The topic for my writing group is to do some research and base a poem or piece of writing on it. Here is a short story of mine and a summary of the research at the end.
Mabel explained to the new waitress, Lucy – “Whatever you do you mustn’t stare. Just treat them as normal okay?”
Lucy nodded and resumed setting tables. She was seventeen and this was her first day at Mabel’s Restaurant.
Half an hour later a group of five servicemen entered quietly – the first customers. Mabel greeted them cheerily and showed them to a corner table where there was subdued lighting.
“I’ll come and take your orders in five minutes, but first how about drinks?” John, Albert and Tom ordered beers and Geoffrey and Harold red wine by the glass. As Mabel returned to the kitchen the men became more animated and soon were cracking jokes.
Mabel gave the drinks order to Lucy and said, “Remember no staring, just normal service!”
Lucy took the tray of drinks to the men and tried to avert her eyes by looking at the table cloth but it became difficult to keep this up when she was addressed by the men. She’d started by asking, “Now whose is the wine?”
“ That’s me.” Harold said with a lop-sided wink.
“The other one’s mine” Geoffrey added with a slight smile.
As Lucy put the glasses down she noticed Harold’s right hand was a lump of flesh with a stump for a thumb and another for his index finger. However he had no problem lifting the wine to his lips, “Cheers”, he said, “um that’s better, come on chaps lets drink to the future!” After the toast Geoffrey signalled to Lucy who had been about to return to the kitchen.
“What’s your name? You’re new here aren’t you? Lucy gave her name and tried not to look too directly at Geoffrey’s face which seemed to have a piece of loose flesh dangling where his nose should have been. Geoffrey was smiling and said, ”Oh, I’m new here as well so it’s nice to have you on board.”
Back in the hospital Geoffrey was lying on his bed; he was the new boy – it had only been seven weeks since he’d been shot down – over English land fortunately. Instead of re-living the horror of burning inside his cockpit he decided to re-run his hospital experience. While his face had been badly burned in the first few seconds of his Spitfire being hit, further damage was done with the tannic acid treatment he’d received. Dr McIndoe had explained it was the best they could do and Geoffrey was grateful that the surgeon had saved his eyesight. The tannic acid had eaten away his eyebrows but left his eyes intact which was a great relief. He had a special reason for wanting his eyesight saved. McIndoe was exceptional – all the men loved him – he was more than a surgeon; he was friend, counsellor and technician. He’d reconstructed Geoffrey’s face during two separate ops. Geoffrey now proudly sported a plastic nostril. He’d even had his fellow patients in fits of laughter one day when it fell out and rolled out of sight under the bar. He’d also had a pedicle of skin grafted onto his nose bone – this admittedly looked a little unsightly – some of the others called it a sausage as it was pink and soft like the skin of a sausage. Geoffrey didn’t mind – he was just grateful that everything was in good working order and that he could see. He felt a surge of impatience now as he thought about the future. If his eyesight had gone he would have been invalided out of the RAF – never again to fly a Spitfire or even a Whitley –those dodgy machines they called the Flying Coffins because sometimes one of the engines would suddenly cut out.
That was what kept his morale up, that’s what kept him going – he wanted a second chance to get in a cockpit and fly with his gunners.
Flying was very much on his mind as last week they had listened in silence to the PM’s Battle of Britain speech on the radio. Geoffrey wanted to be counted amongst ‘ the few’ – those determined men and women who would attempt the seemingly impossible: the defeat of the German war machine. He rolled over on his bed and reached for the photo of his sister Julie; the last he had heard she was somewhere in Normandy working for the Ambulance Service. As he put the photo down he suddenly had a vision of the hundreds of thousands of casualties of this war. His dream was that the Battle of Britain would save the lives of millions. He only had weeks in which to recover from his injuries and then be discharged fit for action.
My first port of call was a very moving account of the airmen who had been disfigured by fire and had their faces reconstructed by the surgeon Archibald McIndoe. The book is called McIndoe’s Army by Peter Williams and Ted Harrison. The details of the disfigurements came from this book; the characters based on those described in the book with names changed. Surgeon McIndoe seems to have been one of those remarkable people who do an enormous amount of good and leave the world a better place as a result of their lives. Here is one patient’s quote:
He was a god. Really. A remarkable man. Nothing was too much trouble for him when he was caring for the needs of the aircrew he was looking after.
The Guinea Pig Club was a formal club set up with Mr A. H. McIndoe as its first President. The guinea pigs were of course those airmen who had been operated on by McIndoe. They met regularly for social events after the war.
I had to check online to find the date of Churchill’s speech and so set the story in June 1940. Whether Geoffrey would get his wish and fly in the Battle of Britain is up to you the reader! No doubt further research would reveal whether this was possible with some airmen who had been ‘under the knife’.