I suppose you’ve already figured out I’m not from here originally. I was born in London, long before even your parents were born. I guess you’d call it a “working class” neighborhood, though I’d just call it a slum.
I never really thought I’d be a hero, not like in the picture shows. Actually I thought I’d be a great football star—or soccer star as you Yanks would say. My old dad got me a ball when I was six and it hardly ever left my sight, not even during school. I was the best in the neighborhood, though it helped that I was already big for my age back then. I just needed someone to kick the ball up high enough and I could head it in every time.
But since you’re so good at history, I suspect you know what happened. The war came and everything went to pieces—literally. By the time the Yanks decided to get involved, my neighborhood was nothing but a pile of rubble. Weren’t enough free space around there to kick the ball around, not that any of us wanted to back then.
It was during the Blitz in 1940 when we got the worst of it. All of us—Mom, Pop, and my sister Abby—survived a number of attacks. I’d always brought my ball with me to keep myself calm and get a game going with some of the other kids to help take their mind off it. But one day I forgot the ball when the sirens went off.
I was halfway there with the others when I realized it. Told Pop I’d go and fetch it and be right back, quick as I can. “Won’t be but a minute,” I told him like the stupid pup I was back then. I took off running and never saw them again.
I did manage to get upstairs and fetch the bloody ball. By then the bombs were already starting to fall. There was smoke and dust all around me. Saw a few bodies lying around. An army private saw me out there and dragged my arse back into a shelter. I screamed bloody murder, not wanting to go with him. I wanted to get back to my family.
That man saved my life. As it turns out, the shelter my folks and baby sister went into took a hit from a bomb. Didn’t actually destroy the place, but it wound up flooding with water and the entrances were blocked with debris. If I’d been with them, I’d have been a goner too.
The next two years were pretty rough. I was all alone with no home, no job, and no prospects. I did what I could to get by: delivering papers, shining shoes, even doing a bit of pinching on the side. Nothing major, just some food so I wouldn’t starve to death.
I said I was big for my age. That came in handy back in ’42. I was only fifteen, but I was big enough that I could pass for eighteen. I joined the service in part because I figured I’d eat better and in part because I thought I’d get the chance to kill a few Nazi bastards.
I didn’t, at least not for a while. For the first two years I was pretty much a mule. Unloading ships from America and then reloading them onto airplanes or other ships to reach our boys. Can’t say as that made me very happy. I was eating well enough, but I still hadn’t got the chance to kill me any Nazis yet.
I finally went to my commanding officer and all but put him in a headlock to get me a combat assignment. He must have taken a look at me with my muscles all bulked up from the mule work and thought I’d be of some use. He put me right in for a transfer to a frontline unit.
I missed D-Day by just a hair. By the time I got there, we’d already taken northern France and were pressing onwards. Took me a couple days of riding around before I finally got hooked up with my unit.
Life can be funny sometimes. The lieutenant in charge of the platoon was the private who had saved my life just about four years earlier. His name was Reginald Clayborne. He recognized me straight off and said, “Percy, you damned fool, what are you doing here?”
He didn’t really want me around his unit, but he didn’t have the heart to try and transfer me somewhere else. So he gave me what he thought would be the safest job: the radioman. I didn’t know much about radios, except for the old one my parents had owned. Working the thing wasn’t all that hard. Learning the codes was tougher. I never did much good at all that ciphering and writing, as you can imagine.
To make a long story short, I survived the war—obviously. Poor Reginald didn’t. Took a sniper’s bullet in the final days as we were marching into Germany. I got him to the field hospital, but it was too late. By then he barely had the strength to grab my hand and say, “Percival, you live through this, you go and make something of yourself.”