William Mckay loped through the flame lit streets of Whitechapel. It seemed the sky itself was aflame as he looked up at the infernal orange glow.
This was the worst night's bombing yet and he wondered if the bloody Luftwaffe would ever run out of bombs or planes or men. His gait was rather
clumsy, he'd lost an arm at Aisnes back in 1914 aged just eighteen. That blighty wound had probably saved his life as he was forced to sit out the
rest of the Great war and see almost every lad he had joined up with slaughtered in one battle or another. And now it was happening again. “German
bastards” he hissed between breaths as he rounded the corner by The Bull pub, still standing defiantly amongst the rubble of the surrounding houses.
He checked for any chink of light that might give the enemy an aiming point and, satisfied at the lack of even the tiniest sliver, moved on. Most of
his ARP warden mates had bicycles, riding a bike was something he had never gotten the hang of after losing his arm though and he ran instead. On and
on, through streets turned to rubble, through blackened skeletons of what once were homes or offices or shops. “It ain't the one you hear that kills
ya lad” He muttered, remembering the advice of his old sergeant the first time he had dove into a ditch in France. The explosions seemed to be
getting a little closer and he figured that he must be near to the track of the fourth or fifth flight of bombers because of it. Just as he paused for
a breather on the corner of The Whitechapel road an almighty crash picked him up and threw him through the air, smashing him into a billboard
advertising Player's Navy cut cigarettes and almost knocking him out completely. He groaned and took several shallow breaths as the stars slowly faded
from his sight and the fuzz melted from his head. Standing, he had to reach for the edge of a broken wall as the ringing in his ears made him lose all
sense of balance. It took a further two or three minutes before he was able to look around and assess the damage around him. It seemed as though a
whole stick of bombs had fallen, demolishing an entire row of terraced houses. He choked on the stench of smoke and cordite as he made his unsteady
way across the ruined street. His helmet laying forgotten where her had fallen and the thin trickle of crimson down his brow similarly ignored.
The devastation at the site of the blast was just incredible as if some giant had picked up the houses, smashed them together and dropped the bricks
and wooden beams in one long berm. As he scrabbled over the pile of debris he used the light of the fires burning at the docks to pick his way and,
his heart almost stopped on seeing a small, pale hand, wrinkled with age and bearing a simple gold wedding band upon one finger. When it clenched into
a fist he almost fell over as he skidded back down the slope. “Pull yersel' together laddie” he grumbled to himself and went down on his knees ,
reaching to clasp the hand in his, gently, just to let the woman know that help was here. He released it and bent low to call out “You are going tae
be alright lass, help is here, I'll get you out.” despite spending the last twenty years in London, whenever he was angry or stressed, his native
Scottish burr resurfaced and he smiled grimly as he released the hand and began pulling the broken bricks from around the arm, one at a time and
tossing them further down the slope of ruined homes.
Brick dust and ash stung as it stuck to the sweat streaked skin of his face and he had to pause often to wipe at his eyes. He had been digging for
twenty minutes when he finally uncovered the woman's head. A nasty gash glistening in her scalp and sticking her grey hair down in a congealing cap of
black blood. He leant low to listen for signs of breathing and the breath rattled from her parched lips, a trickle of black at the corners and the
lighter froth around her nostrils told him at least one of her lungs was punctured. As he dug down further he was dismayed to find the jagged end of a
roof beam sticking out from the side of her chest and he paused a moment, trying to think of a way to get her out. There would be no help, not this
night, with what looked like half the city ablaze and bombs still falling from out of the black sky where the drone of more bombers seemed never
She coughed then and wheezed something, dragging him from his reverie and he crawled a little higher to place his ear closer to her mouth “What's
that lass?” He asked and managed a smile as he thought she must be at least seventy years old. The sort of woman who would have shooed him away for
calling her lass, no doubt.
“I'm a gonner” she hissed and, before he could offer her the comfort of a lie, she continued “I can feel my breath getting shorter. I need
something, I have to tell someone, I did a terrible thing and...and I can't go and meet my maker without trying to make it right, will ya just listen
son? Just do this for me and I can go.”
Those few words seemed to have exhausted her and he patted her hand and said Ok Missus, My name is Bill, I am the air raid warden. Hat's your name?
Just try and be still, more help is coming, we'll get you out, I seen worse than this in France you will be alright lassie."
She chuckled at that and shook her head ever so slightly “I ain't getting out of this one Billy boy My name's Jenny Mrs Carpenter to my neighbours,
but Jenny will do just fine fer now.” She took a breath and continued I am 67 years old and, I have seen the very devil himself on these streets. So
I ain't afraid of no German.” A wet sounding coughing fit halted her and he smoothed a lock of hair out of her eyes as she gathered herself. “I
got a story to tell you, I ain'y never said nothin about it afore and I aint't gonna be around ta tell anyone after you, so listen close, you hear me
“ Yes Jenny.” He said, feeling sad at the contrast between the strength of the old woman's character and the frailty of her present condition.
“I'm listening, I'm sure you ain't got anything to worry about though.”
His contradiction was cut short by her barking “Shut up and listen will yer?” He shut up and she continued “I was born over in Buck's row in
1873 I think. Da went off and me Ma did her best but by the time I was thirteen I was working fer Porky Johnson's lot over in Hanbury street. There
wasn't a choice back then We 'ad to do what we 'ad to do or else starve or even worse if one of tha gangs found out. It was a hard, nasty, bitter
life. By the time I was fifteen I 'ad seen it all and was sick of it. I jumped inta the river one night but Got dragged out by me hair by some
bargeman. He took me over to The Bricklayer's arms on Settles street. He had a girl there, Lizzie, Long Lizzie Stride they called 'er. She was about
40 and had been on the game fer years. She cleaned me up and fed me, got me a place to stay and helped me out, taught me how to pick a man who
wouldn't rough me up, like. If it weren't fer her I'd have gone back in the river or else one of Porky's lot would have done fer me.” She paused and
took a few breaths, recalling times long gone. Then continued. “She never did deserve wot 'appened, so 'elp me. I should have done something. Poor
edit on 36pThu, 05 Oct 2017 21:04:36 -050020172017-10-05T21:04:36-05:00kAmerica/Chicago31000000k by SprocketUK because: absolutely fantastic