by Brian Vandegrift

"Never in the course of human events have so many owed so much to so few."
-Winston Churchill.

The gleaming black London taxi rolled into the parking lot. A family of three stepped out. Lee, who was five and as frisky as a litter of three month old puppies, pointed at the huge white building that sat across the parking lot. "Are we goin' to see the planes, Momma? Huh? Huh? Huh?"

"Yes, dear. We are."

Lee pulled rather grubby fingers out of his mother's hand and raced for the building. The adults, battered by the wind, hustled after him. The building's doors opened, then closed as the adults entered the concrete foyer. Lee's small figure strained against the retaining ropes around the display of a crashed aircraft and a sculptured figure in an overcoat, arm band and flat British helmet.

"Daddy, what's that?"

"That, my young friend, is a Hawker Hurricane." The soft, but deep voice echoed. Lee and his parents turned to see a short, rather stocky gentleman with thinning hair and a wide, informal grin that contrasted with his impeccably cut dark blue suit and striped RAF tie. "We used to say 'Spitfires got the glory. Hurricanes got the bombers.'"

A British Bomber sits lazily in front of the Battle of Britain Museum in Hendon

Photo: Louis Bignami

Lee's father turned and shook hands. "I missed this one. My war was Vietnam."

"I thought you Yanks called that a 'police action.'" The stocky man awkwardly turned to Lee's mother "You are here for the tour, yes?"

Lee's mother nodded. "Yes. Can you tell me where they meet?"

"Momma?" Lee jerked on his mother's skirt.

The man pointed across the cavernous room. "Captain Donnelley will start the tour by the elevator in a few minutes."

"Momma? I wanna drink." Lee tugged insistently on his mother's arm.

She patted him on the head. "Not now dear."

"You know. . ." the stranger began.

"Yes." Lee's mother responded.

"Would you mind if I get the little tike a soda? Then while you're on the tour, I'll show him some planes. I've got to make my rounds so the other docents can get a break."

"Do you work here?"

"Actually, I'm Brigadier Baker, the director."

"Well, if you don't mind. Lee's been talking about airplanes ever since we left California. He loves anything that flies."

"Quite. Come on young man." The stranger led Lee across the floor as his parents moved over to the tour group.

"Mr. Baker, What's that?" Lee pointed to an open double-doorway.

"Let's find out."

"Wow!" Lee's face brightened as they entered the cavernous hangar, filled with fighters, light bombers and other aircraft. "What are those?"

The stranger grinned. "Those are Spitfires and more Hurricanes. We flew those in the Battle of Britain. The far planes are German and Italian."

Lee's brow scrunched. "I know about the Battle. That's when the Germans almost came."

"Yes, many think it was the most important battle in World War II. It was an air battle. Want to hear more?"

Lee nodded.

"The first part of the battle happened after Dunkirk. Know about that?"

"Sure, that was when the English had to come home in little boats without their guns and stuff."

"Right, people who study history call it a 'prelude to Hitler's proposed 'Operation Sealion'"

"Who's Hitler? Is that a Sealion like MarineWorld" Lee interrupted.

"Hitler led the German army in the War. His Sealion was an invasion."

"Was Hitler the bad guy?"

"One of the worst. The Battle of Britain really started when his air force started to bomb the south coast."


"So he could shoot all our planes down so his soldiers could get across the British Channel, come here and win the war. But that didn't work."

"How come? Wasn't the tunnel there? We came here in the tunnel." Lee asked as he slid across the smooth concrete floor under the wing of a giant amphibian.

"No, that was before the tunnel, and Hitler kept changing his mind. By the second part of the battle, Hitler had committed the Luftwaffe- -"

"The Luftawhat?" Lee's brow scrunched.

"The Luftwaffe was Hitler's air force, much like our RAF. Know what that is?"

"Sure, it's the Royal Air Force."

"Okay. While the battle continued in the skies, Hitler sent an army and a fleet of ships over to France for "Operation Sealion" -- the invasion of Britain."

"You wouldn't let them through, right?"

"Yeah, the RAF held, and Hitler started to bomb our cities. One of our bomber pilot's mistake--"


"A young pilot bombed Berlin by accident, and Hitler sent the Luftwaffe to flatten London because he was mad."

"Mom says, 'you do dumb things when you get mad. London's pretty big too. Wouldn't it take a lot of bombs to flatten it?" Lee noted as his eyes darted over the Spitfire.

"Mom's right. And London's so big it ate up a lot of bombs that didn't get dropped on our planes and airdromes. So this was when we started to win the war. Too bad we didn't know it at the time." The stranger gazed at the ceiling.

"What happened then?"

"Oh. We shot down lots of German planes, and the winter storms came early. So The German's gave up on the invasion. The Battle of Britain slowed down about the end of October 1940. "

Did you fly then?

"No, I was on a holiday in hospital. Seen enough planes yet? You ready for your soda?"

Lee grinned as the two new friends sat at their booth in front of the large windows that overlooked Croyden Airdrome, and sipped at their sodas. A gaggle of tourists obviously just off their tour came into the cafeteria with Lee's parents who grabbed tea, crossed to the booth and settled down with that contented sigh well known to tourists with tight shoes.

"Well, Lee, did you learn anything from this nice man?"

"Momma! Did I! All about the Luftawaffler an' everything!"

Lee's mother nodded to the stranger. "Thank you very much, sir."

"My pleasure, mum. I enjoyed it. I wish my grandchildren were so well-behaved. I'd like to show you more, but I've a meeting."

The Brigadier touched his knees, paused, stood and headed for the exit. Lee squirmed out of the booth, shot across the cafeteria and slammed against the Brigadier's left leg. Then, with a metallic clank bounced off onto the floor with a wail.

"That hurt," the small boy. "How come your leg feels so funny?"

The Brigadier leaned down, picked Lee and hugged him to his chest as he watched Lee's parents approach.

"I'm sorry. You see, my leg's mostly metal. I lost it in the last days of the air war we fought to keep little boys like you from having to fight their own wars later. I suspect we were in error, but at least we knew we were in the right."

Editor's note: We encourage submissions of merit from younger writers.