Late on Friday afternoon, an announcement blared over the station tannoy that squadron assignments had been posted on the large notice board outside the adjutant’s office. While the pilots crowded around trying to find their names, the crews collected in a larger but equally anxious group on the periphery. The nervous excitement of the others, including Kit’s crew, took tangible form in the jostling and joking.
Kit appreciated what they were going through. Most of these men had been in training for eighteen months or more, but at last training was over. They were about to face “the real thing.” Within the week, even days, they would be flying operations. They naturally wondered what it would be like and if they would measure up.
Kit thought he knew the answer to both those questions already, so the assignment didn’t worry him. He did not believe that certain units were either “lucky” or “unlucky.” In his experience even squadron commanders had little impact on squadron casualties, performance or morale. The AOC of Bomber Command, Air Vice Marshal Harris, set the targets, and good COs flew with their men, dying just as easily and as frequently as other experienced crews. Bad COs left the flying to others and survived, but their behaviour did not materially increase the losses of the others.
The noise and excitement around him intruded on his thoughts. Adrian pushed his way through the crowd to ask, “Aren’t you going to find out which squadron we’re on?”
“I can wait until the throng is little thinner,” Kit answered, gesturing with his head.
Around them, some men were openly celebrating, while others looked upset. Friends noted if they were staying together or being separated. Numbers were bandied about. “Is 432 Squadron with 1 or 3 Group?” “Does anyone know where 105 Squadron is stationed?”
Kit was not worried about such details. Over the last year his doubts about himself had gradually melted away. He had gained his wings, and with them a sense of professional pride unlike any he had known before. He’d been given a chance to see his parents again, as an adult. Most miraculously, in these last twelve months he had been allowed to win Georgina’s love. Kit was boundlessly thankful for such unexpected gifts. He accepted that he might now pay for them, but this past year of grace could never be taken away.
Kit supposed he was becoming more of a fatalist. He had done and would continue to do all within his power to do his job effectively and to keep his crew alive, but he could not shield them from everything. If he had once felt he ought to die, Georgina had cured him of that madness. Yet not even her love could protect him. It was better to accept the odds were stacked against them and enjoy each moment to the fullest. He felt a surge of gratitude to Georgina for being willing to contribute to the richness of what might be his last months — just in case fate did catch up with him.
“Zulu!” Forrester’s voice demanded his attention. “We’re in trouble.”
“Why?” Kit asked back flippantly, certain it was just one of Forrester’s jokes. Then he saw Forrester’s face. The Australian looked genuinely alarmed.
“We don’t have assignments. It just says ‘Report to CO.’”
Frowning, Kit pushed his way through the remnants of the crowd and rapidly found his name on the blackboard. Forrester was right. No squadron number had been chalked in beside it, only the order to report.
“What’s the matter?” Stu asked bewildered, speaking for his entire crew. The crowd had thinned out leaving only a score of men standing about, Forrester’s and his own crew among them.
“I’ll tell you when I find out.” Kit answered, sympathising with their distress. Adrian looked worried, Daddy unhappy, Terry shaken, and the gunners confused. “Go on to the Friar Tuck without me. I’ll catch you up,” he assured them.
“But we were going to celebrate our assignment,” Nigel protested. “If we don’t have one—”
“They aren’t going to send us home after all the time and money they’ve spent on training us. It’s probably just some bureaucratic cockup,” Kit assured them. As he spoke, he mentally considered possibilities. Was he being posted to Training Command as an instructor? Were they all being sent overseas? The former would mean his crew got a new, unknown skipper, which seemed unfair. The latter would mean being separated from Georgina, just when he had counted on savouring every minute together. She’d gone to so much trouble to get herself reassigned to Kirkby Grange so they could be close.
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