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pure random luck

I heard this story in 1980, from Doug Gwinnel. He was the gardener at a hospital where I was working as a porter. He’d been a soldier, a gunner, in World War II, in North Africa. I don’t remember the name of his regiment, or where or when precisely this story took place, or who was shooting at him. What I do remember is this.

Doug was driving a truck through the desert. There was another man in the cab with him. They were rolling along all alone when they noticed a plane in the sky up above them, circling. A moment later, it dived down for a closer look. When it leveled out and came towards them, both men realized it was the enemy and that the pilot was going to open fire. They flung open the doors and dived into the sand for cover.

The plane strafed the truck but didn’t hit it, or Doug or his mate. So it banked and came back in for a second run. That was when something snapped in Doug. Suddenly furious, caution completely forgotten, he ran to the truck, grabbed his rifle and began shooting back.

The pilot opened fire again and Doug saw bullets smacking into the ground ahead, kicking up fountains of sand as they came straight at him. At the last moment, he dropped flat on his stomach. the plane roared overhead, banked and flew away. It still hadn’t hit the truck, but it didn’t return for a third attempt. it kept going, away and over the horizon.

Doug was convinced he’d been hit. He had to have been hit. He jumped up, tore off all his clothes and stood naked on the sand searching every inch of his body for bullet wounds. But he was unmarked. He didn’t have so much of a scratch. When he calmed down and examined the tracks left by the cannon shells, he discovered something even more startling.

They’d stopped a foot or so in front of his outstretched body, then continued a foot beyond his boots. He’d been missed by inches. But what left him and his mate shaking their heads in disbelief was knowing that the pilot couldn’t have done that deliberately. He’d simply lifted his thumb off the trigger for a second, a split-second, and that split-second just happened to have coincided with where Doug was lying on the sand.

Nothing more.

Nothing less.

Just one little stroke of pure, random luck.

© Nick Garlick 2017