Belfast Ireland, April 1941
April 15, 1941.
Colin—Eat now—You’re too skinny; eat it all. Sean knew the boy was being starved by the damned orphanage. He worked on a fishing boat at the Belfast docks after the priest at the orphanage hired him out two years ago into forced child labor to line the priest’s pocket.
Sean called it his Tuesday ritual, bringing food to share with his brother in defiance against the church he hated.
“What have they been teaching you now? I see you have a book, Colin? You said last week you were reading in class?” He knew his brother was frightened; if caught outside the institution, he would be severely punished by the queer priest. He wanted to get him talking to calm his nervousness so he would eat more.
“Well, I read well. This is an encyclopedia, in order of the alphabet. Everything you want to know starting with the letter—A. I am not supposed to take it out of the library. I hope they don’t miss it. I replaced it? Father Murphy’s punishment for stealing is he beats you when you’re naked in front of everybody.”
“Damn! He is the worst of the queers,” Sean said to himself. Colin was small for fourteen years and good-looking, almost like a girl, with an elf-like face and curly black hair. Unlike Sean’s red hair and broad shoulders from working since he was Colin’s age. If your looks please the clergy, you stayed on at the orphanage, but a slave of the worst kind.
Shit, I need to get the kid out of here, but how? They were sitting in the cemetery on consecrated church grounds, another defiant gesture by Sean, knowing they did not bury his mother in a churchyard. Both boys were forced into an orphanage by the church. They took mother and baby to a church-run Mother’s Home, a laundry workhouse where women were sent for various reasons, including for having a child outside of marriage.
Sean knew his baby sister had died in the unsanitary church-run hell hole. And his mother from overworked with little food and beatings!
The city’s upper class hushed it up, knowing the church benefited from the forced labor.
Sean was sure that Father Murphy would sell Colin as an indentured slave after he used him for sex and to protect himself.
He reached into a sack for the bread Captain Cory gave him for the boy. Told him to feed Colin every Tuesday when the priest got drunk at The Lions pub by the docks. Close to the rectory so they could stagger home. But now, with the war, the British were crowding the pubs. The Royal Navy used the port of Belfast as a base to escort across the Atlantic British and Russian convoys protecting them from German U-boats.
“Here, now eat this bread; you can take some back, but hide it!”
It wasn’t long before both boys fell asleep after eating. Sean, because of a long day working and Colin, knowing his big brother was close by protecting him, Colin dozed off first with his head on Sean’s shoulder.
Both woke with a start!
“Thunder? What the hell was that?”
The ground shook when Sean stood, reaching out his hand and pulling Colin to his feet as another deafening explosion happened! Chunks of the building across from them fell into the cemetery.
“Run!”—Colin shouted, pulling Sean in the other direction to escape the falling wall! They came out onto the street; buildings were bursting apart, flying pieces of shattered windows, and fires popped up around them!
The boys knew it was another German bombing like the last one, but this was worse!
“Harbor, Run!”—This time, Sean was in the lead, dodging and shoving as people ran to escape their burning homes! He turned down another narrow street leading to the wharf. The fish trading house was in flames as they ran past. An old lady was lying on the dock in front of them. Sean jumped over the body, but Colin stopped to help her. Sean grabbed him just as another bomb hit a building, shattering the dock and throwing them into the water!
Sean pushed a plank toward Colin. “Grab on!”
He pulled Colin along as he swam toward a boat. “Colin, throw that damn book away!”
Colin held his soggy encyclopedia on top of his head to protect himself from flying debris. Sean kicked harder, staying under the docks, away from the explosions. Hopefully, his boat was just ahead in the darkness, but he was unsure if it was still there? Would Captain Cory take her out to sea to escape the fires?
“Sean, is that your boat?”
Sean could see his fishing trawler bobbing in the waves in the light from the fires. “Still afloat!” Sean looked back to check on Colin. He was holding on with one hand. The other held his book on top of his head.
They both kicked harder to get aboard! Fires started at the water’s surface, spreading fast, fueled by sinking ships.
A line was hanging down once tied to the missing dock. Sean grabbed it just as a lifeboat almost fell on top of them.
“Get aboard quick! She’s going to blow!” A woman’s voice yelled from above.
Sean hauled himself aboard before pulling Colin up.
“Here, help me with my dad,” the woman above held a man against her chest, trying to lift his feet over the stern.
“It’s Captain Cory!” Sean reached up, wrapping his arms around the legs as she lowered him. Colin tried to hold the dory from banging into the trawler as Sean gently rested his captain between the seats; he could see the blood seeping through one side of his shirt.
“Catch this!” she threw a bag to Collin and then another to Sean. The woman followed the bags, coming down a rope.
“Get us the hell out here!”
Sean pulled on the cord, starting the outboard, and maneuvered around the trawler with Colin’s help, pushing off with an oar.
Sean turned. The entire city was ablaze and still exploding from bombs dropping from unseen aircraft. “Where are the rest of the crew in the pub?”
The smoke lifted some by the offshore winds. The wharf pub was gone, and the rest of the wharf was in shambles. Another bomb hit, lighting up the night sky!
Sean had driven the dory many times, but never under such conditions as this, he thought as he maneuvered past sinking and burning crafts. Colin was by his side, holding his wet book over his head, watching the woman trying to look after her father in the rocking boat.
“Damn, that was close,” she said, pulling off her baseball cap and shaking off the soot, looking back as their burning fishing trawler burst into a fireball!
When she pulled off her hat, Sean could see it was Molly, Captain Cory’s daughter.
“Oh shit, he’s bleeding worse. Go to Helen’s Bay; it’s around the bend to the South.” She held her hand on the bandage to compress the wound. “Do you know it?” She shouted over the explosions.
Sean dodged a fiery floating piece of a sinking ship, shouting back. Flames were all around them! “Yes, Molly, your dad’s ship!”
“You! Molly handed a blanket to Collin. Wet it. We can all get under it and cover my dad until we’re clear of the falling hot ash.”