Remembrance Day has rolled around once again and, as I have done in previous years, I’m posting my Battle of Britain story. However, this time Deacon has a new image since he is the lead in an anthology I published this year (Kindle only). I’m also including one of the rhymes that appears in the anthology, “Native Sons in WWI” which was prompted by a story Francis Beaton Jr. told of his experience.
Copyright © 2019 David M. McGowan
All rights reserved.
No part of this story may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping, or by any information storage retrieval system, without the permission, in writing, of the author.
The following story is a work of fiction. Any similarity between this storiy and any historical recording of events is accidental and highly unlikely. Any similarity between the characters depicted and any actual people, either living or dead, is accidental, highly unlikely and very flattering.
He passed on several years ago but ‘Deac’ was a very good friend with whom I loaded and unloaded many cartridges of a variety of calibers. I also had the pleasure of hearing his guitar behind my vocals on several occasions and playing both bass and rhythm guitar behind his excellent vocals.
I’ve changed a few things but those who knew him will recognize the story and the man it portrays.
Battle of Britain having been decided in October, 1940 ‘Deac’ returned to
fighter aircraft from
By D.M. McGowan
Before men started shooting at him with 7.92 mm bullets from their
Bf 109s Harry Burnside had been a singer. He stood in front of fifteen, twenty
and sometimes thirty-man orchestras and sang the Dorsey, Kenton, or Ellington
songs or whatever else the crowd in front and the band behind wanted to hear.
He had worked his magic in
Sometimes horrendous events are necessary to save a young man from
himself. In Harry’s case it was the war in
Not that Harry rushed to a recruiting station in the autumn of 1939. Some of his young friends and even the older men he worked with certainly did. It was one of the older musicians who convinced him signing up for service was the thing to do.
“Folks ‘r sayin’ this here war is gonna be over in no time,” Marvin, a trumpet player said. “They is sorely mistaken. I bin readin’ up on these here Germans an’ they got ‘em an army. British ain’t got nothin’ an’ they’s gonna get whacked.”
“Are you suggesting we Canadian boys should go over there and get whacked, as you say, right along with them?” Harry asked.
“First off, I ain’t a Canuk, I’m a southern boy,” Marvin said. “Second, when things get tough they’ll be comin’ for us anyway. Might as well sign up for somethin’ you want t’ do instead o’ somethin’ the government thinks you’d be good at.”
“You’re country isn’t in it,” Harry pointed out.
“Not yet,” Marvin responded. “Now, you’ve been workin’ here an’ there along with singin’. I don’t got no income but my trumpet. A man signs up he’ll get three squares a day an’ a cot.”
Harry took a drink of his whiskey and water and cast his gaze around the musicians gathered in the late night or, to those who were not musicians, early morning booze hall.
“You know, Marv, I’ve always wanted to learn to fly a plane,” Harry said.
Marvin clapped him on the shoulder. “Now you’re talkin’, boy. Royal Canadian Air Force. What say we go sign up first thing in the mornin’?”
Harry looked at his watch. “Might I suggest early this afternoon? I might be awake by then.”
Though they wore Canadian uniforms and insignia they were
technically in Royal Air Force squadrons. The squadron commander was a British
major, and Harry’s wing commander a Canadian Lieutenant or “Leftenant” as the
British officers insisted. The other two Canadian pilots presently assigned to
their understaffed wing were actually from
“Ah hear we all getting’ new radios next month,” Otis said as the two pilots walked down the hall one early morning in late August.
Harry shrugged with one shoulder as he held the door open with the other hand and let Otis out into the humid dawn. “Be fine if they’re better than the T9. But if they aren’t, well, I’m starting to get used to being up there all by myself.”
“Mighty handy fur tellin’ somebody where you’s ‘bout t’ crash,” Otis noted.
“As long as they work and you’re no more than a mile away” Harry countered. “The T9 is good for about that far. You’re probably better off depending on a farmer seeing you go down.”
As they approached the mess hall their wing leader, Lieutenant Mapes reached the door and opened it for them.
“Good news chaps,” the officer said as the two non-coms passed through the door he held open for them. “Just spoke with the CO. We stand down today.”
“Excellent!” Harry said. “Now I can have some real breakfast and more than one cup of coffee.”
“Yuh all worry too much ‘bout that coffee thing,” Otis said.
“Quite good policy,” the Lieutenant said.
“Nothin’ to it,” Otis responded. “Yuh all just take an empty cola bottle up with yuh.”
“I say, old boy, a bit hard to pee in a bottle when one is trying to avoid the 109 that is glued to your tail. Not to mention that bottle flying around loose in the cockpit.”
“Yuh all make sure yuh strap it in so it don’ fly ‘round,” Otis said. “As fur takin’ a leak when Gerry’s on muh tail an fillin’ my magic carpet full o’ holes, why ‘bout then I don’ have no trouble passin’ water.”
Lieutenant Mapes laughed. Harry grinned and shook his head in resignation.
“Since we aren’t going up to be shot at, perhaps we could talk about something else?” Harry suggested.
“Our Calm Colonial boy is right once again,” Mapes said. “We have a day to repair gear.”
“And talk about new radios,” Harry suggested.
“There isn’t anything to talk about,” Mapes said. “I’ve heard the same rumors as you men. However, I haven’t heard anything from the Old Man and I haven’t seen any radios. Other than the 9 in my Spit that quit working entirely the last time I was up.”
Later that day, Otis asked Harry to join him and some other airmen to study and review the local ladies and pubs. However, Harry had grown out of the need to wake up with a pounding hangover. He had already had years of partying. Besides, bringing in bullet scarred Spitfires had made the drinking bouts seem very unimportant. His mates, often a year younger or more, still asked him even though he seldom went with them.
An hour after the other pilots had gone into town Harry walked off the base and caught a ride into Ashford. He walked the streets for awhile admiring the buildings and the history.
Occasionally a Junkers 88 would fly across the
Harry Burnside had been flying over
That day, on the streets of Ashford, after the completely random bombing of a very historic building, Harry Burnside could not control the choking fear.
Looking around he saw the sign for a pub, the Anvil and Hammer. He stepped through the door and saw ale glasses stacked on the bar. He turned the pint glass over and said to the barman, “Whiskey.”
The barman could see by the look on Harry’s face that discussion might be dangerous. He poured a shot into the ale glass.
“Fill it,” Harry ordered.
The inn keeper complied.
Harry downed the whiskey and noticed only in passing that it was smooth, a single malt.
He put the glass back down on the bar and said, “Again.”
Once it was full, he downed the second glass.
He remembered opening the door to his barrack, but very little after that.
Much later Otis Tyler returned to find his bunk mate, the man who usually refused to go drinking with his mates, passed out on the floor.
“Burnside,” he said, as he picked Harry up and placed him on the bunk, “yuh all just like them travelin’ preachers back t’ home; preachin’ hell fire an’ brimstone then next thing yuh got some farmer’s daughter out behind the tent.”
And that is how Sergeant Pilot Harold Burnside became known as “Deacon.”
Native Sons in World War One
By D.M. McGowan and K.L. McGowan
Seventeen native boys left the Upper Peace
The only land they’d known, all in their teens.
They’d all grown up wild out among the trees.
Knew where to find pelts, beaver ponds or streams.
They hunted for their supper, trap or single shot
And only their mothers gave safety a fleeting thought
After two hundred years of Scott and Fleur de Lis
They knew some other talk, sometimes two or three,
English, French and German were spoken in the land,
And whatever tongue was spoken by their particular band
Some of them could read and write more than just their name
But the army didn’t care, green privates all the same
An amazing great adventure for young trapper men
From freedom of the wild to a Canadian Army pen
Across the land in trains, something never seen.
Mistreated by a Sergeant, but still bright and keen.
Dropped off in camps and marched around a square
“Dig some dirt from here and put it over there.”
On the trains again east to Canada’s Maritimes
March down to the docks in perfect double lines
Then up a gangplank to a big steel canoe
Then told to put their kit where you couldn’t fit a shoe
A dozen ships in convoy from the Bedford shore
But count on German U boats sinking two or more.
More camp time in England, weeks without the sun
Then finally sent to France to show them how it’s done
Trenches that collapse from rains that never end
Bodies on the wire or sprawled out in no man’s land.
All caked in mud, “Are they ours? Are they theirs?”
Days and weeks of boredom, then terror and despair.
Vimy Ridge, the Somme or maybe Regina Trench
Maybe English on the left other times the French
High Wood or Kitchener’s, Avion as well
With the Aussies at Gallipoli, some lived to tell
Passchendaele, Arras, knowing each the end
If not for the war, surely for the men
Métis, Cree and Dane a total of Seventeen
On a great adventure, young, naive and keen
But the Great War wasn’t a great place to learn
For seventeen go but only two returned.
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