not wasted much time.
4 | And Goodbye
Commander Graham Martineau folded the papers he had been studying and looked around the room. The officersâ club had seen better days, he thought, and even the large paintings of sea battles long past could not disguise the shabbiness, the tiredness of war. In one room he had seen great cracks down the wall, evidence of one of the air raids which Plymouth had endured.
An elderly servant in a white jacket was at his table again.
ââNother gin, sir?â
He looked at the empty glass. He could not remember how many he had consumed since his visit to the Zouave, and Captain âLuckyâ Bradshaw.
Bradshaw was a bit of a legend in destroyers. During the evacuation of Crete he had made several attempts to get alongside bomb-blasted jetties, lifting off exhausted soldiers with every gun firing at the unhindered German aircraft. On another occasion his ship had been straddled by a stick of bombs which had put the steering out of action. The ship had been badly holed and many would have abandoned her. Not Bradshaw. He had conned her with the emergency steering aft, and had somehow managed to shoot down one of the dive-bombers.
Martineau had served in the same flotilla as him, a year or so before the war, and like most of them he had been astonished when Bradshaw had been pensioned off by yet another Admiralty axe. It was said at the time that he had been too out-spoken about something. Being recalled had seemed like a miracle to him. As it would have been to my father. Older, larger than life maybe, but still the same âLuckyâ Bradshaw.
The new flotilla was one of several still in the planning stage, a force which could be used for either special escort duty or for more aggressive operations against enemy shipping. There were eight destroyers in the group, or would be as soon as they had all been mustered at Liverpool, three Tribals, two J Class ships, and two of the powerful K Class like Mountbattenâs ill-fated Kelly. And one other, the Harlech, already a veteran of the North Atlantic.
Bradshaw had boomed, âIâm damn glad itâs you in Hakka. Youâre what she needs.â His eyes had moved to the ribbon on Martineauâs jacket. âA destroyer is for hitting the enemy, not sodding along with some eight-knot collection of rust-buckets!â
Martineau glanced across the long room. One officer was asleep in a chair, and two others were engrossed in earnest conversation, the waiter lining up the drinks with tired regularity.
It was not much of a place, but it was somewhere to get away from the people you served with, and a change from the din of a Barbican pub or dragging out the time in somebodyâs house.
They would be having a wardroom party in Hakka. Fairfax had asked him if he would care to join his officers, and some of those from other ships. Bradshaw had suggested much the same aboard the leader, but had seemed relieved when he declined. Maybe he had his feet under the table locally, as Jack would put it, but Martineau suspected it was just another symptom of the uneasiness people so often showed in his presence. As if the V.C. made him different in some way, as if the medal itself overshadowed the reason it had been given. Bradshaw had put his finger on it. A damned hard thing to win, but a bloody sight harder to wear!
Absurd, and yet it was always there.
He tried to clear his mind, to think of the next move. Liverpool, then the Western Ocean, the killing ground. Every day convoys fought their way across it. Many were indeed old, worn out, the rust-buckets Bradshaw had called them, but without their precious cargoes the war would have ended long ago. Torpedoed, bombed and shelled, the seabed was littered with them. And yet the survivors, men like Kidd, went back to sea again and again.
And if it was true that Britain and her remaining allies had at last made a stand and were fighting back