Jacqui Bennett Writers Bureau



Summer of ’43


John Connor

Email: jhnconnor@aol.com

The last view I got of Count Vladimir Perczynski in his pilot officer’s uniform was on a squinty-eyed Saturday afternoon in the summer of 1943. At the time, he was marching up and down Stirling Street at the head of his men, beating his right leg with a stick and twirling his big bushy moustache with his left hand.

I was standing on the pavement outside St Ninian’s church holding my Aunty Nelly Kelly’s hand, trying to remember my daddy, who was away fighting the Germans in the Sahara Desert, but I couldn’t see his face, even though I’d just lit a votive candle and said a wee prayer. I could hardly even remember my mammy, who was always up the Myott Hill watching for him to come back. Nelly said she was taking care of me because my mammy was off her head with worry.

As I was saying, before all that Sahara sand got in the way, there was this Count Percy. We used to call him Percy, because nobody knew until after the war how to say Perczynski. Whenever he came down the road at the head of his wee air force, me and my pals used to shout out, ‘Here comes Porky Percy and his flyboys,’ and fall about and hold our bellies to stop them from hurting. We were wee at the time and stupid daft.

Nelly used to skelp me on the back of my head when she heard it. ‘That’s an awfy rude thing to say about a darling man,’ she’d say. But she couldn’t help laughing at the same time she was battering me to a pulp. I’m exaggerating, you understand.

As a matter of fact, the skelp didn’t hurt much at all, but it gave me the excuse to roll around on the warm pavement and scream blue murder, kidding the women queuing outside Ferraro’s chip shop into thinking I’d kicked my last tanner ball. The best bit was when they said, ‘Ah, the shame. She’s awfy hard on the poor wee laddie’. It was a great performance, better even than Mickey Rooney at the pictures.

The amazing thing about Count Percy that day was the glass sticking to his left eye just below the peak of his cap with the wings on. ‘What’s that?’ I said to Nelly, who was supposed to be taking me to the Co-op at the time.

‘It’s called a monocle,’ she said. ‘The Count wears it because he’s awfy noble. At least, he was before the Nazi tyrants seized his lands near Cracow.’ She said it crack-ow. ‘But he’s going to bomb Berlin and get them back.’

‘A min-ockle,’ I said, not hearing it right. ‘What’s it for?’

‘You want to know everything, don’t you?’ Nelly said.

‘Aye,’ I said.

‘Aye, right enough,’ she said. ‘It’s for looking inside wicked wee laddies to see what mischief they’ve been up to.’

‘Is that right?’ I said feeling slightly worried. Then I asked, ‘What’s a cracked cow?’ thinking the ones munching grass up on the golf course didn’t have any cracks in them that I’d ever seen.

‘Crack-ow,’ Nelly repeated. ‘It’s a place in Poland. Now just you wheesht and look at the braw pilots.’

I watched the men marching up and down for five minutes, then I said, just for devilment, ‘I think you and Porky Percy are luvvy duvvies.’ Whereupon Nelly went red in the face and I got a thick ear for my cheek, so I knew I was right.

In they days, me and Nelly used to go down the Co-op by the draper’s every Saturday afternoon just before closing time. It was my job to sneak behind the counter and thieve a lump of bacon, while Flatfeet Freddy gawped at Nelly’s three top buttons, which she’d specially opened up outside the door before she came in with me hiding behind her skirts.

Flatfeet Freddy, who was supposed to be counting the food coupons at the time, never seemed to notice me. But every other week he gave Nelly two free oranges, saying one was for her and one was for her “invisible” nephew. I always knew he wanted to ask Nelly to go for a walk up Carron Dam but he was too feared to ask. She’d have gone with him too, because bacon and oranges were hard get in the summer of  ’43.

As I was saying before all they food coupons got in the way. The Count drew level with us for the fourth time and he stuck up his hand most imperiously. Then he shouted, ‘Halt’! Except he didn’t say ‘halt’ or ‘stop’ or anything like that, he said something funny in Polish.

The airmen stopped with a clatter of boots and stared ahead, trying their best not to give the eye to the lassies lined up on the pavement, who where putting on the agony, laughing and giggling, like the mindless idiots my Aunty Nelly said they were.

On Sunday mornings, when the lassies were all dressed up and flirting with the Poles, especially her Percy, Nelly was not filled with Christian Charity, far from it – no matter what Father Pat said. ‘All fur coat and no breeks,’ she’d say disdainfully. She had a way with words, my Aunty Nelly Kelly.

As I was saying, before the fur coat got in the way. The Count came and stood directly in front of me and Nelly. He took off his cap, letting his long black hair tumble down to his shoulders. It had a dead straight parting in the middle and looked as if he’d sleeked it down with dripping.

He stared into her face for a long time, ignoring me, even when I kicked his left shin and stamped on his right foot.

Then he made a great swishing bow that nearly knocked me sideways and said, ‘Hullo, my wee darling.’

He must have learned his English from Nelly, because he sounded just like her. ‘Me and my men are away to bomb the Gerries the morrow’s morning and, like as no, we’ll no be coming back.’ He spoke softly and kept looking into her eyes.

I stood on tippy toe and jumped up to look as well. Sure as cows are no cracked, I could see tears in there. I didn’t want her to start blubbering, because that made her an awful sight. I tugged at the sleeve of her jacket, but she just ignored me.

‘If you’ll come up Carron Dam with me the night,’ the Count said, placing his hand on his medals, ‘I’ll speak your name when I’m diving into Berlin with my cockpit on fire, my tail shot off, and a Jerry tracer bullet in my heart.’

It must have been the word ‘heart’ that got to Nelly, because she started blubbering out loud and told him she’d meet him at six o’clock outside the post office, not caring who heard her.

After that, it was like somebody had opened the floodgates at Carron Dam. All the other lassies started howling as well. It was like they could all see into the future, because none of they airmen ever came back from the war. Except one.

I expect they went to meet their Maker feeling happy, because I heard they all managed to get a lassie to go up the Carron with them. Some even had two, because there was plenty to go round in 1943. Everybody except me seemed to know what lads and lassies did up the Carron. And that must have included Nelly, because she was so excited, she forgot to take me to the Co-op and I had to put up with just fried bread and powdered eggs on Sunday morning.

That same Sunday, for the first time ever, Nelly and half the women of the parish missed taking Holy Communion, which made the old biddies in the front pews turn around and nudge each other with their elbows and say, ‘Will you just look at all they mortal sinners! They’ll all roast in hell, so they will.’ After that the tutting got so loud that Father Pat turned round from changing water into wine – a neat trick that – and frowned at them until they blessed themselves, prayed to the good Lord for forgiveness for being jealous and talking through their hats. Then they shut up, thank goodness.

The very next Sunday, Father Pat started ranting and raving something terrible up on his pulpit about the wages of sin being death. I think he was talking about the Polish airmen who never came back. Then he went purple in the face and shouted out ‘fornication’, whatever that was, and used big words like ‘moral turpentine’. He went hoarse after that so I couldn’t make out any of the other big words. I heard he kept it up for three masses in a row, which impressed everybody in the parish. Somebody in the post office said the reason Father Pat was so upset was because all the lassies had been giggling in the confessional on the Saturday night, and that he didn’t really mean it when he talked about expected ‘Gifts from God’ and ‘Souls for Christ’.

My Aunty Nelly Kelly didn’t hear any of this, because the Wednesday before, she’d got a lift on a lorry to London to see the bombs.

Nelly came back after the war with a wee laddie in a blue velvet suit called Percival Perczynski, who she said was my cousin. She also had a wedding ring on her finger and a bloke on a leash she said was my Uncle Vlado. It was a long time before I could place him, because he’d lost his monocle and his moustache along with his uniform with the wings.

Nelly’s uncle, who was a JP on the Clown Council, got Count Percy, alias Uncle Vlado, a job as night watchman on the new housing development where the golf course used to be. Sometimes, he let me warm my hands at the brazier on the site and told me stories about the time he had lands near Cracow – he said it crack-off. Nelly got a job in the Co-op with Flatfeet Freddy so she could be near the bacon and oranges.

I forgot to mention that, just before my Aunty Nelly Kelly went away to London, my mammy came down from the Myott Hill and took care of me until my daddy came back from the Sahara with a suntan and one leg, which he did just before Christmas.


©2001 John Connor

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