Chapter 1 - 15 February 1952, 0930 hrs

The dull thud of a loud explosion roiled through the frigid air and echoed across the sky. It was immediately followed by the hollow-sounding gong of Big Ben marking the half hour. Five year old Robbie jumped in surprise as he sat astride his father's shoulders, so as better to see the pageant soon to be parading past. He reached down and tilted his father's face up to his.

"Da I'm scared!"

"Nothin' to be scared of son. That's just the guns soundin'."

"Why da?"

"They sound the guns once for each year of the King's life. They'll be firin' 56 times before it's all said and done."

Robbie released his grip and fidgeted mightily, trying to get a better look at all the activity swirling about them. He didn't see the expression of aching sadness that briefly passed over his father's face. Me own da would've been 56 this year. Thankfully, his gloomy thoughts were soon distracted by a small hand beating excitedly against the side of his head.

"Look da! Look! So many horsies! What's that?"

"That there's the Life Guards Robbie," patiently replied his father, Peter Newkirk, formerly on the King's service in the RAF during the late war. He stood one deep from the curb in the midst of one of the largest crowds ever seen in London, resplendent in his Warrant Officer's dress uniform. Just prior to his release from Stalag 13, he had been quite surprised to find that he had received field promotion in recognition of his services.

The weather was typical for February; gray, cold and misty. It struck the appropriate chord of sorrow for the entire nation. The mournful dirges of the bands could be heard approaching in the distance as the long, grand cortege began to wend its way through London from Westminster Hall, on its way to Paddington Station.

Peter lightly swatted his son on the leg to get his attention. "Pull yer coat tight round ya and button it up, boy. I don't need to be bringing ya back 'ome to yer mum with a cold. She'll 'ave me 'ead on a platter!"

Robbie did as he was told and chattered incessantly all the while, ending with "Da why didn't mum come with us?"

"I told you son. She's stayin' 'ome with your new baby brother, remember? He's a little too young to be out in this weather. I 'ad the devil's own time convincin' 'er to let you come with me as it was!" Cor, she barely let me come! She worries too much. Good job she doesn't know what we were up to during the war. He tightened his own thick wool muffler about his neck and then tugged on his son's foot. "'ey, I want you to remember to tell young Andrew all about this day when 'e's older, do ya 'ear me?"

Robbie nodded, a serious expression on his chubby face. "Yes da."

Peter looked round. "Wonder where yer Aunt Mavis is? She's gonna be missin' the cortege!"

"I see her da!" Robbie began waving furiously. "Auntie Mave! Here we are!"

Mavis pushed through the crowd, arriving breathlessly at Peter's side. He turned to her, clearly frustrated. "Blimey Mave! Thought you'd be 'ere earlier! You almost missed everythin'!"

"Belt up brother! Lost track o'time visitin' with Jo and yer new little one I did. What a lil' darlin'!"

Peter grinned back at Mavis. "Yer right about that Mave. Just like this 'un up on me shoulders, eh?" He tossed his head towards his squirming first born.

"Oh yes indeed. 'ow is my Robbie boy doin'?" She reached up to gently pinch Robbie's cheek. He giggled and waved at her. She laughed softly and nudged Peter's arm. "Fatherhood's becomin' to ya Peter. I never woulda thought it."

Peter's eyes turned serious, "Me neither Mave. Me neither." He had seriously thought about making a career out of the military but had been forced to leave the RAF with an honorable discharge due to poor health. He had come down with a severe bout of pneumonia right before Stalag 13 was liberated. Truth be told, he nearly died. He still wasn't sure how he managed to survive. Surely Wilson's tireless ministrations, LeBeau's hot, nourishing broth, Baker's endless communications with London and the Underground, Carter's anxious care and the grace of God all had a hand in it, though not necessarily in that order. Colonel Hogan had called in all his favors to have him priority evacuated back to England. After two months in hospital he finally recovered enough to be released, but his lungs were never the same. He was discharged and declared 30% disabled as a result of overseas service. The only real plus to the entire ordeal was Josephine, the pretty young nurse he had met, courted and married. She was the light of his life and the doting mother of his two fine lads.

Compared to his own father, Peter had gotten a late start on parenthood. Here he was, nearly 37 years old, with a newborn and a five year old. He was approaching 30 when the war ended, 31 when he married Jo, and 32 when Robbie was born. He distinctly remembered bursting into uncontrolled, joyous tears when he held Robbie for the first time. Come to think of it, he'd done the exact same thing with Andrew not two months earlier. He shook his head at the wonder of it all.

"Penny for yer thoughts Peter." Mavis had a mischievous twinkle in her eyes.

"I was jus' thinkin' 'ow lucky I am Mave. 'ow lucky I was to survive the war, to make some fine mates durin' me time in camp, to be able to come back 'ome, to find a wonderful lass like Jo and to have two fine sons. 'ow lucky I am to 'ave a second chance." He spoke softly, as if talking to himself. He looked over and grinned at her. "Oh yeah, also to 'ave a sister who loves me, eh?"

Mavis smiled and gazed fondly at her brother. He was quite a different man for the better since the war ended. She often wondered what had happened to transform the angry, reckless, disrespectful lad who had constantly tempted fate and flouted the law into the stable, mature, serious family man who now stood beside her. She leaned over to kiss him gently on the cheek. "Yer a good man brother. A good man."

Robbie interrupted, "Da! Look!"

The steadily increasing volume of the dirges heralded the approach of the funeral procession. Peter leaned in towards Mavis. "Mave, would you be a love and take Robbie please?" He spoke softly up to his son, "Robbie, daddy needs to 'and you over to yer Auntie okay?"

"Okay da."

Peter shrugged Robbie off his shoulders and Mavis took him in her arms, holding him high enough so he could still see. Peter put his uniform in order, straightened his hat and came to full attention. As the gun carriage bearing the King's body passed within sight, he snapped to in a perfect salute and held it. This is for you, Your 'ighness, for your service and sacrifice. This is for all the lads who didn't come back. And this is for you, da. I'm proud of ya, wherever ya are. Sudden moisture in his eyes blurred his vision. Peter had long ago made his peace in his heart with his father. He remembered it like it was yesterday.