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Do Not Go Gentle

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John and Titty died almost together. The Lieutenant on a destroyer had known how small his chance of survival was; when he threw his naval nurse sister into the last lifeboat, before going down with his ship, he thought she at least might live. But the battle was still raging, and the lifeboat never escaped. The sea took them both into her breast, and their siblings wondered if they could ever face sailing again.

Nancy had wanted to do more, demanded it, fought for it. Her French was fluent if her accent imperfect; her time with the Wrens had taught her to handle a wireless; and working ciphers came easily to the girl who could write Morse and semaphore as quickly as English. So the SOE sent her to France as a radio operator. Betrayed, she evaded capture thanks to a warning from the Resistance, and fled to join them. When the enemy attacked, she paid her debt to the full, covering their escape; and she died with a gun in her hands, wind in her hair, and a wild battle-cry on her lips.

With her baby to care for, Susan could have stayed home. But Susan was a Swallow; she refused to do nothing when all the others were fighting, fighting and dying for the future her daughter would grow up in. Leaving the child with her mother, she volunteered at the local hospital - only a few nights a week at first. But they were badly understaffed, and her common sense and practicality soon had her running the whole place, so she was needed there almost every night. Including the night bombs flattened it.

Once, everyone had expected Roger to join the Navy. Perhaps after John and Titty, it wasn’t a surprise that he got as far from the sea as possible. If he’d been pressed, though, he would have acknowledged the RAF was always his path; but only Titty would have asked. He was just as brave, as reckless, in the air, as he had been as a boy exploring old mines. In his last flight, he took out three planes before they shot him down. He had a packet of chocolate in his breast pocket, traded from another pilot for cigarettes (he’d never been able to smoke, after seeing High Tops burn).

Peggy was still afraid of thunder and lightning. But the war taught her to fight her fears; when she was assigned to anti-aircraft duty, she forced them down to a knot in her stomach, keeping her alert on night watches while she waited for the guns to roar. She made herself stand still instead of cowering and covering her ears, wondering if she was a coward for still wanting to. When her station went up in flames, her last thought was a desperate prayer that Nancy, officially missing in action, would return to Mother. A month later a telegram would arrive; when Peggy’s wish was made, her sister had been dead for half a year.