The full moon shone briefly through a gap in the clouds and ahead of him George saw the forbidding shape of Lancing College Chapel silhouetted against the sky. Full of posh boys Jack had said, but not at the moment – requisitioned by the Admiralty it was now full of sailors. George wondered what they’d done with all the boys, but for now the school was a vital landmark on his mission.
As long as he kept the chapel on his right, and the lazy stream of the Adur on his left, he’d soon reach his target. He pressed on, disturbing lots of dozy rabbits as he pushed the bicycle awkwardly across the field to the lane. He’d thought about walking from the village but it would have taken too long so he’d borrowed the delivery bike from outside the butcher’s.
At last he came to the perimeter of the airfield, and he followed it all the way round to the far side. He hid the bicycle in some bushes by the railway embankment and crept back towards the fence. Jack said that opposite the railway, in line with the big conker tree, there was a place where you could lift it up and squeeze underneath. He said he’d done it loads of times, but now in the soft darkness of the summer night, George began to have his doubts. Had Jack really gone to all this effort just to see the planes, when he didn’t even like them that much, not like he did. George could tell a Spitfire from a Blenheim by the noise as they went over, and ever since he’d heard that the fighter pilots were using Shoreham in emergencies, he’d been ready and waiting.
And then today he’d heard Mr Johnson saying that they were here again, landing short of fuel after fighting the Germans in the skies over the Channel. So tonight was the night, and at last he’d found that loose bit of fence – a quick wriggle and he was through. He kept low to the ground, heart pounding, imagining himself behind enemy lines as he crept across to the terminal building, its handsome art deco profile disguised with camouflage. He pressed his back to the wall and found the stairs that led up the outside to the roof.
Finally he reached his target, the edge of the viewing gallery. Gingerly he leaned over the parapet and looked down at the air strip. There they were, even better than he’d imagined, four Spitfires and a Hurricane. He gazed down enraptured, and began to breathe more easily, his heart slowing. From inside the building the sound of a wireless drifted upwards through an open window. He could hear music, and laughter, and snatches of conversation. It was the pilots joking with relief about how Shoreham was “bloody handy” after “Jerry got a bit of a hit.”
George grinned to himself, he’d remember this night. Now all he had to do was get back home before anyone missed him, or the bicycle.