It was easy to spot his crew at the Friar Tuck because they sat together in a sober and tense group while around them the others celebrated and animatedly discussed the future. As Kit joined them, Stu announced, “Forrester’s bragging about being posted to 617 Squadron. Is that right?”
“I told Stu they only take experienced crews.” Adrian answered in an irritated voice. Stu got on Adrian’s nerves when his “know-all” attitude showed too much. With an annoyed frown at the bomb aimer, Adrian insisted, “Forrester’s line shooting!”
“They’ve just forced a number of the veteran crews off the squadron and are recruiting new crews,” Kit admitted, sitting down.
“What? Seriously?” They gaped at him. In fact, they appeared to be holding their breath in anticipation of what he was going to say next.
When Kit didn’t respond, Nigel burst out, “You mean we’re going to 617 too?”
“No, not necessarily. We have to volunteer, and I didn’t want to do that without consulting you.”
Adrian and Terry nodded appreciatively. The gunners exchanged a look of disbelief, and Stu exclaimed in awe, “But Skipper! 617! They’re the best!”
“They are also known known as the ‘death or glory boys.’” Kit tried to dampen the enthusiasm. “Furthermore, a tour with 617 Squadron entails signing on for 45 ops,” he added solemnly.
“Skipper! They’re legendary.” Stu insisted, his eyes alight.
“It is definitely an honour, Kit,” Adrian seconded him. “I can’t say I’m not chuffed. And aren’t they stationed at Woodhall Spa, where the officer’s mess is housed in the old Petwood Mansion Hotel?”
“That’s hardly a reason for committing to fifteen more ops than on a Main Force squadron,” Kit countered in evident irritation.
Terry piped up next, sitting straighter as he declared with pride, “This is an opportunity to be part of history, Skipper.”
“Every squadron is part of history, Terry. Every one of us is part of history already.”
“But this is different,” Terry argued.
Nigel and Frank were grinning at each other pleased as punch, so Kit turned to his last hope for caution, the older and steadier Daddy MacDonald. “What do you think, Daddy?”
The flight engineer concentrated on lighting his pipe. Finally, he shook out his match and looked straight at his skipper. “I don’t see as it makes much difference what squadron we’re on. The flak and the fighters don’t discriminate as far as I’ve heard. As to forty-five versus thirty missions, my guess is the Germans aren’t going to last much more than six months, and we’re probably in it that long no matter where we go. What’s holding you back, Skipper?”
“A squadron like 617 with a high sense of its elite status is not going to welcome sprogs. We’re going to be scorned and disdained.”
“Sprogs are disdained regardless of squadron — until they’ve proven themselves by putting a few ops behind them,” Daddy replied. “That’s just the way it is.”
“Up to a point, but at 617 the situation will be extreme. Some of their crews have more than two tours behind them already. That means the experienced crews aren’t 10, 20 or 29 sorties ahead of us, they’re 65, 75 and 85 ops ahead of us. I also suspect they don’t want inexperienced crews at all, and this is a Group or Ministry idea being forced on them.”
“Well, in that case they’ll have to lump it, won’t they?” Daddy pointed out. A long-serving veteran, he’d had to ‘lump’ a lot of things he hadn’t liked in the course of his career.
“Besides, we’ll have Forrester and his crew to keep us company in the sprog corner.” Stu pointed out cheerfully.
Kit looked around the table for someone who shared his reluctance, but he found no one. “You are unanimously in favour of applying to 617 Squadron?”
“Yes!” “Absolutely!” “Roger!” “Aye, aye!” They were giving him the thumbs up, Frank and Nigel each with both hands.
Kit shook his head. “Very well. But calm down, all of you. I’m going to have a talk with 617’s squadron commander before I make a final decision. I’ll let you know the outcome before the weekend is over.”
Openly disappointed, the others looked at one another baffled, but they recognized there would be no point in arguing. Moran was their captain, and his decision would be final whether they liked it or not.
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