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Authors: Peter Watt

And Fire Falls

BOOK: And Fire Falls
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About
And Fire Falls

It is 1942 and the war in the Pacific is on Australia’s doorstep, changing the lives of the Duffy and Macintosh families as never before.

In Sydney, siblings Donald and Sarah Macintosh battle for their father’s approval, and control of his empire, while their cousin David fights the enemy across the continents.

US Marine Pilot James Duffy defies his grandfather’s wishes, and, a number of times, death, protecting Australian skies from the Japanese. Trapped in the jungles of Malaya, Diane Duffy is caught between saving the lives of hundreds of orphaned children, or that of her son.

While Tom Duffy finds himself enlisting in yet another world war, his daughter Jessica narrowly escapes slaughter at a mission station, causing her to revoke her vows and follow in her father’s footsteps.

Nearly a century after an Aboriginal curse forever tied these two families together, and amidst the most devastating conflict in history, the Duffys and Macintoshes will find a way to endure . . . and perhaps even thrive.

For Naomi

Who has always been there for me.

With all my love.

Prologue

December 8, 1941

‘M
en and women of Australia, we are at war with Japan. That has happened because, in the first instance, Japanese naval and air forces launched an unprovoked attack on British and United States territory; because our vital interests are imperilled and because the rights of free people in the whole Pacific are assailed. As a result, the Australian Government this afternoon took the necessary steps which will mean that a state of war exists between Australia and Japan. Tomorrow, in common with the United Kingdom, the United States of America and the Netherlands East Indies governments, the Australian Government will formally and solemnly declare the state of war it has striven so sincerely and strenuously to avoid.

Throughout the whole affair, and despite discouragement, the Australian Government and its representatives abroad struggled hard to prevent a breakdown of discussions. Australia encouraged the United States to retain the diplomatic initiative on behalf of the democratic powers. We did not want war in the Pacific. The Australian Government has repeatedly made it clear – as have the governments of the United Kingdom, the United States and the Netherlands East Indies – that if war came to the Pacific it would be of Japan’s making . . .’

Donald Macintosh stood with his head bent towards the polished wooden cabinet that housed the radio set. The Australian Prime Minister finished his historic announcement and the commentators began their analysis. Donald switched off the radio and stared for a moment out of the library window.

‘Did you hear Curtin’s speech?’ Sarah asked anxiously from the open doorway. His sister looked ashen-faced and he could see she was trembling. ‘Will the Japanese bomb Sydney tonight?’

Donald
slumped into a big leather chair. He was in need of a stiff drink. ‘I doubt it. From what I’ve heard they’re still way up north, and their attack on the Yanks at Pearl Harbor will mean that the Americans will send forces to help us repel the Japs before they reach Australia. No doubt Mr Churchill will be celebrating now that the Americans are sure to enter the war. You can rest assured that we are safe, for now.’

‘Do you think David will be returned to Australia now that we are at war with Japan?’ Sarah asked.

Donald felt a twinge of envy. His cousin David was serving with an Australian infantry battalion in Syria. Donald had tried to enlist, but his role in industry was deemed too important for him to serve in the armed forces. He suspected his enlistment had been blocked by his father, Sir George Macintosh. His illness had placed him on the sidelines of his own financial empire but he still held enough power and influence to control his son’s future. As a result, Donald had spent the last two years of the war against Germany and her allies negotiating contracts with the government rather than doing what he saw as his duty, which was fighting for his country, and his work had proved him to be an astute businessman that had pleased his controlling father

‘I doubt that David will be sent home any time soon,’ Donald answered. He knew his sister had a crush on David. For some bizarre reason she seemed to think he was the reincarnation of an obscure ancestor of theirs called Michael Duffy. Perhaps she was as crazy as their father. ‘Churchill will need our divisions in North Africa to fight Rommel’s mob, and I doubt that Curtin will have the guts to insist they come home instead.’

Sarah nodded – he could see she was disappointed – and turned away. Donald rummaged through the cocktail cabinet for a bottle of good Scotch. He poured himself a large drink in a crystal tumbler and resumed his leather chair. His thoughts were not on the consequences of these recent developments in the war on those fighting, but on how this new and perilous situation with Japan might affect the fortunes of the family companies. He had to concede that he was more like his father than he cared to admit.

*

In Syria, Lieutenant David Macintosh was thinking about how warm it would be back home under the sun of an Australian summer. The weather was freezing here and already the mountains were capped with snow. There was information that a German blitzkrieg was on its way and his platoon were building defences. Explosives were being used to blast trenches and bunkers out of the hillside, while his men worked with picks and shovels to clear away the blasted rock. They looked none too happy about it and David wondered how he could make their job easier. Nothing he could do about the cold, though.

He stamped his feet on the hard earth to keep them from freezing and blew hot air into his gloved hands.

‘Heard the news, old boy?’ came a voice from behind him. David turned to see a fellow platoon commander struggling up the hill to his side.

‘What?’ David countered. ‘Santa Claus can’t make it through the German flak to deliver us beer and women?’

Lieutenant John Dulley smiled tightly. ‘The Japs have attacked in the Pacific. They bombed the Yanks at Pearl Harbor and are attacking Hong Kong, Malaya and the Philippines. We have a new enemy on the other side of the world. Maybe we might get out of this bloody cold and go home.’

‘Strange to think that the Japanese were our allies in the last war,’ David mused. ‘But it would be good to get away from this Godforsaken bit of land and fight where it’s warmer.’

‘Got to go and find my sergeant,’ Dulley said, thrusting his gloved hands in the pockets of his greatcoat. He stamped away, leaving David to reflect on this terrible development in a war they seemed to be losing against the might of Germany’s forces. Here he was fighting Frenchmen of the Vichy army when he still had fond memories of his days in Paris back in 1936 before he’d left to fight against Franco’s Nationalists in the Spanish Civil War. Truth was, he had been fighting for almost six years, with only a short break before he enlisted in the Australian Army two years ago. David knew that he was fortunate to be commissioned as his record of service with the Communist International Brigades was known to the Australian government. Only the influence of his patron, Sean Duffy, a well-known Sydney solicitor and former decorated army officer of the Great War, had made the commission possible.

At the start of the year David had led his platoon against the Italians at Bardia in North Africa, and since then had fought in the disastrous Greek campaign against the German Army. Now he found himself fighting Frenchmen allied to Hitler. International politics was a funny thing, David mused as one of the sappers warned of another charge to be detonated.

He lay down on the hard cold earth as the explosion rocked the ground. Maybe he would find himself fighting against the Japanese in Asia next. Would there be anyone left he had not fired upon in his young life?

*

First Lieutenant James Duffy drove his series 90 Cadillac V16 sports car like he flew his fighter plane – fast. The road was slippery with ice as he manoeuvred between the rows of tall bare trees up the driveway of his grandfather’s grand mansion in New Hampshire.

James was in his early-twenties and a commissioned officer in the United States Marine Corp air force unit stationed at Quantico, Virginia. He loved flying, as had his father, Matthew Duffy. Both James’s parents were dead, and he and his twin sister had been raised by their maternal grandfather, James Barrington Snr. James, much to his grandfather’s consternation, had adopted his father’s family name and was now known as a Duffy rather than a Barrington.

Christmas was not far away and James had been granted leave to return home to enjoy eggnog, logs burning in the huge fireplace in the living room, and the bevy of beautiful debutantes who would be paraded before him by their wealthy families this Yuletide season.

He slid the sports car to a halt in front of the imposing steps that led to the grand front entrance and jumped out. His twin sister, Olivia, ran down the steps and hugged him tight. The sun was going down through a grey sky that promised a heavy snowfall.

‘James, have you heard the news?’ she gasped.

‘What news?’ James countered. ‘I’ve been on the road for the last eight hours.’

‘The Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor. Mr Roosevelt is sure to announce that we are at war at any moment,’ Olivia exclaimed.

James was shocked. He had many friends at the Ewa base on the island of Oahu just seventeen miles west of Pearl Harbor, and he had been there on flight exercises last year. He tried to imagine the tranquil tropical island ravaged by bombs, but somehow he could not quite believe in it. It seemed impossible.

‘Oh, dear,’ Olivia said. ‘Does that mean the army will cancel your leave for Christmas?’ she asked.

‘I keep telling you, sis, that I am not in the army. I am a marine,’ James said, correcting his twin. ‘The army is full of knuckle-dragging losers. Anyway, how is Grandfather?’

‘He’s well, and even if he doesn’t express his pleasure at your visit, I know he’s looking forward to seeing you,’ Olivia said, leading her brother up the steps where they were met by the valet, an old black man dressed in a dark suit.

‘Good evening, Lieutenant Barrington,’ he said. James did not correct the old man – he had resigned himself to being a Barrington under his grandfather’s roof. ‘Do you have any luggage?’

‘I have a sea bag in the car, Ronald,’ James answered. ‘How are you?’

‘Very well, Mr Barrington,’ the manservant answered dutifully, bracing himself against the weather to retrieve James’s luggage. ‘I will take your bag up to your room.’

James nodded and stepped inside the great house. Immediately the winter cold dissipated. Olivia took his hand and led him into the vast living room where James Barrington Snr stood by a fireplace warming his hands. He turned when Olivia called to him and for a brief moment a smile seemed to flash across his face at the sight of his only grandson wearing the uniform of a marine pilot.

‘How are you, sir?’ James asked, walking briskly to shake his grandfather’s extended hand. James Barrington Snr was entering his seventies but he still stood ramrod straight, a tall, patrician-looking man with thick silver hair.

‘I am well and I suppose you have already heard the news about the goddamned Japanese,’ he said, releasing his strong grip on James’s hand. ‘I suppose they will cancel your leave.’

‘I guess they will,’ James answered, gazing into the flickering flames of the fire. ‘I only heard the news when Olivia told me, but it was not unexpected. We’ve been on alert for some months now over Japanese intentions in the Pacific. But I thought they would make a declaration before they started bombing Pearl Harbor.’

‘Both your sister and I feel that you should take a job in Washington,’ Barrington said, bypassing any chitchat. He was a man who had made his fortune in banking with a no-nonsense New England approach to business. During the Great Depression Barrington enterprises had purchased properties and businesses being sold for next to nothing by overstretched entrepreneurs. The Depression had eased and the investments were beginning to pay. ‘You have the experience to work on one of the vital war committees advising Mr Roosevelt. In fact, I discussed the matter with him last month when I was in Washington.’

‘I’m a flyer, Grandfather, just as my father was,’ James said quietly. ‘I wouldn’t be happy working a desk in Washington when my buddies were risking their lives in the skies over the Pacific.’

‘The country will recruit thousands of pilots,’ Barrington snapped, ‘but I have only one grandson to inherit everything that I have built up. If you go off to war, there’s a good chance you will be killed.’

‘Grandfather,’ Olivia broke in gently, ‘I think we should let James thaw out and have dinner before we discuss his future.’

‘Very well,’ Barrington replied gruffly. ‘It’s good to have
you home for the holidays, James. I have a case of good
Kentucky bourbon for us to try after dinner. We can talk then.

James shrugged. As far as he was concerned, the matter was not up for discussion. He was determined to return to his unit for deployment overseas to fight as his father, Captain Matthew Duffy, had two decades earlier. He thought for a moment about his stepmother. She was a wonderful lady who had married his father only days before his death. The last James had heard from her was a letter from Singapore weeks ago. He needed to find a radio and glean as much as he could about the Japanese attack in the Pacific. God forbid that his stepmother and her four-year-old son, his half-brother, were caught up in the war. The thought horrified him.

*

Diane Duffy did not have to listen to the radio to know that the Japanese imperial forces were attacking Allied-held territories in the Pacific. She was hugging the concrete of the British Royal Air Force airfield on the island of Singapore as Japanese aircraft rained bombs down all around her.

Air raid sirens were screaming their banshee wail and Diane could feel the gut-wrenching blasts shake the earth beneath her. She could hardly believe this was happening to her. She had only come to the airstrip to pick up a part for one of her aeroplanes and now she found herself out in the open, without any shelter from the terrifying bombardment. Each explosion sent debris flying, and Diane was sure that if a direct hit didn’t kill her, the debris would.

Eventually the bombing stopped and Diane struggled to her feet. Above the loud ringing in her ears she could hear the moans and screams of the wounded, and she could smell the acrid odour of burning aircraft.

Diane stumbled towards her small truck, which she had parked not far from a hangar that housed a mechanics workshop. The whole building was alight now, but thankfully her truck was still intact. She stumbled past smoking chunks of shrapnel and wondered how she had survived in the open. She knew that other people hadn’t been so lucky, and some of the injured would need help, but right now only one thing mattered to her – the safety of her son. Patrick was staying with her old Canadian engineer, Cyril, and his family in the countryside north of Singapore. ‘Please God, let my boy be safe,’ she begged over and over.

Driving through the streets of the city she could see that bombs had exploded amongst the innocent. Human body parts were scattered everywhere, and badly wounded Chinese and Malay residents staggered around in a daze. Diane started praying harder. ‘Please God, let Patrick be safe.’

BOOK: And Fire Falls
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