In the borough cemetery in Writtle Road, Chelmsford, is a monument to the thirty nine people killed by the 367th Vergeltungswaffe 2, or V2 Rocket, to strike England. It detonated on Tuesday December19th, 1944.
My uncle Tod was one of the forty seven people seriously injured in the blast. He survived, badly disabled, and so his name is not among those inscribed on the monument. He was blinded and lost both his legs.
After the War, and following many months of rehabilitation, he became a familiar sight on the pavements and parks of the city in his battered wheelchair, and always in the company of his black mongrel, Billy Ricky. He certainly had many friends who would stop and pass the time of day with him, or help him and his dog – who was by no means trained as a guide dog – to cross the busy main street.
When he was failing at last I called in on him at the little prefab where he lived. I remember distinctly his saying to me “Born lucky, I was!”
“Lucky, Uncle? You can say that when … when …”
“When I’ve ended up a ruddy cripple!” He could be blunt at times. But his smile seldom left his face. “No. You see, if it wasn’t for old Billy here, I’d have been dead.”
The dog, old and grey muzzled now, stirred at his feet. His tailed thumped a couple of times on the floor.
“You see, he knew that rocket was coming. Those things broke the sound barrier. There was no warning. But he knew. He was never given to excitement. Always easy going. But there we were, walking up Henry Road on the way to my shift at Hoffman’s factory, when he just went berserk. Barking, growling, pulling … he pulled me right off the street and I fell in to the gutter, on top of him. And then the most god-almighty bang. That was the last I knew for a week, until I woke in hospital. But Billy was OK, weren’t you, boy?” Another half hearted tail wag.
The two friends died within a week of each other, not long afterwards. I had heard before that dogs were psychic, though I am sceptical of such notions.
But I am in no doubt at all that Uncle Tod was convinced of it.