A Promise to Keep

Joe Lanzon

In the air, the Battle of Britain raged furiously over London and the South East. It was a hard-fought, relentless struggle to the death. The Royal Air Force and the Lutwaffe were at each other’s throats’, each well aware of the consequences of victory or defeat.

The pilots of the RAF were bravely, and at a cost, repelling the German air-raids. It was with good reason that Prime Minister Winston Churchill broadcasted to the world that “so much is owed by so many to so few”.

It was Sunday morning on the streets of London. March had given way to April, bringing with it the promise of spring. Kath and Scott were strolling along the Strand. Every time they came in front of a theatre, now closed during wartime, they stopped, looked at the magnificent facade and old posters publicizing a previous show or a play and then continued on their leisurely walk.

They crossed over to Waterloo Bridge, rested their arms on the cold black iron railings and looked eastwards across the river. “That tall slim column there, it’s called Cleopatra’s Needle”, she told him.
“It does look like something Egyptian to me”, he replied amused.

“It is, if you want to know”. Kath was doing the honours of a tourist guide. They looked at the other side of the bridge. “And that dome there, it’s St. Paul’s Cathedral. It was hit and damaged only last week”, continued Kath as she pointed to the dome in the distance.

Kath was a London girl, now driving an ambulance as an ATS, having joined a few months previously to contribute in the war effort. Scott was born and bred in Glasgow, had never been to London, and now was a fighter pilot with the 11th Squadron of RAF Fighter Command based at Croydon Air Force Base.

He pushed himself up on his elbow and looked at her. “Kathy, you’re the person I thought I’d never find. Now I’m frightened. For the first time I know what I could lose.”
“But you won’t lose me”, Kath replied.

“I hope not. But hope seems a little flimsy sometimes”, replied Scott as he smiled at her.

They were quiet. She looked at him uneasily and saw that he was smiling. It was then that she saw his eyes were a clear bright blue. How could she not have noticed them before? They were, undoubtedly, his best features in face that was pleasant but quite unremarkable. She smiled back at him, a little more confidently.

At that moment, Kath too felt scared of ever losing him. He looked at her again. She was beautiful – tall, slim, long-auburn hair that glistened whenever the sun caught it, skin as fresh and clear as porcelain and a personality that would charm the birds out of the trees.

Both were on a 24 hour leave period before going back to continue their bit for God, King and Country. They had met only two months before at the ‘Horse and Crown’ in Piccadilly. She was with her friends when three RAF men walked in and asked if they could sit down besides them. Kath and Scott locked eyes on each other. No one professes to believe in the possibility of love at first sight – most would say that it is a myth – yet it happened to both of them. They were convinced, immediately, that Cupid had struck.

From then on, Kath and Scott saw each other every time they could manage it. As he was new to London, she wanted to show him the sights of her lovely old capital. They had walked from Russell Square, down Southampton Row, along the Strand, Waterloo Bridge, into the Strand again and on to Charing Cross station. This is the part of her London that she loved so much – the stomping ground of Barbara Cartland’s Victorian characters. How she loved reading her romantic books. It was like living in London a century ago.

It was cold. She put her collar up to her ears, tucked an escaping tress of long hair into her hat, took Scott’s hand in hers and said – “I could stay here forever love, but it’s time for you to catch the 4.15 from Charing Cross station to Croydon, so it’s better that we move on, shall we love?”

They had agreed to get married during their next leave together in a month’s time, set up house, start a life together, see the war through, have children and live happily ever after.

Now they walked hand in hand to the station. From some noisy pub in one of the small side streets, they heard the lovely voice of Vera Lynne singing the popular notes of the most popular song of the time. 

“We’ll meet again,
Don’t know where, don’t know when,
But I know,
We’ll meet again, some sunny day!”

The notes floated achingly across the lonely street and disappeared into the evening. It was an emotional song of hope, peace and love. An elderly woman walking with a man in front of Kath took out a handkerchief from the pocket of her coat. The man besides her bit his lip. Kath felt the tears welling up. ‘How many will not meet again’, she thought.

As the departure of the train was being announced on the tannoy, Scott hugged Kath tightly and kissed her passionately. “We shall meet again Kath,” he said. “It’s a promise that I’ll keep”. He lifted his bag from the ground and left for platform 5 as the train started to move away.

Only a few hours after arriving at his Croydon base, an alert sounded signifying that enemy planes were coming across the Channel. Scott and his men scrambled to their Spitfires and were in the air in no time, eager to meet the enemy planes before they reached London and start their bombing.

He was still a young man, a full life still lay before him, yet he believed that whatever it is his destiny was already written in a big book in heaven and that was that. He was not afraid. If his time had come, there is nothing he could do about it. He was however determined to make it back and marry Kath.

The Spitfires engaged the German planes as soon as they had crossed the Channel. A terrible dog-fight was being fought over the Sussex countryside. It was a battle of life or death. Buddy Jones saw Scott besides him, shells were bursting around them and machine-gun bullets were flying all over. He saw Scott’s plane bucker and shudder, and thought that it was going out of control. He thought he would bale out. Then six Jerries came at them again. Jones pulled his plane around and flew into the sun. He didn’t see Scotty again. 

Down at the Air Force Base in Croydon, Sgt Johnson was on the Tower, intensely checking the Spitfires returning from their engagement. He was watching them descending on the runway, one by one, and taxing on to the main hangar. Besides him, his eyes as sharp as a hawk, was Base Flight Commander Hawkins, also ticking the boys coming home to base after the battle, praying that none of his men will be missing.

“Buddy Jones has come in Sir”, said Sgt Johnson. “And Tiny Wharton, Hank Kirkwood, Scarface, Smiley, Peters …………” Flt Commander Hawkins was still anxious. “And the others Johnson, what about them?” he bellowed. “They’re behind Sir, but coming in slowly – Paddy’s about to land, Albert there behind him and Foxy Foster’s just appeared now ……. It appears all are back except Scotty. I’ll try radio contact again Sir.”

The Commander grimaced. Scotty’s still not back. He felt that the young fighter pilots were his sons. It would be hard if he lost one of them. “Damn those Nazi pigs, damn them!!” he uttered bitterly. A few minutes later he was shouting commands again. “Johnson, try again to get Scotty, see what’s happening, fast Johnson, fast,” bellowed the Commander, now in an angry mood.

A few seconds later Sgt. Johnson burst in. “I got him Sir, he’s over Dover now, but coming in slowly, he’s hit on the starboard wing and on the tail, and he’s injured Sir, but hobbling on towards base, he says he’s determined to make it ……….”

“OK Johnson, get the ambulance people on the runway, tell them to be on the alert, they might need to speed him on to St. Mary’s directly. And the fire people, we might need a rescue operation as soon as he comes in, fast Johnson fast.” shouted the Commander.

Johnson did not need any instructions; he knew what he had to do. Ambulance, fire and rescue teams had to be in hand to give assistance. Scotty and his Spitfire are probably in very bad shape. “I’m now in contact with his radio Sir, it appears there’s some music coming on!” said Johnson in exasperation. “Music? Is it a message?” shouted the Commander. “What music Johnson? What the heavens is Scotty playing at? Is he mad or something?”

“It’s a song Sir,” replied Johnson. “He’s singing Vera Lynn’s song “We Shall Meet Again”, continued the Sergeant now chuckling in relief. “He’ll make it back Sir, you mark my words!!”