The doctor turned and picked up the files, opening them in front of him. “Today I thought we might talk about something positive. You were awarded the DFM in April 1943. Do you want to tell me about that?”
“Why not? Aren’t you proud of it?”
“Proud?” Kit thought about that and then admitted. “I was pleased to get recognition for doing my job well. It made me feel good that my efforts had been recognized and appreciated. But…” he shrugged, “I don’t understand the system for awarding gongs. It doesn’t seem fair. There don’t seem to be any objective criteria.”
“They are widely seen as recognition of exceptional courage,” Dr Grace pointed out gently.
“Courage? Exceptional courage?” Kit asked back as if he couldn’t imagine that. Then he shook his head. “That can’t be.”
”Well, for example, on my first tour we flew with the same two gunners on all but two flights. One, Bob Pickett, got a DFM, but the other Reggie Allwright got nothing. Yet they were both doing the same job in the same aircraft on the same flights. How can that be fair?”
“There must have been some difference between them.”
“Yes, of course. Pickett claimed four German fighters.”
“That’s very good.”
“Yes, it is, but Bob was young, exuberant and ambitious. He was a crack shot. He was a natural gunman and he had exceptionally sharp eyes which he used to good effect. He could identify aircraft that I could hardly see. Most importantly, he wanted to make kills, and he prided himself on his marksmanship. Shooting a Jerry down was important to him. He was cock-a-loop the first time he succeeded — shouting so loudly over the intercom that the skipper had to beg him to tone down. But you know, although we loyally confirmed his claims, we were lying. We were all doing our own jobs. We were still in German airspace. We were surrounded by flak and more fighters were still out there. None of us could know for sure that his ‘wild boar’1 crashed.”
Dr Grace raised his eyebrows. “Are you saying you think most medals are given away based on fraudulent claims?”
“That’s not the point. It’s just that Reggie, our Mid-Upper gunner, was a different sort of man. He was older, more modest, more sober. He never claimed anything, but he was up there in that turret for hours. He protected us as fiercely as Bob did, if not better. He was tireless, determined and very focused, but — well — he wouldn’t have dreamt of making a claim he wasn’t absolutely sure about. In fact, I’m not sure he would have claimed a kill even if he was sure about it. Kills didn’t matter to him as long as we got home safely. They certainly didn’t ‘define’ him. But he was every bit as courageous as Bob Pickett. Surely you see that?”
“Yes, I do,” Dr Grace conceded. “But at the moment I’m more interested in hearing how you got your DFM — and whether you think you demonstrated courage in the actions noted in the citation.”
“Courage?” Kit asked again.
“Yes.” Dr Grace met his gaze steadily.
“I thought everyone agreed that I was a coward,” Kit rebutted.
“I don’t know who ‘everyone’ is, but I certainly haven’t agreed with that. And, not to put too fine a point on it, His Majesty King George VI awarded you a DFM for exceptional courage. Unless you, your skipper, your squadron leader and your station commander all lied about what you did, I’d say the evidence is in favour of you having done something courageous by the standards of your profession — which, I might add, are very high.”
Kit looked down at his hands. His fingernails needed filing. He drew a deep breath. “I’ll tell you what happened, and you tell me if I was courageous — or just doing what I had to do.”
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