“A new year is at hand. We cannot tell which it will bring. If it brings peace how thankful we shall all be. If it brings continued struggle, we shall remain undaunted.” ~King George VI, Christmas Speech, 25th December 1939.
15th December 1939
It looked like it was about to snow. Ted Miller smiled as he passed a group of trainees complaining about the weather. In Minnesota, this would be considered just another brisk afternoon.
He’d been at Uxbridge, assigned with the Royal Air Force, for only a few weeks. He was still getting used to the variety of English accents when he heard two words that made him stop and turn around.
The three men stopped talking and stared back at him. “Narabany?” Ted repeated, then smiled. “Laskas?”
The men exchanged glances, then one nodded and started speaking very quickly in Polish.
“Do you understand a word that bloke is saying?” Roger Clarke asked as he walked up.
“Some,” Ted replied. Turning to the man, he asked, “Do you speak English by any chance?”
“I do,” one of the other men said. “My friend think you speak Polish.”
“A few words.” Ted repeated, holding out his hand. “I’m Ted Miller, and this is Roger Clarke.”
“Yes, we know Mr. Clarke is,” the man replied. “My name Andrezj Kaminski. My English is much good.” He glanced back at the other two men. “Their English not so good.”
“Where’s your fourth man?” Roger asked. “Aren’t there supposed to be four of you here today?”
Ted knew narabany meant very drunk and laskas meant girls. He was pretty sure their fourth man had had too much to drink with some young ladies the night before.
Kaminski glanced at the others, then back at Roger.
“Stomach flu, wouldn’t you say?” Ted looked at Andrezj. “It must be difficult adjusting to such a change. English food, new quarters, etc.”
Andrezj nodded. “Yes, stomach flu. That is it.”
Roger looked from Ted to Andrezj, his eyes narrowing. “All right. I’ll make a note of that but see that he’s here tomorrow morning. Do you understand?”
Andrezj nodded again. “Yes. He be here. Tomorrow.” He said something to the other men, who also nodded, then they walked back towards the barracks.
“Stomach flu,” Roger muttered under his breath. “What did they really say? And how the hell do you know how to speak Polish?”
“Only a little,” Ted reminded him. “The family that owned the farm next to ours was from Poland. Their oldest son taught me all the fun words.”
“And I’m guessing stomach flu was not on that list.” Roger shook his head. “Where was that farm again? Manitoba?”
“Something like that,” Ted said, glancing at his watch. “I should get going…”
“You’re not fooling anyone,” Roger assured him. “We all know you’re a Yank. You and a few of the other men. And we know you risked a lot coming over here to fight the Nazis, so your secret is safe with us. As far as we’re concerned, you’re Canadian.”
Ted smiled. “I appreciate that. Now, I really should get going.”
“What are you doing for the holidays?” Roger asked. This Yank intrigued him, and he could use some help with these Polish pilots.
“Staying here at Uxbridge,” Ted replied. “I don’t really have any other plans.”
“You do now,” Roger said. “I have a home about twenty kilometers west of London. We’re going to have a few people dropping by this weekend. Just a casual get together. You know how it is, friends, neighbors, that sort of thing. The women will definitely outnumber the men, so we could use a few extra dance partners. And don’t worry about a tuxedo. You can borrow one from my brother-in-law.”
“Tuxedo?” Ted repeated. “I don’t know if…”
“And I outrank you,” Roger continued, “so you can think of this as an official request if you like.”
“Then, I appreciate the offer,” Ted replied.
“We leave this afternoon.” Roger saw a group of pilots walking towards them. “Meet me back here after you last training exercise. Bombers, isn’t it?”
“That’s right,” Ted agreed.
As Roger turned to meet the other pilots, Ted wondered what kind of casual get together required a tuxedo.