A strange experience

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Booksie Classic

A strange experience which took place over forty years ago. Basically true but content embellished into a short story

A Strange Experience

After completing my teacher training I applied for a job in a village school in Lincolnshire. It seemed I was just the person the head teacher was looking for and a job at the school was mine, teaching a class of ten year olds.

The school buildings were in a shocking state. They had been adapted from a wartime RAF officers' mess, to house twelve classes of children, aged from five to eleven. The floors were bitumen, the walls single brick and the roof was asbestos. They were temporary buildings hastily put up for wartime use as part of an RAF bomber station and were still being used nearly twenty years later.

My classroom had been part of the officers’ day room, where the officers could sit and read, or write letters while relaxing. It was not hard to imagine a room full of young men lounging around, trying to relax between operarions, but now the room housed a class of forty young boys and girls. Although it was cold in the winter and hot in the summer and leaks in the roof often left puddles of water on the floor, I enjoyed being there and felt at ease with its history.

From the first day strange things would happen. The classroom door that was firmly closed would suddenly open. Then the same door that was wedged open would suddenly close. Sometimes it would stick or you could not turn the knob to open it. A window would shake and rattle as if an explosion had just taken place and dust would drop from the ceiling on to the heads of the children. I soon got used to these funny and sometimes strange occurrences but the children would say “It’s only the Sibston Ghost Mr. Baxter” and we would all laugh.

In the summer there would frequently be a knock at the classroom door and the head would come in with a visitor. “Hope we are not disturbing you Mr. Baxter, but Mr. Jones was stationed here during the war and has just come to look at the old place.” Invariably all the visitors would claim to have sat in an armchair in the sunniest part of the room, trying to relax between operations. The station had had personnel from all over the commonwealth so the visitors would be from Australia, New Zealand or South Africa and occasionally Canada, as well as Great Britain. We even had someone visit usfrom the USA who had joined the RAF before transferring to the USAAF.

All of them had tales to tell about their experiences at Sibston in the war years. There was the New Zealand rain god that sat on the mantelpiece, above the fireplacein the mess, who always had to have the first pint of beer in the evening poured over him to keep him wet; so that he might make it rain and operations would be cancelled. There was the story about the day the showers were set on fire when 120 octane petrol had been used to fire the boiler heating the water. All the memories were fondly recounted but you could also feel the sadness that went with their tours of the buildings as they remembered old colleagues who were no longer with them.

Quite a lot of furniture had been left by the RAF, especially tables and chairs. There was also a portable stage and lighting equipment that the school used in its Christmas productions. While the equipment was supposed to be portable it took a number of beefy parents along with the caretaker and myself to erect the stage, while the head stood well back and directed operations.

It always seemed to fall on me to put up the lights. The first Christmas that I was at the school the head said to me “John, you any good with the electrics, the lights need putting up?” And that was it, the job was mine. I would go into the school the weekend before the concert was due to take place and see to them.

On this particular Saturday in mid December after two or three years at the school, I arrived there in the early afternoon. It was a cold winter’s day, frosty and with a threat of fog in the air for later. I went to the hall which had been the officers’ dining room where the concert was to be held. It was a long room, capable of seating all the parents, grand parents and older brothers and sisters who wanted to see this year’s performance. I had no fears or qualms about being in the school on my own in spite of the funny goings on and quickly assembled everything I needed. This year there was going to be much more movement from the children in their Nativity play, so some of the lights needed to be mobile. The head had suggested I put a bracket in the ceiling so the spotlights could be mounted on it. I decided a batten of wood fixed there would support them, so two six inch nails should do the trick I thought and went to get the step ladder. Everything was quiet as I left the hall but when I went into the cupboard where the steps were kept, I thought I heard noises coming from the hall. I went back with the steps and everything was just as it had been before I left. Putting the noises down to my imagination.I climbed up the steps and started hitting one ofthe nails into the wood. All of a sudden there was a noise that sounded like an echo. I thought it was coming from my hammer blows but when I stopped the noise carried on. Heart thumping I came down the steps and moved gingerly towards the sound. I went down a corridor to the classrooms and realised the noise was coming from my room, along with the sound of voices.

“If that is some of those lads from the village messing about, then they’re for it,” I said to myself and grabbed hold of the doorknob. It would not budge and then I realised the knocking was someonebanging his fist on the wall and the voices were now very loud as two people were shouting at each other.

“I can’t do it, I can’t,” a voice shouted.

“You’ve no choice, you’ve got to,” another voice answered firmly.

“I can’t, I can’t, I can’t face it anymore,” the first man cried.

“You’re not going to let us down. It’s bad luck to change the crew, you’ve got to go, you’ve no choice. We need you,” the second voice pleaded.

“Look I have done my bit, my nerves are in shreds. Look at my hands they’re shaking so much I can’t fly, we’ll all be killed,” the first man said with a tremor.

“Don’t be ridiculous once we get in the air, you’ll be fine,” argued the second voice.

“The M.O. has agreed to stamp my book LMF and I am going to let him,” said the first voice quietly.

“Joe! You can’t be serious, Lack of Moral Fibre you’ve flown over sixty missions and you want to let them call you a coward, please don’t do it.”

I heard the quiet sound of sobbing, probably Joe and whispered consoling words, obviously from the second man trying to help his friend. The strange thing was I did not feel as if I was actually there, it was like listening to the radio or watching TV. I tried the door again and there was nothing I could do to budge it.

Suddenly I heard the second man say to Joe, “Wait there while I get the rest of the crew, they will make you see sense.”

All went quiet, except for some muffled sobs. Suddenly Joe shouted. “I can’t stand it anymore” and then the sound of a shot.

“Oh my God,” I shouted out loud. “He’s shot himself.”

I wrenched at the knob again and the door flew open. My classroom was exactly as I had left it. The chairs stacked on the desks and everything neat and tidy, ready for Monday morning. Then I noticed what looked like a dark, red pool on the floor close to the wall, but as I got near I realised it was water and shadows making it look dark. A faint smell of smoke was in the air. There were shards of brick lying in the pool and I wondered where they had come from. I looked at the wall and about head height there was a chunk of it missing, as if a chisel had gouged out a groove. I glanced round half expecting to see a dead body or hear the rest of Joe’s crew arrive, but everything was quiet and it was as if I had heard nothing at all. I went back to the hall and finished with the lights, tidied up and went home. As I suspected earlier, the night had turned very foggy. I decided to say nothing to anyone about that afternoon, dismissing it as my vivid imagination and too many war novels.

On Monday morning I arrived at school and went to find the caretaker to ask him to clear up the pool of water in my room. When we went in Icould not believe my eyes, there was no water and no shards of brick.

“What! There was a puddle of water and bits of brick here when I left on Saturday afternoon. Now there is no sign of anything.” I exclaimed.

“There’s some queer goings on in this place,” said the caretaker.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“I’m saying nowt,” he answered, “Talk to Josh. He’s got a tale to tell.”

Josh was the teacher who had the other class of ten year olds and his room was at the end of the long corridor that separated our classrooms.

At the end of the day I went to see him in his classroom. He was a World War Two veteran who had flown fighter bombers in the Far East against the Japanese. He listened quietly as I told him of my experience at the weekend.

When I had finished he cleared his throat looked at me and said “That explains a lot. Last summer I was here in the evening displaying some work in my room when I suddenly heard running footsteps in our corridor and shouting voices. Like you I tried to open the door but the knob wouldn’t budge. I heard a garbled conversation and shouts like “get the MO,” “too late he’s dead,” “why did he do it?” and a lot of other shouting and doors banging. I was just about ready to climb out of a window when it all went quiet. I tried the door again, it opened and there was nobody there and no sign of anything either.”

We stood there in silence for a minute or two, both thinking about what we had heard.

“I saw some terrible things in the war,” said Josh,”and I have done my best to forget them and if that poor airman did kill himself, it is not surprising. I was eighteen and thought I was invincible when I first started flying but it wasn’t long before I hated every minute of what I was doing. Teaching these little tykes is a much better job. Come on let’s get a coffee.”

Neither of us mentioned the incident again until a few months later in the summer when the veterans' visits had restarted. On this occasion an ex squadron leader arrived and was sitting reminiscing about the station when he got on to the strangeness of their existence at that time. “Some of us were married” he said “Wives would be waved goodbye to as if we were going to work and off we would go to war. The next night we would probably be in the village pub drinking, but there was always someone missing, always someone who did not come back.” As we went round the old buildings he pointed out things he remembered from the days when he was there. We arrived at my room and when we went in, he pointed to the corner and said “My chair was there and I was the only one who sat in it.” He then went to the wall and pointed to the gouge that I had noticed that December afternoon. “That was made by a young man, twenty two years old, who had had enough. He had flown more than sixty missions over enemy territory and could not take any more. The only way out was to be labelled a coward, so he put a gun in his mouth and shot himself, DFC and bar, young wife, what a waste.”

I told him about my experience in the winter and repeated the words I had heard.

“Yes that sounds about right,” he said. “Joe was a hero, not a coward and he was suffering from combat stress but it was not recognised in those days. It was a terrible shock to us all. When did you say you heard the voices?”

I told him the date in December and he thought for a moment and then commented again, “The tragedy took place on a cold frosty day in December around the same date you heard them and the operation that night was cancelled because of fog. He wouldn’t have gone anyway, a terrible, terrible waste of a life. I am sure there must be many other tormented souls moving about in these buildings with similar tragic stories so don’t be surprised to hear strange voices again.”

I did not have any more experiences, strange or otherwise in the rest of my time there as the local authority finally decided to build a new school and close the old one down. A near by factory bought it to use as warehousing.

I often drive past the site in the summer on my way to the coast. The buildings are still there, but in a very dilapidated state. Occasionally I stop and look at them wondering if any scenes like the one I witnessed are still acted out by the long gone airmen.

Submitted: November 20, 2012

© Copyright 2023 John Baxter. All rights reserved.

Add Your Comments:


Jemma Jean

This was interested to read, I quite enjoyed it :) The only thing I would change is a slight more effort in sentence construction and a broader vocabulary as it seems a bit rushed. But since it is a reflection on personal experiences it is forgivable.

Overall, I liked it and wish there was more to read.

Tue, November 20th, 2012 11:59pm


Thank you for your comments they are very helpful. The original story was rather rambling so I have published an edited version!

Wed, November 21st, 2012 1:29am

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