The lost years
Mark and James had been friends since school; they had been through all the usual teen angst of girlfriends and losing them and had always been best mates. They had a trust borne out of years of not telling lies, so when Mark told James he had seen a ghostly form, there was no reason for Mark not to believe him, yet a ghost, and could this be true?
“I tell you I DID see it Mark!”James said. “I saw the ghost as clear as I see you sitting on the bed now.”
“Okay, let us go through what you saw and try to find the reasons for it. I'm not saying I don't believe you.
“But you are not saying you do either are you.”
“Let’s just say I have an open mind on the subject, as we have no proof either way yet.”
“If I do prove it, then will you believe it?”
“Of course I will, once we get proof one way or the other. What did you see?”
“I was coming back along the old footpath by Mr. Darlow’s farm, when I thought I saw a man ahead, he looked as if he was either drunk, or very ill.”
“What gave you that impression?”
“The way he was tottering from side to side as he walked, when I got close to him I could hear he was mumbling to himself. When I asked if I could help, he turned and looked right through me!”
“I have to admit, that IS creepy James! Did you notice anything odd about him? Like his clothes.”
“Yes. He was wearing an old USAAF uniform and his hands seemed badly burned, so bad he couldn't close them.”
“Where did you see him?”
“I was about half a mile down the lane, where the hedgerow turns left and the main road joins the side road from the old vicarage.”
“Was it night time, when he appeared?”
“No, it was about 4:30 last night, in full light and plenty of sun.”
“That makes it even more peculiar, ghosts are usual at dusk or in the dark. You said he was muttering to himself, could you understand anything he was saying?”
“I couldn't quite get what he was on about, he just kept mentioning names and I have never heard of them, which made no sense, as we know almost everyone here, as Marshmere is such a small village.”
“It does seem so strange, now you mention it, daylight, about half a mile down the lane from Mr. Darlow’s farm. I have no doubts now, you did see something but what it was and why there is a mystery to me?”
“This definitely requires further investigating, James. Now you have piqued my interest, you know I can't rest, until we find more about this man of yours.”
“Me too, this has to mean something to someone or else what is he doing showing up there?”
Days passed, Mark and James spent hours in the library going over the town history and only drew blanks, things were not looking hopeful when out of nowhere a note fell from a book.
“Mark look at this!” James said excitedly as he picked the paper up.
The letter had a USAAF letterhead, and was dated 10th October 1943 and read:-
“Dearest Joanna, I fear we shall never meet again, as I am being transferred to another unit, which has taken heavy losses, in the last weeks. Please believe that if we do not meet again I will forever love you
Yours, loving you always
“Do you think, this Dick, is who you saw and he is looking for Joanna now?”
“He could well be. But this still does not answer what he was doing going into the field at that point I saw him?”
“I know, that is what is so intriguing. This opens new fields of research for us now, the more we find out, the less we know. We know he was an American, here during the war but after that it is a complete mystery.”
“All we have is a love letter to Joanna, from her Dick, telling her that he feels he will not see her again. Where do we go now?”
“We can start at the town hall records office, Mark, and see if they know Joanna.”
The boys went for the short walk to the town records, where they met a most uncooperative clerk, until they mentioned the letter and Joanna. Then things took an even weirder turn of fate, as she told them the story. “My name is Jocelyn Diana Richmond, my late grandmother always told me of an American airman she loved, and the family always thought he must have left one last love letter but we never knew where it might be.”
Mark asked a question “Is your grandmother still alive Miss Richmond?”
“No, she died about five years ago, never knowing of the letter but always believing it existed. They loved each other so much; she knew Dick would not just leave without letting her know.”
“We think James may have seen Dick recently, he saw a ghostly figure walking along the footpath to Darlow’s farm and then it turned into the fields, just before the old vicarage.”
“That is a bit odd.”
“Why?” asked James.
“If it is Dick and he is looking for my grandmother, he is on the wrong side of town over there.”
“There's no guarantee it is him, all I saw was an American airman’s uniform from behind,” James replied.
“And at the time he would have been here, that was just open space, where the farm is now.”
“Maybe, he is returning to the old airfield and is going through where the gates used to be.” Mark commented.
“No, all records show the base was about four miles out of town, so even if that was a back gate, he is well off course there.” James said.
Jocelyn got up from her desk and said “I think we'll have to have a chat with a few of the older folks, maybe they can shed some light on this.”
The boys said in unison “Agreed.”
Mark added “I said to James earlier, the more we find out, the less we know.”
James replied “At least we are making progress. We have found Joanna’s granddaughter and we know he wasn't going to either the base or to see his love. There is still the mystery of what was he doing there?”
That night in the local pub, with the darts match on against local rivals Petercove, all the talk was as usual on the weekend soccer fixtures, and the upcoming fair. In a corner, secreted away a small group were heavily in chatter on a totally different topic, in the group were Mark, James, Jocelyn, Jocelyn’s mother, Mr. Thomas-the butcher and Peter Francis-the local historian.
Mr. Francis was the man to shed the most light on the subject when he spoke. “According to what you have told me James, and with my knowledge of the history of the village, I can say I am almost sure that your visitor was part of the second raid on Schweinfurt iron works. This raid became known as “Black Thursday” as the 305th USAAF bomb group took 85 % losses.”
“That is so terrible, such a loss of young lives.” Jocelyn said with a tear in her eyes, remembering her grandmother and all the other girls who must have lost loved ones. “Especially when you consider most of the crews average ages were under 24. I know, we saw Memphis Belle on TV recently, it was such a lovely film,” Jocelyn said.
“That was a load of codswallop, Jocelyn.”
“Pardon me, Mr. Francis what do you mean?’ Jocelyn said, looking shocked at the turn of phrase from a man she had respected, since her schooldays.
“It was a movie romance. If you want the real film, find the William Wyler documentary on the History channel, he shot that in the Belle on a raid and you can feel the winds shooting through.”
Jocelyn's mother, feeling this could end up moving off the subject in question asked “If he isn’t looking for his lover, or the base. What do we think he is going back for?”
For the first time, since they met that night Don Thomas spoke “I know or at least have a good idea. Back when I was a boy, I heard a plane go down about there, there was such a crash. I thought there was an earthquake, shop windows broke and the air shook for half an hour with the explosion.”
Peter added to the conversation “That would also explain, why Mr. Darlow has never got anything to grow there either. All that fuel has been leaching into his soil and killing the crops.”
“Do you think, he has been seen before now, Mr. Francis?” asked Mark.
“Certainly he has young Mark, there are numerous accounts of sightings going back to the late fifties, usually just a glimpse or a half sight out of the corner of the eye. This is the first solid, if you will excuse the pun, sighting.”
The group had a laugh at the pun, as they drank their beers.
“Why did I get the chance to see him in the daylight?” James asked.
“Probably, he could sense, that rather than just thinking “Oh yes, there he is again, poor man,” like most people. You might try and find something, to put his soul at peace finally.”
“I don’t know if we can do that but we will try our best for him.”
The group agreed to meet the next week at the house of Mary Jacobs, the villagers were a bit wary of Mary, she had powers to talk to spirits and dealt with herbal medicines never trying anything non-natural, she always said. “My old Ma always said, if the Lord wanted to heal us, he would give us the means and he did with the fruits and herbs of the roadside.”
Although a bit odd and shunned by some, Mary had a strong following in the village. Some thought because she talked to spirits, that she was a witch, they thought it better keep on her good side. Others saw her for what she was, an old lady who had seen many things, who was willing to pass her knowledge on to other like minded people.
On the appointed day, the group arrived. Welcomed by Mary dressed in her longest flowing robe of dark blue, with yellow flowers and a moon on the right shoulder.”Hello Mary, how are you my old dear?’ the warm and friendly voice of Mr. Thompson broke the quiet.
“I am fine, thanking you Donny Thompson. I hear tell you wish to contact the other worlds.”
“That's right, we have a couple of questions to ask a spirit from World War two, Mary” Mr. Francis replied to the question.
“We shall have no troubles there, as the veil of time is not long.”
“But it is over sixty years Mary, isn’t that too long?” Mark was amazed at Mary’s statement.
“Young Mark, I have been in contact with the spirits of people who died centuries ago. To them time is a door to pass through, the longer the time, the heavier the door but most will come through.”
“You said most!” Jocelyn queried.
“Yes. For some the distance between them and us is too great to cross. Did you bring the letter?”
“Yes. Here it is, sorry it isn’t much to work with.” Jocelyn said apologetically.
“Don't worry; as long as he touched it, his spirit is there. It maybe a book, handkerchief, or a letter, as long as they touch it, we can try to contact them.”
Mary put the candle on the table, as she moved across she lit the candle with a wooden taper, as she stood up she let her arms drop to the sides of her body. “Mark, can you turn the lights off please,” she said as her voice faded away.
The room darkened and Mary stood still. The group thought that they could hear the sounds of gunfire around them, smell the cordite, and hear the cries of the wounded airmen. Then in the midst of all this mayhem Mary spoke, but it was not her voice. “Frankie, Dave, take Ron to the bomb bay, strap a chute on him and get the hell outta here, she wont last much longer, and I'll give you whatever we can, just jump, that is an order, hope to see you down there soon!”
As they listened they could hear the engines stuttering as the crew bailed out, the captain tried all he knew to keep her up for as long as possible, then there was an explosion and Mary yelled in an agony never heard before or since, as the skin on her hands appeared to blister and peel in the heat.
“Richard Farmer, there are people who wish to ask some questions of you. Will you answer them?”
“If I can I shall, Mary.”
James asked first. “Why did you let me see you?”
The firm voice of Richard Farmer replied “I felt you were the right person to contact, to give me some peace James. I thought you and Mark would be willing to look for the links that others had ignored.”
Peter Francis asked next. “Are you looking for your friends from the war, the ones who got out before the fire?”
“No. They're here with me, as is your grandmother Jocelyn. We finally got together, our love never died.”
“Why have you come back then?” queried Jocelyn.
“Even though we can see and hear each other every day, we still cannot be with each other. My spirit is buried in the plane’s fuselage; I was never freed from the wreck. I need that to happen, for me to finally pass over.”
As he finished telling his story, the candle flickered, Mary awoke, her hands untouched. The only difference, she was sweating a lot. “Did I help you?” she asked.
“You did, thank you so much, Mary.” Jocelyn replied.
“It's always a pleasure. To know some people so value me, love.” Mary added.
After some weeks of discussion with the local history club, Peter finally got their permission to dig the site. There in the cockpit, was the body of an airman, burned to a charred remnant, hands curled to his face. They careful took his body out and put him to rest next to the others of his crew who died that day. James only saw the ghost of Dick Farmer once more. At the same spot as before, Dick winked, waved and walked through the hedgerow, and was never seen again.