We have that large box of chocolates your family gave us."
"Yes, that would be nice." John then heard a car draw up outside the cottage. It was Wing Commander Philips, John's C/O.
Catherine opened the door and welcomed him in with a kiss on the cheek. "Hello Colin, want some tea," asked John.
"That would be super. Well how are you old man? Didn't drink too much last night?"
"No, but we had a bit of a scare. Coming back from the dance. Got caught in that bloody snow and broke down in the next village, but some kind souls took us in and we're here to tell the taleSay, what was going on last night. I passed a checkpoint at Chedburgh and the station was blacked-out and thought I heard a Spit coming in.
Colin looked puzzled and shook his head. "No. It was all quiet as it were and not a Spit on the baseyou sure you didn't have too much to drink?"
"Lemonade all night until I got home and half finished that malt you gave me!" John began to disbelief what he had experienced, but was certain. "No, when I came through it was in Blackout. There were soldiers on the gate?"
"Oh John, there hasn't been soldiers on the gate since 1944perhaps you need some rest?"
"Perhaps I do."
Colin stood. "Sayyour Squadron isn't doing anything till the 4th. Take a few more days. You more than anyone deserve that old man."
Colin left thirty minutes later and Catherine placed her hand on his shoulder. "It was in darkness. I saw it."
"Well perhaps there was a short power failure and I confused seeing Troops with the Regiment. You can sometimes see what you want to see!"
"Lets go and take that box of Chocolates to that Farmer and thank them?"
They dressed and got in their car and drove the three miles to Barnardiston with the snow now completely gone.
John wasn't sure where the house was and slowly drove to the dip in the road where they had broken down.
He got out and looked around him and looked towards where he thought the farmhouse had been. "It was over there but?" he went almost white.
"What is wrong?"
"It couldn't have been over there."
"It was. I remember walking back to the car. She grabbed his hand and the chocolates and they walked towards where they thought the house had been, but there was no house.
A Farmer on a tractor passed and stopped. "You look lost?"
"No. We broke down last night and a farmer and his wife gave us shelter we are certain it was here."
John suddenly noticed steps leading up the bank, but no house and then saw his hat at the base of the steps.
"Oh my god!" he said with fear.
"Not here." Said the farmer. "That house got destroyed by a Spitfire in trouble trying to land at Strad. Killed old Harry Percival and his wife and son in 1943. Three years to last night to be exact. Bloody terrible snow storm, but we missed the snow last night."
Catherine turned to John looking shocked with a tear rolling down his cheek.
"It was my plane that crashed and I killed those lovely people that night in 43."