Just after the Gunner B story was posted, a researcher for Bomber Command Forum asked if I could send her the full story along with the images that gave it life. She, in turn, passed it all onto the International Bomber Command Centre. They described it as “Gold Dust”. Flight Sergeant Bill Begbie is now on their site under “Billy’s Story”, complete with pictures and full story.
He is now assured to enter the archives of the IBBC for the benefit of future generations and mankind, according to IBBC. I checked it out and it’s a great historical institution.
When I first embarked upon this venture, I had no idea how I was going to shape it.
I had next to no info regarding his life before I knew him, apart from when he told me that he had been on the Sharnhorst attack during the second world war. He had also shown me some souvenirs from his time in the RAF when I was very young lad, around 55 years ago,
Now! It seems like my old man suddenly comes out of the blue nearly 47 years after he passed away and spirits me away on a wee sojourn that I never expected at my age.
So now that I’m thinking that this story needs some closure, for me personally, I’m going to go with my imagination again. I’m remembering that when I was writing Part 1, I had to embellish his juvenile days with visions of the 1930’s, as I had only the 6 images of young Billy’s Life at 14 years old and a skeleton of family rumours that came from my sister, Trish………….
I think I need to use my imagination again.
So one night I sat down in this chair I’m sitting in now, in the dining room, at this computer which is set up in the corner and I leant back into the chair and closed my eyes.
I sat there in the warmth of the room with the remaining scents of the supper I had cooked for Elaine and I lingering on. She had retired to her garden room which is now part of the dining room and was absorbed in her quest for perfection in water colour painting, she’s good. There are only a couple of small lamps on in here at this time of the evening and the light from them is quite subtle and subdued. Sometimes she has scented candles flickering away in the shadows and the atmosphere in here is delicately imbued by Jasmine or whatever else is ‘scent of the day’.
With my eyes still closed my imagination gradually takes over………..
I’m standing on the edge of a huge concrete pathway and a few yards in front of me there is nothing but a light grey mist. I seem to be there for quite a lengthy time when I realise there is a soft swirling motion in the centre of the mist. I see a vague shadow starting to emerge from the soft white light and a man appears. He is dressed in pewter gray flannels, a navy-blue blazer, white shirt and neatly knotted, black tie. He is wearing his favourite shiny, black leather brogues. I can now see the Guinea Pig badge, pinned to his left lapel, just a couple of inches away from the shoulder wound that I know is concealed beneath his attire.
We stand there on the concrete pathway for a couple of minutes just staring at each other.
I know who he is, but he is squinting through unsure eyes. Then he smiles under that familiar moustache and with wink and a nod over his shoulder, he turns and shambles off back into the mist.
I want to walk faster and catch up to him, but my legs feel like lead and I remain a few feet behind him, just barely able to see his form ahead. I would call to him, but I have no voice. I would swear I can smell his Brylcreem, his Old Spice and the unmistakable Capstan Full Strength cigarettes….
As we continue through the mist, I can see images forming like small screens. One on the left is depicting a young lad in dungarees standing between two large Horses with an infectious smile on his face.
I look over to the right, there’s an older lad in a uniform with sergeant’s stripes sitting, proudly in the middle of a squadron of men in front of a large aircraft.
There’s another scene where he is on top of the aircraft along with two other men, working on a quartet of machine guns that poke through a glass dome.
Then there are black and white aerial shots of massive battle ships moored in a harbour, that seem to appear through clouds.
As I continue to follow his shape, he appears to look straight ahead, whilst I cannot prevent myself from taking in everything that is flowing into my head….memories, photographs, telegrams, but they’re not mine. They all belong to him.
Then we’re outside the mist. I look up into a blue, cloudless sky that accompanies this perfect, English summer’s morning. The large concrete pathway on which I still stand, now sits in the middle of a massive flat, green area like a deserted public park. There are around twenty or so, small wooden huts and various other metal buildings to one side. A huge concrete building with a large tower, topped with glass and aerials, sits much farther away, on the other side.
I count around 15 monolithic bomber aircraft, all painted in brown and green camouflage, each sporting identity numbers, lined up on the grass, either side of what I now recognise as a runway.
There’s a great deal of activity going on underneath the aircraft, with men in olive green overalls pulling trolleys stacked with equipment, vintage vehicles are slowly driving between the aircraft and the larger of the hangar-like buildings farther out. It’s all quite hectic but organized.
A siren starts to blare and out of the huts, men in battledress, leather flying jackets- helmets-Life jackets and parachutes harnessed to their backs, start to hurry outside and head for the aircraft.
Most of them are smoking whilst they banter with each other and there’s a lot of hand shaking and back slapping going on, as if they might not be expecting to see each other for a while. There’s a sense of urgency in their stride, as they part into smaller groups and each head for their respective aircraft. Some of them jump into old Austin Utility vehicles and are driven off down the runway. Fifteen aircraft, seven men each, over one hundred men.
One by one the monoliths fire up each of their four Merlin engines and flood the airfield with a pungent, mechanical aroma of exhaust and petrol. This beautiful summer’s morning is now overcome by the mighty roar of the Merlins and I can feel the vibrations coming up through my feet.
One by one, in two minute intervals, a Halifax bomber charges down the runway and lifts majestically into the air until they are all gone and on their way to France. How many will return, I am left to wonder.
When I look to my left, Gunner B is gone. I turn slowly and the mist is back. He stands before it looking over my shoulder into the distance and then smiles at me again. With a curt nod of his head and a wink, he turns and walks back into the mist……….
Back in my chair, I open my eyes and stare at this page on my screen. I can hear Elaine filling her glass with some wine in the kitchen as I reach for the keyboard and whisper to myself.
‘Ok, Gunner. Let’s get this story written’.