Ae Fond Kiss
Craig Stebbings is no longer a strikingly handsome young pilot due to facial burns when his spitfire was shot down. Suffering loss of speech due to PTSD he becomes unsociable, even towards the beautiful nurse who has fallen in love with him. He takes his problems home with him to a loving mother who is coping with her own problems, unable to marry the man she loves.
Chapter 1 (September 1940)
‘Come on Craigie, give us a song,’ shouted a voice from the bar.
‘Not on your Nellie. Give me peace to enjoy my drink.’
‘O.K fellas, fill him up. He needs a couple more before we’ll get any entertainment.’
‘What do you call this?’ replied the guy at the piano.
‘You’ll do till Ailsa’s ready.’ And other Scots pilots, who were in on the joke, laughed.
At nineteen, Craig Stebbings was a strikingly handsome nineteen year old fighter pilot of
92 Squadron. His six foot two slim figure, capped by black wavy hair contrasted with his
startlingly blue eyes. A perfect mixture of Spanish and Nordic good looks in this proud
Scotsman. Already a Flight Lieutenant, his skills as a pilot ensured he would eventually
become a squadron leader. Fortunately, his happy-go-lucky nature ensured popularity,
rather than jealousy. And, as often happens with popular people, he had a nickname.
Because his first name was Craig, other Scots pilots used to call him ‘Ailsa’, after the tiny
Scottish island of Ailsa Craig. Such a feminine sounding name could not have been less
appropriate for Craig, which was why it gave them a laugh, almost as pay-back for him
being such serious competition for the best looking WAAF’s. Whenever there was a
dance in the mess, other airmen were relieved if the popular ‘Craigie’ or ‘Ailsa’
happened to be on leave in his native Scotland. But, if he were present, all his mates
accepted that they’d have to settle for second best. Their other payback was to make him
‘sing for his supper’ by filling him with enough booze to overcome his shyness, and
making him use his lovely tenor voice to render some of Scotland’s best loved songs –
‘Bonnie Mary of Argyle’ ‘My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose’ or ‘Annie Laurie’.
Strangely enough, the night before his plane was shot down over the English Channel,
during the Battle of Britain, he chose instead to sing ‘Ae fond kiss, and then we sever.’
As soon as his Mk IIa Spitfire reached the Channel he found himself in the middle of a
dog fight: Messerschmitts everywhere. The initial fear that always gripped his stomach
on sighting the enemy only subsided when he made his first hit. This time he made the
fatal mistake of watching in triumph as it spiralled down. And, in that split second of
inattention, he felt the explosion behind him. He had seen it happen to others and they
had managed to limp home safely. But, when he saw flames leaping behind the cockpit,
his well-trained instincts commanded, ‘BAIL OUT! NOW!’
Craig had never worn gloves: said they interfered with the sensitivity of touch on the
stick. Today he paid the price. He pulled open the hood of the cockpit, ripped off his
straps and twisted round. He managed to stand on the seat and, using his foot to hit the
joystick, threw the plane upside down. Gripping the open hood, he pulled himself through
and immediately smelled burning flesh. He knew it was his own. The flames had
travelled. With no time to think about that, he let himself fall from the burning inferno
only seconds before it exploded. Much later, he thanked God for his goggles that had
saved his eyes.
What happened next was a complete blur. He knew he must, automatically, have pulled the rip cord and he vaguely remembered praying over and over again as he hurtled towards the black water underneath. He had no idea which prayer he was saying, as he
slipped into unconsciousness.
Craig came to with a sensation of rising and falling, up and down, up and down and his first thought was, ‘I’m dead and floating towards heaven. I can hear God speaking to me.’
‘You all right mate? Nearly went for a bloody Burton, you did.’
GOD WAS A COCKNEY??.....
‘Can you tell us your name?’ Same Cockney voice.
He had to think very hard, trying to pull his thoughts together. Then he heard a strange voice saying ‘C..C...Curr...aig St...St...Stebb...bb.
He couldn’t get any further and this always puzzled him afterwards – he suddenly reeled off his rank and serial number. As the merchant ship made its way to Dover he kept losing and regaining consciousness, becoming aware of agonising pain in his hands, upper chest and lower face.
In 1940, although medicine had made great advances, knowledge of psychiatric problems was in its early stages. And, due to a shortage of manpower, only physical problems tended to be dealt with and servicemen seldom sought, or received, the psychological help they needed in order to make a full recovery from their traumatic experiences.
Craig Stebbings was only one of the many who developed psychological problems that, in some
cases, plagued them the rest of their lives: nightmares, total loss of self confidence,agoraphobia, chronic anxiety and, above all, depression, sometimes leading to suicide.
Craig’s psychological disturbance took the form of an uncontrollable stutter which at firstwas overlooked due to the severity of his burns.
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