David Goldman had bought a car, a used Jaguar, to be precise. He could afford it. He just couldn’t drive it. He stripped the gears when he tried shifting with his left hand, and after they had nearly collided with oncoming traffic for the second time (because Goldman kept driving on the wrong side of the road), Kiwi couldn’t take it any more. “Let me drive, would you?”
“You?” Goldman asked in a tone of utter disbelief, as he looked over at Kiwi in astonishment – and almost went into the ditch. The road was narrow and winding and Goldman was holding the steering wheel straight.
“Yes, me! For Christ’s sake! We’re supposed to take a Jerry or two with us before we die! Let me drive. I’m used to it.” Goldman still looked sceptical, so Kiwi reminded him, “it’s got a fixed undercarriage, for Christ’s sake!”
“True. Right, then.” Goldman stopped the car right where it was – in the middle of the road. The only other traffic at the moment was a herd of black-and-white Herefords slowly plodding towards them to the clang of their bells. Kiwi and Goldman swapped places.
After just a few minutes, David started to relax. Kiwi was much better at navigating the narrow, winding roads than he was. He found himself nodding off to sleep. Not too surprising, really. He hadn’t slept at all during the night. The excitement of a posting to an operational squadron had been too much for him.
The news had arrived abruptly that all training was being cut to two weeks, and so all the pilots were being posted immediately – even Kiwi and himself, who had less than that. There had been a huge bash in the tiny Mess to celebrate, and almost everyone had drunk too much. Funny the way they all wanted to “get at the Hun.” Or did they just talk like that? Had they all had sleepless nights once the carousing was over? Goldman hoped so. He lifted his head as if to look at the road, but really to glance at Kiwi. He looked contented and rested. He was even humming to himself and nodding his head as he did so. No, Kiwi wasn’t having a fit of nerves.
Goldman laid his head back against the leather seat and closed his eyes again, but he was still far too tense to sleep. He had much to worry about. Hurricanes, for a start. Why send him to a Spitfire OTU, only to assign him to a Hurricane squadron? It didn’t make sense. But the aircraft didn’t really bother him. After his unpleasant taste of British anti-Semitism, he was far more worried about his fellow pilots than of the kite. He was glad that Kiwi was going with him. He’d have at least one friend. It was amazing how close he felt to Kiwi after just one week. Yes, that was the best aspect of this unexpected posting: that he and Kiwi would stay together.
But wasn’t it dangerous to rest too heavily on the sturdy but soft Kiwi? After all, if you could believe the books from the last war, new fighter pilots only had a fifty-fifty chance of surviving their first combat. Who could say that Kiwi would still be there for him tomorrow? But, Goldman just couldn’t imagine Kiwi going first.
His own death, by contrast, seemed near. Goldman knew only too well that he was a good pilot – for passengers. He could fly smoothly, meet schedules, navigate and fly on instruments. If he had a flight plan, he could follow it – almost regardless of weather. He could improvise when necessary too, deal with engine failure, head-winds, turbulence, ice – all that. But he wasn’t a hot-shot flier like Kiwi, and he wasn’t a hunter. That was what you had to be to survive in the air war. Look at Rickenbacker, Richthofen, Galland, Mölders.
Goldman knew that he should have gone to Bomber Command. He would have made a really good bomber pilot for all the qualities he had just listed. So why was he heading for an operational Hurricane Squadron on the front line?
Because he couldn’t bomb Germany. Because – despite everything – he couldn’t stand the thought of destroying his homeland. He hated the Nazis with all his heart, but they weren’t Germany. David wanted to see the Nazis defeated, and Germany restored to what it had been before – a great, liberal and cultural nation. That was why shooting down German aircraft intent on bombing England was one thing, but bombing German cities – including all their great architectural monuments and the good people along with the bad – was something else.
But what if he wasn’t any good at shooting down German aircraft? And why should he be? He’d never shot at anything in his life, and he hadn’t fired a Spitfire’s guns either. Maybe that came later in training, but the fact was, he had never fired even at a still – much less a moving – target.
The more David thought, the more certain he became that he would fail. Everyone knew the Luftwaffe was the finest air force in the world. Oh, the RAF was giving it a surprisingly good run for its money, but could anyone really doubt the Luftwaffe would win in the end? Of course, the Luftwaffe would get the upper hand sooner or later. What the hell was he doing throwing his life away in a lost battle? A kind of panic made David sit up sharply again and readjust himself in the seat.
“Shall we stop for lunch at that pub up ahead?” Kiwi asked innocently, unaware of Goldman’s inner torment.
“Fine with me – but I don’t think they do meals. All the pubs that do meals have signs out the front. It looks to me like they only serve drinks.”
Kiwi ignored him and pulled in at the “Mortimer Arms,” a nice fieldstone and half-timbered country inn. Kiwi had to duck to get through the door, and they found themselves in a low- ceilinged room with horse-brasses and oil-paintings of hunting scenes dimmed by layers of smoke. Kiwi went up to the bar. “G’day, Miss. Can m’ mate and I get something to eat here?” he asked in his booming “down-under” voice.
The barmaid glanced up. Her eyes widened. “We don’t actually do meals, sir, but I’ll go and ask the landlady. Please sit down.” She disappeared into the kitchen before Kiwi could stop her, and a minute later a grey-haired, pink-cheeked woman in a flowered apron appeared. “What would you boys like for lunch, then?” she asked happily.
“If you don’t do meals, Ma’am, just tell us where to go, and—”
“But you’re RAF pilots! Can’t have you going hungry! You just tell me what you’d like, and I’ll do my best. A cheese omelette, maybe? I’ve got my own chickens and have real eggs.”
“That is absolutely irresistible, Ma’am,” Kiwi answered with a wide grin, and the woman was gone in an instant, beaming happily.
“You’re flying under false colours, Kiwi,” David hissed at him admonishingly as soon as the landlady was out of hearing. “She thinks we’re real pilots who have done something.”
“Don’t spoil her fun, mate. She’s tickled pink to think she’s helping pay her debt to some of ‘the few.’”
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