Operation Overlord - excerpt - chapter one

Thursday, 1 June 1944

It was football day, called Winkies, at Winchester College, the last game of the year. The twelve-year-old boys from Beloe’s house, all in their bright red shirts, ran like a gaggle of mad geese out of Winchester College’s ancient stone gate and onto Chapel Road. Mr. Simpson, the school’s porter and watchman (whom some boys joked had been here since the fourteenth century, when Winchester was founded), stood aside to let them pass, calling out, “Careful, lads. The cobbles are slippery.”

Above the ancient brick-and-stone buildings of the college, clouds from the night’s rain began to scatter, clearing the day for the game.

As they crossed the street, Tommy Collins ran faster to catch up to red-haired George “Stumpy” Ward, Tommy’s best friend at the school, and a fair player.

“This is our last chance to show those Collegemen what our house is capable of,” Tommy said.

Stumpy nodded. “We can beat them.”

The boys stopped while Housemaster Lymes, in grass-stained pants and striped shirt instead of his usual black robes, unlatched the wooden gate set in the moss-covered stone wall bordering the walkway. Lymes waved his arm. “Hurry, lads,” he said. “This weather might change at any moment.”

The boys ran through the gate and onto the pitch, a wide green field still soggy from the rain. It was bordered with oak and elm trees as old as the school itself.

The boys from Toye’s House were already there, wearing blue jerseys. They stood to one side of the canvas near the netting that kept the ball on the grounds, preventing it from going into Palmer Swamp.

The teams formed up, one at each end of the pitch. Lymes blew his whistle, and the game began. Stumpy forwarded the ball to Tommy. He kicked it downfield toward the opposing goal, called “Worms.” Felton, a lad from College, snatched it up and ran down the field to the goal.

Tommy called out the foul: “Handiwork! Handiwork!” He stepped in front of Felton to block his progress. “Taking more than three steps whilst holding the ball is against the rules.”

Tommy looked to Housemaster Lymes for support, but the man’s attention was elsewhere. Every boy on both sides stared up into the thinning clouds, recognizing the sound of an aircraft engine. Reynolds, the house kicker, shouted, “Doodlebug!” and started running across the field toward the gate. The town air raid sirens started wailing.

The engine noise grew louder. Then the airplane descended below the clouds: not a V-1 aerial bomb or the doodlebug Reynolds thought it was, but a German plane. It was speckled with green, brown, and olive camouflage paint, the swastika clearly visible on the wings and tail. It was coming in low, not two hundred yards away, and heading for the muddy field. Its engine had stopped, and the propeller fluttered. Its fuselage was peppered with bullet holes.

“Form up quickly!” the housemaster called. “Back to the College!”