1943, Italy. A British aircraft, containing an assortment of soldiers, is shot down behind the Italian lines. The survivors manage to make themselves comfortable in hiding, but after one of them is blown up on a mine, the others decide that just keeping out of the way is not enough.
Corporal Kelly reckoned being a passenger in the guts of a Wellington bomber was the worst experience he’d ever had, and that was before it crashed into the sea.
It was dark, not pitch, but what light there was glinted spookily red off the metal framework of the cavernous space inside the aircraft, like a fire was smouldering somewhere nearby. Something to do with protecting the crews night vision, Kelly hoped. The bomber had been converted to carry soldiers, but the seats were just L shaped bits of steel tube bolted along the sides of the aircraft with canvas stretched across. There was a strong smell of scorched oil and old sweat - and smoke, which, what with that red glow, was a real worry, but nobody else seemed to care. Was it normal? Kelly thought about whether it would be better to clamber up the front and shout a warning to the pilot, do something, and risk making a prat of himself, or die horribly in the blazing wreckage of the aircraft. He decided to do nothing.
They were being blown about all over the sky - it seemed to Kelly the aircraft was trying to wrestle its way somewhere different to where the pilot wanted it to go – and it was savagely, bitterly cold, draughts as vicious as daggers coming from everywhere, but the worst part was the noise. It beat down on the handful of soldiers like a physical weight, the gigantic unmuffled engines thundering a few feet away, wind screaming past the thin skin of the fuselage, whining through gaps here and there, everything vibrating and rattling fit to fall apart.
‘I sometimes wondered how the paras got the nerve to jump,’ Kelly yelled to the man next to him, ‘and now I flamin’ know. Fair dinkum, right now I’d be prepared to think about it, and I haven’t even got a parachute.’
The hunched form next to him seemed not to hear, and continued to rock back and forth – Kelly could see his mouth moving, repeating something again and again, but above all the noise, couldn’t make out what he was saying. He reminded Kelly of the old Rabbis he’d seen back in East Sydney on a Saturday, and guessed the man was praying. Had the same pinched look of those blokes, too. Not a bad idea, praying, Kelly thought, and racked his brains for something suitable, but the only thing that came to mind was a vaguely remembered hymn about ‘for those in peril on the sea.’ Kelly thought God was giving him enough aggravation to be going on with, without being reminded about any other possibilities, so he turned to the Jewish bloke, grabbed his shoulder to get his attention and shouted into his ear ‘Say one for me mate, OK?’
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