Chapter 8, Pt 5 of 6
WAR TIME INCIDENTS
“Oh, Mrs Chowdhary, my son, my son Cyril is alive. He is a prisoner and in hospital; but he is alive. Isn’t it wonderful? Oh, God has listened to my prayers. He never lets you down.”
Yes it was wonderful and miraculous, too.
Mrs Clark, who had first introduced Mrs Burningham to me, was devoted to her children, Derek and Joan. She had had a lot of worry over Derek’s health when he was small; she brought him to see my husband nearly every week. He was rather shy, but had winning ways, and we became very fond of him.
He overcame his physical weakness as he grew older and was now a fine young man of about twenty, though he remained rather slim and slightly pale complexioned. Despite his parents’ entreaties, he had joined the Air Force, and when he was home on leave he came to visit us with his mother. I could hardly recognise him, he looked so smart in his uniform and the happiest I had ever seen him.
“Mother worries over me for no reason at all,” he blurted out, his brown eyes dancing all the time. “One is as safe in the air as anywhere else. I am doing the job I always longed for. Mother knows I used to rush out to the garden whenever a plane passed over us. Oh, how I envied those pilots, and now I bring my own plane over. I circle round the house; I dip down and do other tricks to bring Mother and Joan out to watch me. Oh, it is a wonderful feeling.” He stuck out his chest and patted it. “Now tell me, Mrs Chowdhary, how can any harm come to me?”
“I admire your courage, Derek,” I said. “I am sure nothing will ever happen to you.”
Then we both watched Mrs Clark. She was silent and very thoughtful. Derek came closer to her, rested himself on the side of the chair and put his arms around her. “Poor mother, she wants me to be tied to her apron strings for ever.”
I wish then that I had a camera and taken a photo of the mother and son so close together in that sentimental mood.
My small daughter Shakun came into the room just then, and attracted everyone’s attention. Derek caressed her as she went and sat on his knee. Small as she was, she loved the uniformed men. “Have you a snap of her Mrs Chowdhary?” he said. “I would very much like one to keep in my pocket as a mascot.”
I brought one down for him and he seemed delighted with it. Later his father, a retired Major, called for them with the car, and as I stood outside waving goodbye to them, I couldn’t help being charmed by that unusually happy expression on the young airman’s face. The expression, which will always remain with me. The utterly unbelievable news of his death came only about a week after that. His plane was brought down while on a reconnaissance flight. A few days later I received a registered letter from the War Office. Inside it was the snapshot of my daughter with a covering note. “This picture containing the name and address at the back was found in the coat pocket of Lieut. Derek Clark. We thought it best to return it to you.”
I did go to see Mrs Clark and consoled her as best as I could, but it was not always possible or even wise to go to see these bereaved parents.
When I went to pay my usual weekly visit to our Chiropodist and friend, Mr Chapman, I knew that his only son had been killed in action a few days previously. I was not sure whether to say something about it or not. I found him on duty as usual, though his smile was forced and he was much less talkative than before. As I sat down my eyes were turned towards a large portrait of his son hanging on the wall in front.
“Yes,” he said with a sigh. “A fine lad indeed. But you know Mrs Chowdhary, we have not really lost him. Mother and I talk to him quite regularly. He is never far from us.”
I watched his excited radiant face and wondered.
“No, we have not gone out of our minds,” he said at once. “I do not suppose you know that mother and I are staunch spiritualists. We do not consider that our son is no more.”
That was one way of getting over a tragedy, I thought.
Just at that time my part-time helper Mrs Clayton, was full of anxiety about her daughter Reena who had volunteered for the W.A.A.F. along with a few of her local girl friends.
“I am terribly worried about her morals, Mrs Chowdhary. She is so young, hardly eighteen and she has never been away from home before. Every time she comes home on leave, I see a change in her, for the worse I am afraid. She smokes and I believe takes drinks as well. She is mixing with all kinds of men, and the worst of it is that she has become so secretive.