Most of them slept on the field that night. They felt happier together, near their Hurricanes, than scattered out among the houses where they were allegedly billeted. The erks felt the same. They were gathered in the maintenance tent, and you could hear occasional volleys of laughter from that direction. What there was to laugh about, Robin couldn’t imagine, but it was a tribute to the ground crews that they still had it in them. The pilots, except for Yardly who was billeted with the local mayor along with the adjutant and intelligence officer, preferred the open air. It would have been different if the weather hadn’t been so warm and clear, or if any of them had had a change of clothes. As it was, they were warm enough under the stars, and far too filthy to worry about any more dirt.
They collected on a little rise that gave them a view across the field in one direction and towards the coast in the other. Not that they could actually see the coast, but the glow of distant fires and the faint crack of Navy guns told them roughly where Boulogne and Calais lay.
“Do you suppose they’re putting troops ashore or taking them off?” Driver asked with a nod in the direction of the burning cities.
“Didn’t all our armour come out with the BEF?”
None of them knew, so they fell silent. Secretly, they rather hoped that troops were being taken off. Then again, how could the Navy ever embark 300,000 men or more?
“They can see those fires in England, too,” Granddad reflected. “Must make people nervous.”
“They certainly make me nervous!” Driver readily admitted, speaking for all of them. “The bloody Germans are rolling up the coast. If they take Calais, what’s left?”
“Dunkirk, I think, and Ostend.”
“Haven’t the Belgians surrendered?”
Nobody knew. They weren’t being told much of anything. “Calais was English once,” Shakespeare reflected in the silence that followed.
“And the country has been going down-hill ever since we lost it!” Roger answered and they laughed, but then fell silent again.
“Today was Sunday,” one of the new pilots, whose name Robin had forgotten, remarked with his chin on his knees.
“My father’s a vicar,” he continued, “so I’ve got this internal calendar.”
“Useful, I suppose.”
“They’ll have prayed for us all across England.”
“A lot of bloody good that’s likely to do!” Roger snapped bitterly.
“Who knows? We’re still here, aren’t we?” Robin countered.
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