I've penned a short story that you may
like cast a glanSecond Fiddle
Even though my brother Jack was just three years my senior, it could have been ten. For Jack was a leader. Not that Jack was pushy or bossy, for Jack had a kind disposition that people took to. So that when Jack got his own way, which he often did, it was on account of this charm and most people acquiesce to charm so as not to be thought dowdy themselves. I was quite happy to bask in Jack’s shadow. At school I did not excel at sports as Jack did or even in academic subjects, but was content to jog along at my own pace which, on looking back, was the fault of my laziness, a fault I’ve never shaken off.
Our family fortunes hovered in the position of comfortable middle class. My father was owner and manager of a small engineering company that made its mark by supplying an essential part that fitted into a car engine. Both my father’s outfit and the engine making company were part of a chain of suppliers to the car giant.
All went well with this arrangement until the great depression hit. Most manufacturing did not stop but just slowed down to a snail’s pace. And my father’s place just ticked over.
With time on his hands, my father had the idea that he might take his recently acquired car over to the continent. His plan was to visit various capitals and beauty spots and also drop in at small businesses similar to his that he had been in touch with.
For company on the trip he would take eleven year old Jack. I was to stay at home to be with my mother.
They had a wonderful time staying at quite posh hotels and sampling new foods. As a memory of this trip, Jack had his photo taken dressed in a smart sailor’s suit. The picture was then mounted in a large upright oval oak frame. Apart from being a sailor boy, he looked the cat’s whiskers.
After a few years in the doldrums, trade picked up at a pace as war clouds loomed ahead. To add to the ‘happy days are here again’ feeling this was the time of the big bands. Dance halls sprang up in cities and towns big and small. A more enjoyable means of teenagers meeting each other had never before or since been so successful. And Jack with this good looks and charm, was in his element. Pretty girls and flirty girls seemed to gravitate to Jack. I remained in the background during these encounters, and then out of the blue I met Molly and I was smitten. Molly said she went to dances occasionally but she really liked reading. Molly and I took to each other almost at once. I can’t describe how happy I was to have found such a charming girl. She was rather on the shy side, but that only added to her attraction.
About a year after war broke out, Jack volunteered to join the navy. He was soon called to do officer training and he took to it like a duck to water.
After being commissioned, he had his first leave looking like a million dollars. His circle of girlfriends vied for his attention as he became much sought after. I almost expected him to relate sea stories to enthrall his followers. But too soon, as far as he was concerned, he was off to go aboard a real ship. It’s difficult to say if he relished the idea or not. I could not say if his bold manner would stay with him into action. Molly thought him rather a harmless show off, but bearable.
But a more immediate problem was taking shape, should I wait to be called up or volunteer and get much more choice of service? Molly could not really help in this decision; she would miss me terribly she said, but agreed it would be better to volunteer.
So volunteer I did. I did not really want a rank that would entail too much responsibility. Laziness being my middle name, something in the background would suit me very well. Then off I went to basic training as a basic seaman. My first posting was to a coastal vessel which afforded me frequent home leave.
Jack meanwhile was on convoy escort duty and enjoying life on the ocean wave by all accounts. I imagine a little of my character may have rubbed off on him whilst among his fellow officers and kept him at a low profile, for safety’s sake.
My own seagoing experience was about to be expanded. I was being reassigned to a navy transport ship which was shortly to leave for the Far East. Molly was very upset and said she would pray for me every day and would write often.
After four weeks, we arrived at Sydney which was to be our home port. We would not be returning to Portsmouth in the near future and were scheduled to ply between India, Ceylon and various ports in Australia. The object of all this toing and froing was to supply the British Pacific Fleet with all sorts of supplies.
And so the war dragged on in the Far East and in Europe. Jack stayed in the North Atlantic on his convoy protection duties. I don’t know if Jack enjoyed his work in those treacherous seas, but I was lucky to be cruising in the sun and enjoying it.
We received mail every few weeks and there was always a bundle of what you may call love letters from Molly. But understandably, over time, there were less and less reducing eventually to almost a stand still. Those I did get were mainly relating to what so and so was up to and what the weather was doing.
And then the ominous day arrived and I received Molly’s ‘Dear John’ letter. In it she explained that it was because she had become so lonely, together with not knowing when or if I would be coming home. Anyway, she was to be married in two months’ time to Jack. She went on to talk of his really good points. She hoped I would understand, blah blah. I screwed up the letter and threw it overboard.
I took me a month to get over Molly’s betrayal but get over it I did. I wondered what the future would now hold for me in a world without Molly, when I received a call to go to the Captain’s cabin.
The old man looked downcast and saddened. “I have some very distressing news for you”, he said. “Your brother Jack has died in the North Sea. His ship was torpedoed and went down with all hands. I’m sorry to have to break this to you”. He said “sit down” and poured me a shot of whisky.