The Second World War: PART 1 - Roger Farrier - Dunkirk (1940)
The burly man lying face down in the sand may have well been dead.
He might have been dragged ashore by the tide, the victim of a German U-boat attack, or perhaps tossed headlong from the wreckage as the Spitfire careened to a standstill. He may have even survived the crash, tumbling from its cockpit only to drown in the dirty puddle his face was submerged in. The ghastly scene was basked in an eerie glow - as though from a German floodlight. Instead, it was a full French moon that gave it all away.
Nothing escaped its beam. Despite the cover of pitch darkness, even the long and white sand dunes in the backdrop could be made out. Not the blades of grass that peppered the hills. The reeds themselves only permitted a good foot and a half of cover and no more. From the wreckage, tucked away from view, the boarding houses could be seen with a squint. Close against a grass verge that led from the shopping parade and down to the seafront was where the Supermarine Spitfire had come to rest. It was silent, her Rolls-Royce engine exhausted. The incoming tide beside her made the only noise. Inhaling, exhaling its salty breath, bubbling over to the two corpses on the sand, the wide shadow of her thirty-six feet wingspan made for a perfect target.
Adjacent to the man’s lifeless form was what one could infer to be his personal effects: a half empty pack of Players, a water damaged notebook, a four-inch pencil and a loaded Very pistol. One could even deduce that the man wasn’t dead - but compartmentalizing – and they would have been right, too.
Roger Farrier was of medium height, incredibly muscular and certainly handsome-looking. There was messy auburn hair and a hard, disturbed face looking back at him through the water’s reflection. His long-bloodied nose and bushy brows wrinkled as small red and orange flames licked up from the Spitfire’s aluminium frame. His academic speciality, and indeed his passion, was in mechanical engineering. He had graduated from the Royal Polytechnic Institution in 1922 with firsts in all subjects except from comparative literature. His love however grew into a curiosity of aviation and within no time at all, he made Squadron leader. His first and final mission was Dunkirk. His previous Squadron leader, Bartlett, was shot down over the Channel. His closest friend and colleague, Flying Officer Collins, missing also.
He kissed his girlfriend goodbye on the corner of Mayfair’s Whitfield and Charlotte Street, on a crisp evening back in May. The sky was pregnant with rain and war. His four and a half litre Bentley was parked beside them, its boorish motor huffing, but somewhat quieter than usual. Around them stood the tall cream buildings that petered westwards from Tottenham Court Road and its many department stores.
‘When’ll you be back?’ Sophie said.
They had gone for a jaunt into the city, had dined by the Thames and strolled through St. James’. He had driven her about, exacting the first date of their courtship. They had planned to settle down in the area, Fitzrovia, not five-minutes from this very corner before the war broke out. Now he wasn’t thinking to the future, but to the past as 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, more Greek than English at first glance, with round brown eyes, a wide nose that complemented the mouth. She had on her favourite brown raincoat, worn tightly at the waist with a purple hat and a bow pulled over her brow.
‘They’ll let me know Soph,’ he said, as though an afterthought.
The lips parted into a fake smile, she let go of Farrier’s hand and stepped away from him. He took her in, memorising the details of her face as if his last time of seeing her. He seized her at the waist and kissed her hard on the mouth, flinging together with an almost animalistic magnetism; instinctual.
Then, stepping away, eyes refusing to leave hers, he fumbled with the Bentley’s handle, bundled himself inside, put the gear lever into first, floored the clutch, the accelerator too. As her high cheeks started to wilt he lifted his left foot. The Bentley shot away. Farrier was in fourth before the traffic lights. He kept the image of her in his mind and took the next corner on in third, roaring past Warren Street and away. At the cross section, he removed the engagement ring from his jacket and pocketed it under the dashboard, locking it after.
He peeled free of the puddle and licked his lips. At once he recognised the sea salt and that familiar coppery taste prevalent in one’s own blood. Finding his feet, he gathered his things and tossed the Very pistol onto the Spitfire’s wing.
Looming behind the boarding houses a faint glow could be made out, Farrier paused for a moment, regarding it, with conviction he got back to work.
The rumble of engines grew louder. He took the pistol in both hands and fired it into the cockpit. The leather upholstery went up first. He dropped the gun inside. Jumped down. Produced a cigarette lighter and burned his copy of the map: where the vessels were to land for the rescue of the British and French troops. The paper was crisp at his touch. The flames swallowed it up. A simple breeze blew the smouldering flakes across the sand. He slipped a Players between his lips and raised his arms in surrender, ready. A truck had appeared on the grass verge. The muzzles of German KAR-98 rifles peered over the twin headlamps. Farrier smiled to himself, his mother had always said he’d been quite a handful, and he knew he’d never grown out of it.