Priestman pushed himself upright from the trailing edge of the wing and started for the dispersal with great effort. His sleepless night was catching up with him now. All he wanted to do was lie down and sleep. Maybe he could catch a nap while waiting for the next scramble…..
As he approached the dispersal, something strange happened: The pilots were all lounging about in front of the dispersal in deck chairs or spread out on the grass. Donohue, Needham and Sutton were playing cards at a rickety table. MacLeod was sleeping off his hangover and the others were reading. Green glanced up, saw Priestman approaching, and called out in obvious amazement, “It’s the CO!”
Ware glanced up from his newspaper and got to his feet. Suddenly they were all getting to their feet. By the time he reached the little group, they were all standing up to face him.
“We thought you’d bought it, sir.” Woody admitted. He sounded more stunned than gratified.
“Not yet, so you’ll have to postpone the party. Is there tea anywhere?”
“I’ll get you some, sir,” Ginger offered, ducking back into the dispersal.
The others were still staring. “I understand you got a Heinkel, Woody.”
“Well done. I saw you put one engine on fire on your first pass. Did you go back around for it?”
“Ah. No. Actually, I didn’t even see that. It was afterwards. I broke left and chased after another one. It spun out of control and I saw two of the crew jump.”
“Well done. Donohue?”
“I got in some good bursts at a 110 and saw the starboard engine catch fire, but I didn’t see him go in. Got distracted by a Messerschmitt.”
“There was a bloody great free-for-all after you – I mean – we came out the other side of the bomber formation and got jumped on by a horde of Messerschmitts. It can’t have been the ones that had been following us. They had to come from somewhere else. F/O Ware tried to climb into them like you said, but they were already coming down, and one cut in front of me. I got in a good squirt and when I looked back, there he was streaking down with a long tail of smoke. I know he went in.”
“Very likely, but the 109s were coming down because they’d been engaged by Spitfires at higher altitude,” Priestman pointed out. “You probably shot at an already dead pilot.”
Eton frowned. “But, sir, he passed right through my sights.”
“What speed do you think he was going?”
“400 mph at least, sir!”
“And how far away was he?”
“Maybe three hundred yards – four hundred at the most.” The others just burst out laughing.
Priestman waited for them to quiet down. “Eton, do you want to step inside and let me give you a short lesson on the Browning machine gun.” It was not a question, and the boy looked decidedly disheartened as he stepped into the comparatively dim light of the dispersal hut.
“Trigonometry wouldn’t hurt either, sir,” Sutton called after them.
“Oh, and, sir?” It was Donohue.
Priestman stepped back to the door and looked out expectantly. “I just wanted to let you know that I am not a virgin.” There were guffaws of laughter from the others, and Priestman shook his head and turned away. “Eton—”
The telephone rang.
“606 Squadron Dispersal.”
The clock ticked. The wind blew. The pilots of 606 hung in suspended animation. No one was breathing.
“One moment, sir.” The clerk turned to Priestman. “It’s the Adjutant, sir. He’d like to speak to you.”
Priestman took the receiver. The others exhaled and resumed their activities. Eton fussed with his silk cravat. “Priestman.”
“Congratulations, sir! You’ve just been awarded the DFC. The wire’s just come in – and they didn’t even know about the two you got today. I’m so pleased for you, sir! I’ve rarely known anyone who deserved it so much!” Mickey sounded so sincere, Robin was touched.
“Thank you, Mickey. Could you do me a favour?”
“Of course. What would you like me to do?”
“Organise something. A dance. With a real band. Something everyone can enjoy. The erks, too. And the WAAF, of course. Not in the Mess; the cooks and stewards are overworked as it is. Do you think you could do that?”
“For tonight, you mean?” Mickey sounded a overwhelmed.
“No. There’s no rush. What day is it today?”
“All right. Thursday or Friday.”
“Don’t worry, sir. I’ll fix something up.”
There was a commotion going on outside. Robin put his head out the window to see what it was about.
Kiwi was towering amidst the others, still in his Mae West and parachute. The latter was dragging along behind him and occasionally billowed up as it caught the wind. “Down, boy, down!” Kiwi admonished the ‘chute when it tugged at him. “Behave yourself!”
“Where the devil did you come from?” Priestman asked, very relieved to see him.
“Ahhhh!” Kiwi reacted as if he’d seen a ghost. “You were the one who blew up!” He crossed himself.
“I did nothing of the sort, but I hear you collided with a bomber and wrecked your Hurricane. That’s what comes of not keeping your distance as ordered.”
“I get your point, Skipper.” Kiwi grinned at him, and then turned to admonish his parachute, “Behave! You’re in company!”
“And Kiwi, get out of that useless ‘chute and collect a packed one.”
“See! You’ve got yourself posted!” Kiwi told the parachute. “I warned you not to muck about in front of the CO!”
Robin shook his head and withdrew back inside the dispersal hut to give Eton his lesson on the effectiveness of gunfire from different ranges. But the telephone was ringing again.
“606 Squadron Dispersal…. SCRAMBLE! SQUADRON SCRAMBLE!”
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