Childhood Memories of Sidcup

Fifteen years ago Johnny Masterman and Jonny Mastermen who were both the sons of World War Two Spitfire pilots were sitting outside the Café Antonia on the sea front at Deal

They had ordered a pot of tea for two and two slices of chocolate cake which was brought to them by a waitress named Toni who was wearing a white apron

Geraldine Watson

“My father said that he had been following a Ju88 and it crashed into the sea. He had been relieved to see the entire crew bale out as the aircraft was lost. Even though our countries were at war he hated to see men die”

“It was the same with my father, even though he had a number of kills to his name he never spoke about them”

“Well my father was flying back when he received a message from Willy that there was some trade to the south-east. That is the last message that he remembered as about a minute later he was blown from the skies. To this day he does not know what got him”

“What happened next?”

“The next thing he remembered was that he was floating in the sea with his “Mae West” supporting him. The sea was very cold and although he had taken a dirty great bang to the head he did not pass out again”

“Did he know where he was?”

“No, he knew he was in the channel and that the flood tide was pushing him roughly in an easterly direction but he could not see land or any ship that he might hitch a life home on”

“He could have frozen to death stuck out there. It all depended if anyone had seen him go down”

“That was a district possibility although my father was not one to panic but it was he was examining his situation that he received the biggest shock of his life”

“What was that?”

“Well for one his “Mae West” was not keeping him afloat but he was being supported by a pair of slender white female arms”

“Was it a girl swimming who had seen his distress and was rescuing him?”

“That’s what he thought at first but as he turned to face her he received his second surprise”

“What suprised him?”

“That the girl was naked or at least bare breasted”

“Although not unheard of it rather rare around here I think”

“I agree, but as it was November my father thought it unlikely”

“What did your father do?”

“Nothing he did nothing and he could feel the girl swimming. Also remember that he had just been blown out of his Spitfire and was concussed to say the very least”

“How far were they out to sea?”

“Miles, there was no land in sight”

“Well how did the girl keep afloat the conditions must have been terrible”

“Use your imagination”

Both men laughed and ate another slice of chocolate cake

“Tell me more”

“For about a quarter of an hour my father just lay there, he did not utter a word and I personally think he was lapsing in and out of consciousness or that the coldness of the sea was taking its toll”

“Did he think he was dying or he was hallucinating?”

“My father was not clear on that but it was shortly after he saw what he thought to be the Kent coast and he came fully to his senses”

“What caused that?”

“Well a rogue waves hit him and caused the girl to lurch back. It was then he saw a giant fish tail appear momentarily above the sea”

“What did he do?”

“Well in his shock he freed himself from the girls grasp and instantly began to fight for his life. I forgot to add he also had a large hole in his shoulder”

“Did the girl rescue him?”

“Yes ,otherwise there would not be a story to tell”

“What happened?”

“The girl held him tighter in her grasp and began to talk to him. Telling him to keep calm otherwise he would drown and that yes she was a mermaid and would explain why she had rescued him but only if he kept calm”

“What did she say?”

“She told him that there were many mermaids like her in the sea and that they had been tasked to save any airman or sailors they found, no matter whose side they were on. This mermaid in question was patrolling the area from Reculver to the Dover Inlet but mainly around the Goodwin Sands. She had found my father in the sea about twelve miles out from Deal and had saved him from drowning as his “Mae West “had been rendered useless by the blast”

“Did she take him to Deal?”

“Yes and no, yes he was found him badly broken up on the beach between Deal and Walmer, but no she did not leave him on the beach”

“Why was that?”

“Well mermaids do have land legs and do use them occasionally if required. But this mermaid reasoned that if she took him to the shore then a naked woman with long blonde hair whether she was with an injured airman or not would look a little odd. You have to remember as we are so close to France this neck of the woods was very heavily guarded”

“I see”

“When she was within one hundred yards from the beach she told him to ride in on the waves which were quite strong that day and that in no time he would be on the beach where he was sure to be found”

“Did anything else happen?”

“Yes, she told my father a most peculiar story”

“A story?”

“Yes, it was about mermaids and how she became a mermaid”

“Go on”

“My father just like millions of others thought if mermaids or indeed mermen existed that they were just a product of the sea. Really he thought them to be creatures of myth but here was in the arms of a real mermaid”

“What did she tell him?”

“That although she lived in the sea this had not always been the case as she had once been an ordinary girl from Coventry called Geraldine Watkins”

“How did she end up being a mermaid and why was she rescuing the unfortunates of war”

“It seems that in the summer of 1938 that she and a couple of girlfriends engaged in a cycling holiday in Norfolk until one day Geraldine was killed in a most awful accident involving a car not far from Norwich”

“And she turned into a mermaid”

“Not straight away, she remembered being in a very bright area for some considerable time until a deceased aunt of hers came up to her and explained the ropes. Yes this was indeed Heaven but she had many choices and one strangely was to become a mermaid”

“How odd”

“The mermaid told my father that after due consideration she decided that she would like to return to the physical world and become a mermaid. She was told that most of the time she would just be part of a maritime community but every so often both mermaids and mermen would be called upon to help in times of danger”

“Hence the mermaid rescuing your father”

“Very much, there had been reports of downed pilots being rescued by mermaids and confused Germans being left at random on beaches in Kent and Sussex but due to the improbability of it the whole thing was hushed up as there were far more important things to worry about”

“Did she say anything else to your father?”

“Yes that she missed her family very much”

“What did your father do?”

“He said that if he survived the show he would visit the mermaid’s family in Coventry and let them know that she was okay”

“What was her reaction?”

“She did not react; she said that if he thought it was right then he should tell them. It was not for her to decide. If they were told and hired a boat after the hostilities were over then it would be wasted trip as mermaids are shy creatures and she would not be found”

“Was much else said?”

“Not really as the main matter in hand was getting my father safely ashore without the mermaid being spotted. My father just accepted the story and helped the mermaid to help him”

“Was that the end of the story?”

“More or less, the wounds my father received ended his war and as you know he has no use of his left arm. When he recovered he took time out to try to read reports about mermaids in the channel but he got nowhere as the whole thing had been covered up. But he researched Geraldine and he found that her story was true. A girl from Coventry named Geraldine Watkins had been killed in a road accident near Norwich in 1938”

“Did he visit the family?”

“He started but only got as far as the railway station in Coventry when he turned back. He thought it better that they retained their happy memories without a pilot who had taken a hefty bang on the head telling them a fantastic story”

“Did he ever see the mermaid again?”

“No but one of the nurses came up to him in the hospital they had taken him to after finding him on the beach and handed him a lock of blond hair which they had found in his flying tunic. It must have been placed there by the mermaid”

Both Johnny and Jonny finished their tea and shook hands and headed off in different directions

The waitress in a black apron cleared their table and pocketed their tip


The Hastings Mirage

Fifteen years later Johnny and Johnny were sitting at the Café Solange not far from the sandhills near Etaples. They were both the sons of former World War Two Spitfire pilots and in their maturity had become solicitors in small Sussex towns. They had both married girls called MaryMary and had named their firstborn sons StephenStephen

They had ordered two cups of coffee and two slices of cherry cake which was brought to them by a waitress named Solange who was wearing a white apron

“My father was known as ‘Lucky Jack’  during the war on account that he went through the whole conflict without a single wound. Even his crate remained untarnished”

“What did his friends think of that?”

“Well you might think that they would have wanted to fly with him, but some were of the opposite opinion. They found his good luck extraordinary and feared that there would be a bad end to the whole affair”

“He had a mate called Snowy I believe”

“Oh yes Snowy Black a giant of a man who only just fitted into the cockpit. Well he trained with my father and they went into battle together on many occasions. To cut a long story short on one particular mission Snowy had had his plane shot to pieces and was badly wounded when he saw a Heinkel 111 on its own. He went in for the kill but his plane stalled and he crashed into the Jerry plane. You would have thought that would have been the end of Snowy and the Jerry’ crew but no, by an odd piece of luck both the German’s and Snowy were found battered but alive in a field near Canterbury. No-one has ever come up with a feasible explanation as to why these chaps survived”

“And that added to your father’s reputation?”

“Very much but it was also an incident towards the end of the war which added to the mystery of why my father was so lucky”

“What was that?”

“Well it goes to back to when he was a boy. As you are aware I come from Hastings, my father was also born in the town in 1919. When he was very small he remembered being told of a phenomena called “The Hastings Mirage”

“I have heard of it but that is about it”

“You are aware that when you are in the Dover and Deal area you can see France clearly on a fine day”


“And if you are in France you can see England in the area between Sangatte and Ambleteuse when you are on the seaward side of the large hill at Griz Nez”

“I have only been in that area in poor weather so there was nothing to be seen”

“Exactly, on certain days when the conditions are perfect England can be seen from there but also can be seen from beyond Calais to the east really from more or less to where we are today”

Both men looked at the sky which was a milky blue but there were shower clouds on the horizon which promised interruption later in the day

“The same applies to the Kentish coast, as I have already noted the French coast is visible from the Dover and Deal areas and to see France is quite a common sight. On average I would guess both coasts are visible for about a third of the year”

“But not today”

“Or the next few days I fear. However at times France is clearly visible from South Foreland right up to the hill above the town of Folkestone”

“That is a fair distance”

“A walk of about eight hours or so I would think”

“Or a short journey in a motor car”

“That would take away the beauty of the experience”

“Please continue”

“On certain days you can see it as far north as the Ramsgate Hill but you can count these days on one hand”

“What about west of Folkestone?”

“That is very rare due to the flatness of the land and this is what made “The Hastings Mirage” in the late years of the eighteenth century so odd. I have an account which I will read to you it is not too long”

Jonny reached into his brown leather bag and placed a small book on the table

“This is book that my father purchased many years ago in Hastings which I think illustrates the day in question”

“I am hanging on your every word my friend”

“It appears a Mr Latham was sitting in his parlour on the 26th of July 1797. It was a very hot day and his attention was drawn by crowds of people running towards the sea-coast and upon enquiring about the cause he was informed that the coast of France was actually visible from the shore. He was aware that the French coast even to its nearest point was some fifty miles away and this phenomena had not been witnessed before. Mr Latham went down to the beach and shared the general astonishment of all present on seeing the coast of France so clearly. The cliffs, buildings, windmills and boats of the area were clearly visible. He records that the mirage lasted from about five to eight in the evening and that the French coast appeared to approach nearer to the English coast and the Dungeness cape which was some sixteen miles distant”

“How extraordinary, has it happened since?”

“No, many times as a boy I would look out to sea hoping for a glimpse of France but nothing at all”

“Did your father witness it again?”

“No it was much more startling than that. Towards the end of the war he was flying his plane back towards England and as usual he and his plane had not received even a scratch when he spotted a Ju87 high in the clouds above him. If it had been flying back to France he would have left it alone but the blighter was flying towards London so he decided to pay a visit”

“Was he still over the sea?”

“Yes but he could see the town of Hastings”

“Did he leave his visiting card?”

“This is where it gets very strange, as he approached the Jerry plane he had expected it to run away at the very least but the plane did nothing. He fired some warning shots but still nothing. Sensing a trap he let the bandit have it but nothing happened no fire no smoke nothing. Then about twenty seconds later the German plane just disappeared from the sky. One minute it was there and the next minute it was not. It had just disappeared

“What did you father do?”

“Nothing for a couple of minutes, I think he thought he had been hallucinating so he turned his crate towards home and this was when the second very strange thing happened to him”

“What was that?”

“He was at about five thousand feet when to his left he saw a bright light. When he looked he could see the city of Nice in the South of France quite clearly. The light was the reflection of the sun on the Mediterranean sea”

“How did he know it was Nice?”

“He had stayed there with a French family before the war”

“What did he do?”

“He did not say, I think he thought he was battle worn and needed a complete rest so he observed it for a couple of minutes and then flew back to base”

“Did he tell anyone?”

“No, I think they thought that there was something a little strange about him and if he reported that a Stuka had disappeared before his eyes and that as he was flying above Hastings that he had seen Nice then I think they might have locked him away for a while”

“How did you get to know?”

“He told my mother”

“And she told you?”

“Yes, when I was fourteen a German chap arrived at our door one weekend. He like my father had been a pilot and had gone through the whole show without so much as a scratch. He had been in the air on the day of the disappearing Stuka and had seen my father from a distance. He like my father had seen the Stuka disappear and like my father he had seen the Nice mirage”

“How did he find your father?”

“I do not know. He must have pulled some strings I imagine”

“What did they do?”

“They decided to keep it to themselves until such time as the phenomena had been properly explored. I think both men were so war weary that they did not want the attention”

“Did anything else happen?”

“No they still keep in touch and are planning a book that I do not think will be written. It may be up to me to explore the incident. I will wait and see”  

Both Johnny and Jonny finished their coffee and shook hands and headed off in different directions

The waitress in a black apron cleared their table and pocketed their tip