I wrote this story a few years ago and post it every Remembrance Day. It’s one of my favourites and is appropriate for today. Lest we forget….
I watched as the plane landed with a thunderous roar, the engines coming to an abrupt halt as if the pilot had simply turned the switch to the ‘off’ position. I stood with my back hard against the biting wind, wondering if I should prepare a salute or simply stand at attention. I waited for some direction from my superior officer, but none came. I believe the shock of the arrival and the excitement of having such a prolific visitor come adrift upon our rocky shores had sent us all into a wave of silent awe.
It was November 1942. The world was engulfed in the biggest conflict known to man, the classic battle between good and evil personified by the leaders of European nations struggling to define the world on their own terms, ignoring the plight and suffering of those they plundered into despair. Leaders who were so enmeshed in their own agendas they took no notice of the people being tortured and beaten or of children being left to die on the streets with explosions and gunfire rattling their souls, shattering lives and dreams without a second thought. Our little part of the world seemed so distant and removed from such gross atrocities against humanity, save the work our army was doing to assist our allies. Our shores were vulnerable and England knew the possibility of oncoming attacks, sending reinforcements to protect our rocky cliffs by setting up battlements to keep constant watch over our ocean. I say ‘our ocean’ as if we, the country of Newfoundland, could even suggest possessing such a thing. This living, breathing entity entrusted to us by God to forever protect and nurture, and in return permission to fish her open blue waters. She bestowed food in abundance to feed our families, nourish a growing country and sustain our people through long harsh winters, all the while, the stars beckoning fishermen to take to their boats and sail beneath their watchful gazes, enrapturing them in the ocean’s song of freedom and peace. The salty water blowing upon our land giving weight to the wet laundry strung out to dry on the tenuous lines, the gale force winds blowing it skyward. Salt we could taste upon our lips, and feel the sting in our eyes after waiting and watching for our husbands, fathers, brothers and uncles to return home from months at sea. Our lives hung in limbo, much like the laundry blowing haphazardly across the blue horizon. We were left to protect our waters, land and people with nothing more than a few strong men and the good sense God had granted us to outlast the evil dictators who were waging war against England. We watched as our men and women departed for lands far out reaching our own, with the ever present knowledge that they may never return. We applauded their bravery, mocked the suggestions of indignant retreats and prayed for their eventual safe return to Newfoundland’s humble embrace.
The wind blew out like a blast from God as I blindly stood, tears streaming down my face with my hands frozen by my side. The Botwood air base was abuzz with excitement, people milling about in the cold waiting for the slightest chance of catching a glimpse of his surly expression, most likely with a lit cigar firmly planted between his teeth as ashes trailed his every step. This was the man who held the fate of England in his hands although promising years of struggle and grief, he never wavered in his belief that we could withstand the loss of lives brought upon us by Hitler’s egocentric views that embraced the inane and contemptible.
The entire world watched as England waged war against the tyranny of this dictator. The population poured passionate and all-encompassing faith into a beloved and respected Prime Minister, believing he could lead the world to victory over the malevolent force spreading across Europe. I was excited by the prospect of meeting the leader of almighty England, but nervous he may look upon me as subservient. His stellar military career had ignited my own aspirations of service, however I knew that I was not his equal. His brilliance was far beyond my capacities and I was quickly daunted by the challenges of such a life during this tumultuous time. It was as if people knew this was an era of change and historic will; nations rose together in allegiance to restore peace, hope and the conviction that all people should live without having to witness death and destruction in their backyards. It was a time where the future seemed uncertain, the constant news of battles and resulting casualties the topic of every radio broadcast, but when he took to the airwaves, we rose in unison to hope the end of such senseless slaughter would soon be upon us. I recalled hearing the warnings from the Prime Minister years before this terrible outbreak regarding Hitler’s rampant greed for superiority and his assembling of armies in the name of ‘white supremacy’. Although he was politely ignored, Churchill could see Europe’s demise propelling forward and he was prepared to rally a nation to stand tall and fight. His inspiring words sprang intense patriotism that only war time mentality could comprehend, and years later as he took his seat as Prime Minister, he became England’s savior as well as our guide into the dark abyss of war.
I watched in wonder as the man of whom I had been inspired emerged from the plane, the propellers slowing as the engines died. He stood, his long trench billowing about his ankles and lit his cigar surreptitiously beside the plane’s engines. I smiled as I watched, seeing the horrified looks from my superiors at Churchill’s disregard for such trivialities as an impending explosion from a lighter in proximity to the plane’s fuselage. They hurriedly escorted him away from the danger zone and into a path leading directly to where I was standing. The smile must have still been securely glued upon my face as he approached and smiled back at me. His hat had almost succumbed to a violent gust of wind and he forcefully replaced it upon his head. He looked me up and down as if inspecting my presence in such a desolate and isolated place and said loudly, “Hello, Sergeant! So, how do you like it up here in Newfoundland?” I was momentarily stunned staring into his bright blue eyes and the energy and warmth behind them tempted a reply from my gaping frozen lips. “Fine, sir” I sputtered, “I like it fine.”