Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Lancaster Lessons (second half)


We are about to leave the Mosquito when the young man pauses. He turns toward the other side of my display table. He points at the music-speaker to the right, and leans forward to inspect another model plane atop it, displayed seemingly to float on the air. “And this one is an Avro Lancaster, yes?”

 “Yes. Even more significant to me. Had a model of one as a boy. Played thoughtlessly with it.”

 “Hm. Boys play. But now, like that Mosquito there, you knew someone else who’d flown one?”

 “No. But M’Lady Nancy Sinclair’s twin brother, Denys Street, flew one. His plane was also shot, and he also had parachuted out, but he too was captured and sent to Stalagluft Three, just like his counterpart, the Mosquito pilot, Denys Sinclair.”

 “Counterpart? They both were called Denys?”

 “Yes. And more than that. They met on the prisoner train when on their way to Stalagluft Three, became firm friends, and were in the same bunkhouse for the next four years in prison. Not only that, but Denys Street, Nancy’s twin brother, told his pal, Denys Sinclair, all about his beloved blue-eyed and beautifully intelligent sister, Nancy; so much so that after the war, when Denys Sinclair was finely free, he searched Nancy out, and the rest, as you’ve learned, is history.”

 “Well, not quite. What happened to Nancy’s brother, Denys Street?”

 “He was one of the fifty caught, and then shot, in the so-called Great Escape.”

 “Really? Wow. There was a movie about that. Right? With Paul Newman?”

 “That motorbike-maniac story was entirely fabricated for the sake of the movie. But Nancy’s pain at the untimely loss of her brother, that way, endures to this day. They were born in 1922, see, and that means he too would’ve been100 this year, had he lived. But neither the mighty-might of the British air force, back then, nor the luck of drawing the right straw was with Denys. And the tragic story of those fifty brave souls who tried to escape has resonated through time. Denys Sinclair did not draw a short straw. Denys Street did. And what followed is a very sad story.”

“All sad? But what about the Sinclair story? After the war, when Denys Sinclair got free, what happened to them? He, and your M’Lady? You said they moved to Australia?”

“I did? Oh? Good listening skills. Yup. They first had their five children. They tried to make a go of a vegetable farm in southern England, a place near Godalming, but the economic after-effect of the war was too strenuous on them, so they emigrated to Oz. Ended up near Perth. Denys taught flying lessons, and M’Lady Nancy taught French lessons. She also did pottery, paintings, furniture upholstering, pot-pourri flower arranging, and recorded-readings for the blind, among other things. She is a most gifted person. But eventually Denys died too. She’s lost a lot.” 

“And she’s still there, near Perth?”

Yup. But she’s here too,” and with that I reach up and touch my heart. “Always.”

 “A bit like these boy-toy planes of yours,” the young fellow smiles at me, “constantly alive with very real and quite profoundly significant memories. Always.”

Mosquito Memories (first half)


“And why do you have that one? What is it?” The young man asks, pointing at my model. 

“A Mosquito. They were used extensively in World War Two, for reconnaissance especially.”

 He looks at me askance. “You were in World War Two?”

 “Ha! No. Number Two had a 1941 date. The First World War, as you may know, was during 1914. I was born in the early 1950’s. But the plane in question signifies much to me, particularly since it was flown by the husband of one of my very dearest friends, M’Lady Nancy Sinclair.”

 “A real Lady?” There is no artifice, nor disbelief in him. “Was her husband a Lord Sinclair?”

 “No. But her father was Sir Arthur Street, minister for Air Defense in Great Britain. So, Nancy, quite appropriately methinks, got called M’Lady, by me.”

 “Hm.” The fellow leans forward. He inspects the camouflage and bomb-riggings of the model plane, set on its plinth. He is about to turn away, but I persist. “So that particular plane means a lot to me, since her husband, Denys, flew it, even though I never met him.”

 “And why is that? Did he die during the war?”

 “No. Thank goodness. He was shot down, over Germany. He escaped his plane by parachute, but then was captured, and taken by train to Stalagluft Three. It was a prison encampment for flying officers. Several years later, and only after the famous Great Escape, in which he was not one of the men selected to escape, thank goodness, he was at last set free. He found Nancy, proposed some seven times over to her, and at last they were married. They had five children, three girls, and two boys. Had I been one of their children, I’d be their very youngest.”

 “Hm. So, how’d you meet her then, this Lady Syn…, this Nancy?”

 “Denman Island.”

 His hand lifts, and he points up the channel of Canada’s Georgia Strait, about eight miles from where we now stand in my sea-view den. “Denman? What were you two doing there?”

 “She came up from Down Under. Visited her dearest cousin, a war bride from those olden days, whose husband had settled on Denman. I was busy building my own house there, back then. It’s now nearly thirty years ago. We met by chance, through a mutual friend. Took to each other, right off. She came to Canada every three or four years, back in those days, and we saw each other as much as possible. Then too, our correspondence never let up. With the advent of emails becoming possible, she undertook to get and to learn how to use a computer, back in 2012, despite her being ninety years of age at the time. She still writes to me, to this day.”

 “Still writes? Started emails at 90? Why, that makes her over 100 years old? Really? Wow. So, what do you put her longevity down to?”

 “Asking questions. Curiosity. Being interested in everything and everybody. Like yourself. You might not have asked me about that plane, and we’d both be poorer for bypassing that little Mosquito. Pesky they may be, questions that is, but at least they produce answers.”

 “Ha! Mosquitoes. Pesky. Still, if you don't ask, you'll not know.” Yet still, he asks no further. Still.