Ernst slipped up to his room as soon as he could. Fischer seemed nice and all, but Ernst was tired and wanted to be alone with his thoughts for a bit. He got out of his uncomfortable boots and tunic and settled himself at his writing desk, wearing just his shirt and trousers with the braces hanging down so they didn’t cut into his shoulders. He took out his “diary” and entered the date neatly: Sunday, August 18, 1940.
Then he started, as he always did, “Dear Klaudia.”
He’d bought the diary just before he came out to France, but it wasn’t until he’d met Klaudia that he’d made the first entry. Somehow it had seemed silly to write to himself, but ever since he’d fallen hopelessly in love with Klaudia, he’d started writing to her. He put down in his diary all the things he wished he could say to Klaudia – but never would.
“Dear Klaudia, we flew four times today. That’s a lot. Looking back on it, of course, it was OK. We lost no pilots today, even though we scrapped with the Tommies on three of the four sorties. The only aircraft we lost were due to lack of fuel. We finally seem to be getting the better of them now, and once today we were allowed to do a free-hunt rather than being tied to the bombers.
When we are with the bombers, they’ve upped the escort ratio to almost 5 to 1. That means the bombers are getting through almost every time. Today we hammered one of their airfields in waves – it was a total shambles, when we left it. There were bomb craters all over it and all but one of the hangars collapsed. They won’t be able to use it again – not for weeks, anyway, and by then the army should have landed.
“But it’s late now, and tomorrow will be here too soon. Then it starts all over again. Because we’ve knocked out the RAF’s forward fields, the targets get farther and farther away. That means flying longer just to get to the targets, and that means less fuel for dogfighting. I suppose this doesn’t sound heroic but knowing that we hardly have enough fuel to get home really nags at us during a flight. The more we mix it with the RAF, the more likely it is we’ll have to ditch in the Channel. It’s not just the extra time lost chasing after them, but the power-dives and power-climbs, that really eat up the fuel. Just five minutes scrapping can make the difference between landing safely here at Crépon or having to ditch. The water is bitterly cold, and the Tommies have been shooting down our rescue planes. The thought of ditching makes me—” Ernst broke off and crossed out this line. He started a new paragraph.
“Christian’s French girlfriend doesn’t understand how tiring flying is for us. She seems to think it is a sport. I know you know better. That means a lot to me. You and the other Helferinnen know just how tough it is out there, how good the Tommies are, and what the risks are. I know some of the officers think it’s wrong for women to wear uniform and do men’s jobs, but that’s stupid, old-fashioned thinking. I know that you and the other Helferinnen love Germany just as much as we do and want to do your part. And you do a great job! Frankly, most of us wish there were more of you out here. Admittedly, not just for the work you do, but because we really like having German girls here.”
Ernst stopped, decided that this might leave the wrong impression, and hastened to add: “Not that I would be interested in anyone else, even if there were a hundred Helferinnen here. I’m not like that. I don’t fall in love easily. In fact, I’ve only done it once – with you.” Ernst paused to reflect upon the importance of this sentence. He was so lost in thought and feelings that he nearly jumped out of his skin when there was a knock on his door.
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