It was a dark and solemn autumn night; hopefully it would go uninterrupted, but that was very doubtful. 1940 was not a kind year to London. In the debris filled streets there were ranks of soldiers wandering, waiting, and willing for a fight, of a well-deserved revenge. The surviving city smelled of ash and was choked with smoke, from the attack the night before. The Germans were relentless, bombing and butchering day after day. Wandering among this destruction was a young lieutenant, aged greatly by war. He was only known as Lieutenant Smith or by his soldiers “sir”. The 12 remaining men of his platoon were considered the “hell hounds” of his company, as they went through and survived the horrors of the battle of Dunkirk, and had seen some of the bloodiest fighting. They fought against attack after attack against Rommel’s finest at times. It was just one single bomb at Dunkirk that eliminated half of these men. Their replacements were mostly farm boys from the country fresh out of basic. Their lieutenant was a product of the Royal Military College, but his military discipline had been eroded away by the few months of war. He now simply led a group of survivors, eager for revenge. Out of all the men the soldier with the most hate towards the “Hun” was the lieutenant. Before sunset the lieutenant had a meeting with his fellow officers for the defensive plans that night; it was expected to be another red night. His platoon was ordered to station at three 3.7 inch anti-aircraft guns near Southwark Cathedral. Lieutenant Smith then began his march back to his platoon’s dilapidated barracks, where his men were getting a much needed rest. He knew the men would hate him as well as the war a little more, as he gave out the orders for another countless night. Slowly, he sauntered down the crater-filled street, past a severely twisted light pole and a row of demolished buildings. There was nothing to smell, but ash and burning and the city reeked of the smell for weeks. This lieutenant was starting to stumble and even almost passed out due to exhaustion on the ash laden street. He then stumbled in a small coffee shop, seeing the big red lettering of “coffee”, in the fog of war. In this shop there was only one customer, and he appeared to be a soldier. The windows of this shop were nonexistent, and smoke filled this small dank shop. The crusty unshaven cook behind a wooden counter nodded at the lieutenant and asked, “Whatcha want?”. Lieutenant Smith knew all the cook had was plain old black coffee, no sugar, no milk, due to the rationing efforts of the war. “Coffee”, responded the lieutenant in a raspy voice. The cook poured the dark substance in a chipped porcelain coffee cup. The lieutenant stared at the dark substance as particles of ash slowly drifted into the cup. In the distance a familiar sound could be heard, an air raid siren. Figuring the distance, it might be from Sutton. Soon the bombers would be in London. They had attacked later at night usually, but tonight the rules must have changed. The lieutenant then hurriedly drank the coffee in a sense of panic. The cook then ran out of the café, probably to a bomb shelter, expecting the inevitable very shortly. When slamming his cup against the counter the lieutenant noticed something about the officer still sitting at the booth, solemnly sipping at his coffee. He saw blood steadily dripping down through the wood panels of the floor. Without thinking, Lieutenant Smith slowly walked over to the man. This man was dressed in very warm clothing with a thick leather jacket. This man seemed to be unconscious at his table. He had a bloody gash on his forehead. The lieutenant, looking for some cloth to slop this man’s bleeding could not find anything. Then upon the wall of the café was his regretful solution. It was the Union Flag. Lieutenant Smith ripped a strip of the flag and tightly wrapped the man’s wound. This man seemed even less awake than the lieutenant was. The lieutenant tried to wake this soldier to get him to a medical station. Then the lieutenant noticed something, an insignia on the man’s jacket, veiled by soot which the man was covered with. It was the German Cross, black as the country’s evil intentions. The lieutenant was looking at a German Luftwaffe pilot, possibly even a bomber who has been butchering the town of men, women, and children for weeks. Then at that moment a barrage sirens erupted; a sound that pierced even to the human soul. The awaited time had come. Anti-aircraft guns flared up all throughout the city. The night sky lit up with a ferocious fire, and soon so would the city. The pilot slowly started to become conscious, due to the massive bombardment going on outside. The pilot stared directly at the wearied eyes of the lieutenant, unsure of the situation. Suddenly outside of the café there was a massive explosion of a supply truck full of munitions, its drivers still inside. Bullets were going everywhere as they ignited due to the immense heat. At that moment the pilot awoke, charging at the lieutenant. The lieutenant, surprised by this, tried to grab his sidearm, but it was too late. He was tackled to the ground by the pilot. When the lieutenant tried to get up he realized that the pilot hadn‘t moved. The pilot had but one gargled word to say in clear English, “justice”. The pilot now was soaked in blood; he was dead. This German pilot had taken shrapnel and had died, so that this British lieutenant could live. While the fire of the burning supply truck outside raged, the lieutenant brought himself to his feet. He could not comprehend what had happened and why it had happened. This man could not deal with the guilt that he almost shot a man who was trying to save him. Lieutenant Smith went to find something to cover the man’s body and again he went to the old Union Flag. He stared at this man and then at himself. Both being covered in soot and ash he could not see a difference between them. The symbols of why these two people were ordered to kill each other were now unrecognizable. He draped the remainder of the flag over the man’s body. The café was now on fire from the explosion. The clock on the wall even melted to the time. It was 5: 55 PM. The lieutenant limped out to the door as quick as he could, staring back constantly. Once he was outside, he noticed most of the block was a roaring inferno. Staggering along, the lieutenant had made it about two blocks and then there was a gust of fire behind him. The café along with most other buildings around it had been obliterated. It was as if history itself had been destroyed. Tonight the Luftwaffe had done its job, they had destroyed. The courageous and humane acts of this night would go forgotten by the constant toils of war. There was nothing more for the lieutenant to do, but to stagger on, with the blazes of war behind him. And yet, for every road ahead, fires blared in the distance.
The Grey Stagger
September 25, 2011