Halfway through the Russian Course, I had been introduced to a young lady by a fellow officer on our course at a party in the North Luffenham Officers Mess. I’ll refer to the lady as Veronica to protect her real name. I was told in advance that she was the widow of an officer who had been killed in a flying accident about 18 months before I met her and she had a little boy about two years old. What I did not know was that she herself already knew quite a lot about my background and had asked to be invited to the party especially to meet me – which was a bit sneaky. After subsequent meetings, during which I met her little boy several times and got on with him very well, I asked Veronica to marry me - and she agreed. Veronica was a strict Catholic and I had to go through a number of sessions with her local priest during which I had to agree to bring up the two-year-old boy from her previous marriage “in the faith”.
There were two crucial events in quick succession in the weeks before the wedding. It dawned on me, through hints from Veronica, that although I didn’t know, and had never met, her first husband, I had been a member of the five-man court-martial convened to try the captain of the aircraft that had crashed and killed him. The captain, who had safely ejected from the doomed aircraft, was charged with mishandling an in-flight emergency and thereby causing the loss of the aircraft, and the death of several members of his crew and some also civilians on the ground. We, the Court, acquitted the captain of the charge for reasons that, even now, I cannot reveal because they are privileged – as all court-martial decisions are.
The next crucial event was only two or three weeks before the wedding when Veronica told me that she had been ‘talking’ to her late husband when we had been in bed together and, for the very first time, she told me the connection between me and him. Her late-husband wanted me to know, Veronica said, that he forgave me for being a member of the Court Martial that had acquitted his captain of any wrong, and he approved of me – and my wedding to his widow. I found that very worrying. I told her that I did not believe in messages from the dead and asked her not to do it again, but she did, two or three days later – on the very day her little boy, whom I adored, called me “Daddy” for the very first time. There was no way I could live with a dead husband watching over me and approving or disapproving of my every action. For the little boy’s benefit, I decided that the break had to be immediate and irrevocable. I left the house immediately and never returned. I have no idea what happened to Veronica but I think of that little boy every single day and I still have all the happy photographs I took of him.
told me, once they learned that the wedding was off, that Veronica had known,
even before being invited to that party in the Officers Mess, that I had been a
member of that court-martial. Veronica, they told me, thought that the decision
to acquit the captain had been utterly wrong and she had, allegedly,
persistently and vehemently harangued the RAF (the Squadron, Station and the
MoD) about the injustice she believed had been done to her husband and all
those killed in the crash. She had traced me through RAF sources, apparently. My
friends told me that they had anguished for weeks over whether to tell me, but
in the end had decided not to. I must admit that in their position I would
probably have done the same; you interfere in a friend’s love life at your
To recuperate from my glandular fever, my double hernia operation, and the cancelled wedding, I was granted 14 days compassionate leave - and I certainly needed it! I decided to get away for a complete rest without telling anyone where I was going. Very early in the morning, I set off up the A1 from North Luffenham and, apart from several refuelling stops, continued driving until, 600 miles later, I ended up in the Royal Hotel Thurso. That was almost as far as I could go without actually leaving the UK.
A few days later, I crossed The Minch on a MacBrayne Ferry from Ullapool on the mainland to Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis. I stayed a couple of days and nights in the splendid Caberfeidh Hotel in Stornoway. I then continued south from island to island, hopping on and off ferries, until I eventually came to rest in Lochmaddy on the island of North Uist.
Before breakfast one morning, the cleaning lady came into my room in the Lochmaddy Hotel and caught me sitting on the bed, wearing only my underpants, with headphones on and spouting Russian into a hand microphone connected to equipment in my half open attaché case. The room maid looked both flustered and suspicious. She insisted that she'd knocked twice before entering, then muttered that she would return later, and departed. The equipment was actually nothing more suspicious than my portable tape cassette recorder and the Linguaphone Russian tapes. I had decided that while I was on leave I would try and catch up on Russian lessons I had missed in recent weeks. Remember: there was still a Cold War with the Soviet Union on-going at that time and anything Russian was suspicious. I heard nothing more about that incident but, as it happens, I had already decided to move on that day to South Uist. I set off as soon as I had dressed and paid my bill; one might suppose that was indecent haste.
On my way south from Lochmaddy I had to cross the large island of Benbecula which lies between North and South Uist. I knew that there was an important RAF air defence radar station somewhere on the island but I had absolutely no wish to meet the RAF while I was on compassionate leave, so I gave the station a wide berth and continued my drive south on empty roads. It was a beautiful summer day and, for the first time in many weeks, I was feeling both mentally and physically fit and I was at peace with the world.