The Colour of Courage
Written for a competition with the theme ‘courage’ and has to be set in the North West of England with references to the historical past. Word limit 1200. The comp is in the Lancashire Magazine if you fancy a go.
She had barely opened the pub when the two half drunk American airmen came in. The Lieutenants from Burtonwood air base swaggered across to a table by the window. ‘Hey, let’s have a couple of beers over here’ the one wearing the expensive leather jacket and dark sunglasses yelled.
Margot hated arrogance ‘drinks are served at the bar, sir.’
‘That so?’ Lieutenant Jackson Cleveland said peering over his rims ‘well I’m used to better service from bar girls. Who’s in charge around here anyway?’
Margot’s widower father, Brian Greenwood, entered from behind the bar curtain ‘that would be me sir.’ He started drawing beer. The lieutenants sat down placing their feet on the table in an act of calculated provocation. Brian saw Margot bristle and quickly intervened ‘would you fetch some beer mats please, Margot?’ She shrugged angrily and left with a defiant toss of her head.
Brian carried the beers over ‘your drinks, gentlemen.’
Cleveland threw a coin onto the table ‘keep the change barman.’
Brian refused the bait ‘thank you, sir.’
Margot returned with the mats in time to see the black captain enter the bar. He walked up to her smiling, his large athletic frame moving gracefully. Margot’s knees went weak. He was beautiful.
‘Excuse me ma’am’ he drawled ‘do you have lemonade please?’
Leiutenant William Pickmore, Cleveland’s companion, slammed his beer down. ‘Where I come from we don’t serve coloureds in the same bars as whites.’
It was a provocation too far. ‘Well, you’re not where you come from now, mister. Over here we serve everyone’ Margot glared defiantly ‘if you don’t like it, leave.’
Cleveland looked at Brian ‘You let the hired help shoot their mouths off like that?’
‘The hired help is my daughter mister and I agree with her.’ Brian walked over to the table and lifted their drinks. ‘I served in the trenches alongside Indians, Africans and Ghurkhas. All the blood I saw spilt was the same colour. Time you left, gentlemen.’
As he turned back to the bar Cleveland leapt up and grabbed his shoulder raising his fist.
‘You strike that man, you’ll leave here on a stretcher.’ the black captain barked ‘In case it passed your notice Lieutenant I’m your superior officer.’
‘I don’t take orders off’n a negro.’
The captain stepped stone faced between Brian and the pair, shoulders squared, ‘Captain Silas T Jazzbohne at your service.’
Pickmore held Cleveland back. ‘You the Jazzbohne that won the Golden Gloves back in ’40?’
‘The same lieutenant, now, unless there’s something else, I suggest you move out.’
The pair sullenly complied and Silas apologized to Brian and Margot. ‘Some of those Southern rich boys still think they’re slave owners.’ Silas’s smiled, instantly dispelling the sombre mood ‘I came here looking for help ma’am. My father’s a preacher back in Louisiana, in the last war he was a merchant seaman. When he docked in Liverpool he loved visiting old churches. He asked me to take some photographs.’
Margot smiled ‘Any particular churches?’
‘One he really liked was St. Elphin’s some place around here. He reckons there’s been a church there since the year 650, that right?’
Margot grinned, local history was her hobby. ‘True, Captain, it’s the parish church of Warrington. The present church, though, was only opened in 1867.’
‘Please, call me Silas.’
‘I’m Margot, Miss Margot Greenwood.’
Over the next three months Margot showed Silas around on his off duty days. Using his Jeep they visited every old church from Liverpool to Leigh. Inevitably they grew closer until one evening the friendly good night peck became a lingering kiss. They became lovers that night.
Silas eased the B17 bomber around in a wide turn. ‘OK, running in, camera ready?’ He was part of an experimental team. The top secret camera in the bomb bay was undergoing final tests.
‘Black Belle we’re under attack, divert to Ringway immediately, over.’ Silas knew he should obey the tower but just then he saw the enemy planes three miles away and ten thousand feet below him. He swooped down as they turned for home. Two planes went down immediately; the rest held formation, concentrating their fire on him.
Silas felt the massive jolt as cannon fire ripped away the front gun blister. The sudden increased drag made the nose drop alarmingly. He took evasive action as his gunners fought back. Another burst of cannon fire tore along the fuselage; shrapnel slashed into his legs. His co-pilot, George Benton, slumped dead as screams came from the ‘plane’s interior. He dived as another bust of fire ripped along his wings. The starboard outer and port inner engines burst into flames. The fire extinguishers were activated and the flames died leaving oily smoke trailing.
Silas looked at his legs. Blood was pooling crimson at his feet. He hit the intercom. ‘Bale out, bale out.’ The rear gunner jumped but the rest were either dead or wounded.
At six thousand feet he managed to gain more control over the stricken plane. His wings were torn to ribbons and the plane juddered violently with every move of the controls.
He called the tower. It would be a dangerous down-wind landing; he couldn’t risk circling. Silas aimed for the grass alongside the cratered runway. He felt faint now and his vision started to blur.
‘Anyone back there able to get up here?’
Michael Bloomer, a gunner, answered ‘coming capt’n.’
‘Get George outta that seat and jump in.’
‘Ah cain’t fly capt’n.’
‘All I need is your strength Michael; help me keep the nose up.’
Silas lowered the under carriage feeling weak but incredibly calm. He thought of Margot, his beautiful Margot and a tear ran down his cheek. He could see many of the places they’d been, churches he’d photographed. The Manchester ship canal cut the landscape like a silver knife off his port wing. His vision started to blur again and he prayed ‘Lord, please keep my crew safe.’ He felt enormously sad. ‘Bye Margot’ he whispered.
On the airfield people were emerging from bomb shelters. Cleveland nudged Pickmore ‘what in hell’s name is that?’ he asked, pointing.
‘Gawd’ said Pickmore ‘it’s Jazzbohne.’
Cleveland gawped at what looked like a flying scrap heap. ‘How the hell’s he flying that thang?’
The plane hit the grass heavily, bounced twice then settled. Silas’s last conscious act was to shut down the engines. Sirens wailed as crash crews closed in.
Silas recovered and he and Margot were married two months later in St Elphin’s church where a proud Brian gave his daughter away. Silas’s seed had just starting growing within her.
- In the churchyard of St Elphin’s Silas Terrence Jazzbohne the third, RAF fighter pilot, looked at the new tombstone with admiration. He was proud of the courageous life his grandparents had led. They’d run pubs in and around Warrington, countering every prejudice with great dignity, winning the hearts of all but the meanest. Before they’d passed on, two days apart in their nineties, they’d seen attitudes change dramatically. They’d played no small part in that change, helping make Warrington and the world a better place.