How It Began.
In September 1939 the Clitheroe Territorials had received orders to join their battalion, the East Lancashire Regiment in northern France. Nineteen year old Lance Corporal Billy Lakin and his mates were excited to be leaving their jobs in the cotton mills to reinforce the Maginot Line.
In May the following year, Germany invaded France, forcing the allied positions to retreat to the Dunkirk beaches for evacuation. Lance Corporal Billy Lakin and his regiment, walked across France pursued by the Nazi advance, only to find themselves trapped on the beaches of Dunkirk. Eventually, Billy and the survivors of the East Lancashire Regiment were evacuated to England.
Map Showing the Allies Defensive Maginot Line, Named After French Minister of War, Andre Maginot.
On returning to Clitheroe, Billy, at the age of nineteen, was promoted to full corporal at the same time his good mate, John Grimes, seventeen years old, joined the regiment.
Billy promised John’s parents that he would look after their son and in 1941 the East Lancashire Regiment was posted to Crete.
German Paratroopers Landing on Crete.
On the 20th May 1941 the German invasion of Crete began.
Corporal Lakin and Private Grimes were manning a Bren gun position when advancing German troops approached the allied defences.
British Soldiers In a Defensive Position With a Bren Machine Gun WW11.
The unit, dug in shallow trenches came under mortar fire, and then heard a sound every soldier feared, the ‘whoosh’ of a flame flower. Billy told John to take cover behind a truck and as he dashed across open ground, John was hit by sniper fire. His mate rushed to his aide and saw he had been shot in the forehead.
John was dead.
The rest of the unit were captured and transported to Poland as prisoners of war. Billy, wracked with guilt, blamed himself for John’s death.
In 1945 Billy finally returned to Clitheroe, having survived six years of unimaginable horror, four years of them in a P.O.W. camp. While a prisoner and through the Red Cross, he had sent a number of letters to John’s parents, asking for their forgiveness.
He met John’s parents to tell them how their son had died, but could not look Mr. and Mrs. Grimes in the face. They bore no malice whatsoever towards Billy.
Christmas Eve 1968.
Every day since 1941, he had thought of his mates death, still blaming himself, unable to shake off the guilt he had carried for over twenty seven years.
On Christmas Eve in 1968, Billy made his way to his old T. A. hall to watch the Clitheroe amateur operatic societies festive play.
Clitheroe Town and Castle.
He was the last to leave, lingering, smoking a cigarette, looking at the front of the building and thinking of those happy days in the Clitheroe Territorials so long ago. As he turned to walk down ‘Paradise Lane’, an alleyway leading to York Road, he heard a whisper, “Billy, Billy”.
He turned and standing a few feet behind him was a young man in a British Army uniform. It was John Grimes.
John was smiling and said, “Billy, don’t worry about me mate. I am fine. Don’t worry”
Billy froze as he realised he was looking at the ghost of John Grimes. His legs buckled, and dropping to his knees on the damp cobblestones, he sobbed uncontrollably, releasing decades of remorse.
The apparition raised an arm and repeated, ” Billy, I am fine. Please don’t worry about me”.
The ghost of John Grimes gave another smile at his old mate, waved a final goodbye and blended into the night.
Billy slowly got to his feet, tears streaming down his face. Too traumatised by what he had just experienced, he ignored the happy revellers wishing him a Merry Christmas. On arriving at home, he went straight to bed and fell into a deep sleep, the sort of sleep he had not had for years.
Early Christmas Day morning, Billy was awoken by the bells of Saint James’, Saint Mary’s and Saint Peter’s churches, joyously announcing that the special day of the year had arrived. He got out of bed and strangely felt at peace. He looked at his reflection in the bathroom mirror and for the first time since 1941, smiled at himself.
A great weight had been lifted from him.
Billy could start to love life once again.
“Thank you John, and happy Christmas, wherever you are”.
This story, originally titled ‘Ghost Soldier’ was taken from ‘Ghostly Tales of the Unexpected’ by Simon Entwistle 2014 and is available on Amazon.
Merry Christmas, and hoping Santa brings everything you wished for!
Thanks for looking at Horrorboundbooks and see you in 2020!
For additional Lancashire stories of mystery and the supernatural, there are many more on this blog.
Photographs courtesy of Google Images.