The Second World War: PART 1 - Roger Farrier - Dunkirk (1940) #2
The burly man lying face down in the sand may have well been dead.
He might have been washed up by the tide, a victim of the German U-boat attacks, or perhaps tossed headlong as the Spitfire careened to a standstill. He may have well survived the crash, tumbling from her cockpit only to drown in the puddle he was submerged in. The ghastly scene was basked in a glow - as if from a German floodlight – instead it was the moon that gave them away.
Nothing escaped it. Despite the cover of pitch darkness, even the long, white, sand dunes in the distance could be made out. The reeds peppering the hills also glistened. They themselves only permitted a foot of cover and no more. From the wreckage, some boarding houses could be seen with a squint. The plane had come to rest by a grass verge that led from the seafront and up to the boarding houses and shopping parade. She was silent – her Rolls-Royce Merlin engine exhausted – what little noise from the incoming tide was caused by the crashing against the two beached corpses. The shadow of the Spitfire’s wings made for perfect sniping.
Next to the man’s lifeless form was what one would infer to be his personal effects: a half empty pack of Players, water-damaged notebook, four-inch pencil and a loaded Very pistol. He, Roger Farrier, was of medium height and certainly handsome-looking. With messy auburn hair obscuring his disturbed face one could even deduce that he wasn’t dead and just compartmentalizing.
Meanwhile, specks of red and orange flame licked up from the Spitfire’s fuselage. Even his skills in mechanical engineering wouldn’t be able to save her. He had left the Royal Polytechnic Institution in 1922 with firsts in all subjects’ bar comparative literature. His curiosity of all things mechanical culminated with aviation. His final mission was Operation Dynamo. His Squadron leader, Bartlett, was shot down over the Channel and his closest friend and colleague, Flying Officer Collins: was missing too.
Farrier kissed his sweetheart goodbye on the corner of Mayfair’s Whitfield and Charlotte Street on a crisp evening back in May. The sky was stormy with rain and war. His four-and-a-half-litre Bentley was parked, its boorish motor huffing, beside them. Around them stood the cream department stores that petered westwards from Tottenham Court Road.
‘When’ll you be back?’ Sophie said.
They’d gone for a jaunt into the city, dined on the Thames and had an after-dinner stroll through St. James’. He had exacted the first night of their courtship. Before Britain declared war, they had planned to settle down in this area of Fitzrovia, not five-minutes from that very corner. Farrier wasn’t thinking to the future but only the past when he dropped her near Goodge Street Station.
‘I don’t know,’ he said.
‘I don’t know isn’t an answer Roger,’
‘It’s the best I have,’
She screwed her lips to the corner of her mouth. Sophie Moss was indeed a pretty girl, at first glance more Greek than English, with round brown eyes that complemented her shade of mouth. She wore her favourite brown raincoat tightly at the waist with a purple hat and black silk bow.
‘They’ll let me know Soph,’ he said, almost an afterthought.
She let go of his hand and stepped away. He drank her in, memorising her face as if his last time of seeing it. He took her by the waist and kissed her hard on the mouth with an almost animalistic magnetism.
Then, backing away, his eyes refusing to leave hers, he fumbled with the Bentley’s handle, bundled inside, put the gear lever into first, floored the clutch and accelerator too. When her strong cheeks started to wilt he lifted his left foot and the motorcar shot away. Farrier was in fourth before the traffic lights. Her image remained in his mind’s eye and he took the next corner on in third, roaring past Warren Street and away. At the junction, he removed an engagement ring from his jacket and locked it away in the glove compartment.
Farrier peeled free of the puddle and licked his lips. At once recognising the sea salt and that familiar coppery taste prevalent in one’s own blood.
He found his feet, gathering his things when he noticed a glow looming from behind the boarding houses. The rumbling of German engines grew. He paused for a moment, listening, then with conviction got to work.
Taking the Very pistol in both hands, he fired into the cockpit. The upholstery went up first. He dropped the gun inside, jumped down. He produced a cigarette lighter and burned his copy of a map of where the French troops British Expeditionary Forces were to be lifted. The flames swallowed it up and the breeze blew the smouldering flakes across the sand and out into the Channel. He slipped a Players between his lips and raised his arms in surrender, ready. A truck had appeared on the verge, KAR-98 rifles peering over its headlamps.
Farrier smiled to himself, mother always said he’d been a handful, and he knew he’d never grown out of it.