RUN RABBIT RUN.
RUN, RABBIT, RUN.
On the farm, ev'ry Friday
On the farm, it's rabbit pie day
So ev'ry Friday that ever comes along
I get up early and sing this little song
Run rabbit, run rabbit, run, run, run
Run rabbit, run rabbit, run, run, run
Bang, bang, bang, bang goes the farmer's gun
Run rabbit, run rabbit, run, run, run, run
Flanagan & Allen (1939).
Among other residential and publically listed buildings in the North London borough of Enfield, there is one common to the townspeople to this day. The story of it has been passed down by grandfather to grandson and all those, regardless of creed, race and religion, will pass it on to their grandchildren and so forth for years to come. The Butcher household, on the corner of Sydney and Essex Road, was destroyed by a doodlebug bomb on a foggy November’s night.
The father, mother and three daughters went to sleep the night before only to never wake up the following morning. I have assigned no fictitious names inasmuch to recount the exact circumstances of what happened and the tale of courage and woe that came of it. The most significant aspect of the story being the disappearance of the son, Tommy Butcher, who to this day has never been recovered.
It stood upright, alone, in the corner. With a chimney on the left, two double windows upstairs and a huge taped canvas window into the best room. The bold red door was on the right complete with a doorstep and a long curvy path that bisected the neatly trimmed front lawn. When the bomb exploded however, the rear half was torn away from its brother before the front itself came down only minutes later. A huge mound of bricks was all that was left based on the pictures taken by the fire crews that night.
On the lawn, laying skewered on a bed of shattered glass, was a dusty glass eye, possibly, from a stuffed toy of sorts. Other than a shirtsleeve from a pair of pyjamas, there was nothing left to suggest what happened to the boy. The locals enthuse that he was at the centre of the blast to explain the absence of a body but there are other stories.
The morning Tommy Butcher turned seven, an explosion, measuring between twenty and twenty five feet high was seen from the junior school off Parsonage Lane. Tommy’s father, Alan, who was an electrician by trade, was one of many who saw it in the distance as he walked towards his children’s school. He first heard a low rumbling almost and then a ticking, like that of a stopwatch, then saw a wall of concrete and flame rise from the caretakers house, a giant red and orange tongue of flame leapt out and in through the open door and window panes. It licked the Autumnal yellow sky before painting it black with dust and debris.
Just as quickly as the tongue of flame swelled, the face of the house swayed. It tumbled forward, collapsing, burying the caretaker and his family as well as the passing Mrs. Payne at number 42 and her infant son in a mound of slate and frosted glass. Mr. Butcher called out to them and ran to the edge of the front lawn. Another family and a mother and son had been lost to an unexploded bomb. It had landed in the back garden and the caretaker’s family, completely unaware of the bomb lurking in his vegetable patch, had gone the whole day in ignorant bliss.
A dozen or so mothers and fathers were already standing next to Mr. Butcher. He looked down the pathway and back up to the spot of pavement plastered with concrete chunks where Mrs. Payne and her son lay, looking peaceful and almost ready to wake up. But they didn’t. He turned to the other parents with him as they figured out what to do. A young father had already run into the nearby corner shop and had telephoned for the fire brigade and bomb squad. There was nothing else that could be done for them now. And so, the fathers removed their coats and went on ahead to the school. As their children exited they greeted them and remarked how it was frightfully cold, throwing the jackets over their children’s heads and guiding them by the hand back to their mothers. Mr. Butcher did likewise, soon removing his jacket and walking young Tommy home. He had forgotten that his daughters were off with a cold and thanked god for such a blessing. He only had the one coat. He squeezed Tommy’s sweaty hand and kissed his little boy on the forehead. When they made it home Mr. Butcher went through the garden and into the outhouse and was violently sick.
After a spectacular meal of roast chicken the three girls: Winnie, Joyce and Roma, stood around little Tommy, who was sitting at his place at the dinner table, waiting to blow out the candles on a slice of his Victoria sponge. Mr. and Mrs. Butcher stood behind them, hand-in-hand with a shared wet smile.
‘Go on love,’ Mrs. Butcher cried.
Little Tommy blew them out in a single gust of breath. His family applauded him and he made a birthday wish for a bike. There was a war on and his mother and father presented him with a stuffed brown rabbit. Little Tommy fell in love with it nevertheless and was grateful for what his Mum and Dad could afford him. Deep down his little heart was filled with dread at the increasing threat of evacuation and that was what he actually wished for. He told his sisters that he wished for a bike to quell their fears that night. The thought of leaving his Dad behind was unbearable. And so his birthday was also a day of death for the caretaker’s family, Mrs. Payne and her infant son. He discovered what had happened that night before he went off to bed by eavesdropping on his parents’ conversation in the best room.
‘If my lace hadn’t broken I would’ve been there,’ his father cried into his wife’s arms.
At five-to-eleven Tommy awoke in his bed. The front of his pyjama bottoms was soaked. He had had a terrible dream. He was wrapped up in his duvet like a cocooned caterpillar and pressed his nose against his rabbit’s cheek for comfort. He named him Simon and rolled out of bed taking the stuffed toy with him downstairs to fetch a glass of water.
That’s when the bomb fell on the Butcher house.
BLOG – DAY 17 of 365 – MY FATHER’S FUNERAL
I looked at my wife, she smiled back at me, and I squeezed her hand and found my feet. I made sure I had the Sainsbury’s shopping bag and made my way along the isle, giving the vicar an appreciative nod. I remember looking down at the picture of my father and I and patted the lid of his coffin. I cleared my throat and read some excerpts from the blog I had written about what happened on the day of my father’s seventh birthday. Once I had finished I scanned the familiar faces in the pews and smiled warmly, showing no weakness. Dad wouldn’t have wanted that. I cleared my throat and started, hands trembling. Once I had read the excerpt I flicked through my notes and found the farewell speech.
‘Despite all that my father went on to lead a fantastic life. He was evacuated to Halifax and stayed in West Yorkshire for the remainder of his life. His work as a doctor of Literature proved to be innovative to those who studied post-War scripture. He lived his life without regret and without a shred of anger in his voice. When I was seventeen he took me back to the house on the corner of Sydney and Essex Road. There was a CO-OP there, nothing interesting, not a plaque, not a rose in memory of the family of five that had lived and died there. This didn’t bother him. His life was here I remember him saying. With his wife Eleanor, me Mum, and my sister Maria. He went on to accomplish everything he set his mind to and spoiled me and my sister with the things in life he couldn’t have himself, including a bike or two. But I’ve got a present for him today.’
I took the stuffed one-eyed rabbit from the orange plastic bag and laid it on top of his coffin. Run rabbit, keep on running was all I said and nobody else heard me. Just how I wanted it.
 Doodlebug – The V-1 flying bomb also known to the Allies as the buzz bomb.