How my summer ended....Mature

Each day, there seemed to be no end to the German formations. We lost good pilots, to be replaced by novices. Some had flown less than 20 hours on Spitfires. The experienced pilots tried to explain what would be needed, how important it was to react correctly. But it was a case of 'live and learn, or die trying'.
One poor sod, I don't think anyone knew his name, arrived in the evening on a Tuesday, and was killed on the Wednesday morning.
We were lucky to have one or two pilots sent to us, who had flown in France and had been taken off ops, for one reason or another. And, we had an aggressive killer Pole. Every German he saw, had to die.
We found out one night in the mess, after he'd had one too many, that his entire family had been killed in Poland, and he hated the Germans with a passion that he thought everyone must have.

I had taken over Blue flight. Led us into combat, tried to teach what I knew, in the hope the new pilots would survive.
Bobbo told me that I was to be promoted. Having a Flight Sergeant in charge of a flight, where some of the pilots are officers, just wont do. So, I'm to become a Pilot Officer. The thin blue band stood out crisp on my dress uniform sleeve. I had the chance to wear it once.....

The good thing about our squadron, was that although we were extremely disciplined, there was a distinct lack of formality. Bobbo, was generally referred to as 'Boss' if in conversation, or plain 'Bobbo' when talking to him. If we had visitors, then the 'Sir' would be heard.
When we flew, the days of strict adherence to uniform code had gone. I generally flew in a jumper under my Irvin jacket.

The day that my summer air war ended started the same as the previous days.
Woken by the duty Corporal, strong cup of tea, a cigarette. Grab some toast before the jam is gone. Check the flight roster in dispersal. Dawn readiness, standing patrol, then land and wait for the scramble.

I was down for the first flight of the day. My number two was the experienced David, a Scot who liked nothing better than a wee nip of whiskey to start the day.

We taxied out, in the dark, weaving the tails of the Spitfires, trying to keep the tiny light of the erk's bicycle in view as he guided us out to the main patch of grass that was our runway.

As we lifted off, and raised our undercarriage, control told us to vector to the south, possible enemy aircraft. We clawed for height, and watched as the horizon to the left of us seemed to change from black, to purple then red and orange and yellow. Suddenly an explosion of light as the sun poked it's head over the edge of the earth. But, we are at five thousand feet. The countryside below is still black and asleep. The clock on the dashboard tells me it's not even 5am yet. Only owls should see this world, but, I am still awed by the beauty of it.

We stooged around for almost an hour, looking for an enemy that wasn't playing by the rules. Chances are, they were still eating breakfast.
The order to land. I transmit for a few seconds, to allow a fix on our position. Then, the welcome voice of the WAAF plotter as she tells us the course home.
By now, the world has changed colour. Off to the far west, the sky is still dark. Above us, the stars have gone to be replaced by dark blue. To the east, a pale blue horizon is topped by a glowing sun. It promises to be another glorious summers day. But, that means a very busy one for RAF Fighter Command.

I look over my shoulder, as has become habit. If you were to watch a brace of Spitfires such as ours in flight, you would think the pilots are drunk. Every few moments, we make the aircraft yaw, and tilt. No flying straight and level. Doing that gets you killed. You look over your shoulder, and ease the stick a little, the wing drops, and you see a lot more of the world that was hidden from view. You yaw the tail, and yet more is revealed. Two days ago, I caught a jerry trying to sneak up from behind and below, and managed to turn the tables on him. Didn't shoot him down but gave him a hell of a scare I hope.

As I bank the kite, I look down at the world below, now coming to life under the pale light of dawn. The valleys remain in shadow, but here and there, villages and towns appear. Early morning mist hides some.

For some reason, I am suddenly very alert. A flash of light, ever so brief, had caught my eye. When I saw it again, it had moved. There it was again. Definitely moving.
“Magpie to Buttercup, come in?”
Whoever thought up the code names for our flights, and the controllers, certainly has a sense of humour...
“Buttercup here, what’s the word Magpie?”

I quickly check my map.
“Are there any reports of an aircraft, about 2 miles south of Daleford? Over”
“One second,, nothing on the boards. What have you got?”
“Not sure yet Buttercup, will investigate.”
I change the channel, and look over to where David is already alert. He would have heard that little conversation, and now I speak directly to him.

“There's something down there, low on the deck at about 4 o'clock, the sunlight is picking off his canopy I think. Do you have him, David?”
I watch as he tips the wings for a better look. I do the same. Two pairs of eyes strain to pick out any sign of anything. Suddenly, a flash.
“I saw that...whoever it is is trying to fly through the valleys by the look of it....”

Instantly the pleasant flight has changed. We are now hawks, stalking prey. I don't need to tell David my intentions. I know that he is experienced enough to know the form.
We drop from the sky, my eyes glued to the place where the flash was last seen.
We level off at about a thousand feet. Searching for the elusive little unknown intruder, my eyes smart from looking into the haze of the early morning. It's like trying to spot a speck of smoke in a room full of steam.
“I've got him, Leader. About a mile ahead, maybe 500 foot below us. Just about to cross to the south of that wooded area by the hill......there, you have him?”

David's directions are spot on. Up ahead, as it crests over a small hill, I spot a Junkers Ju88. The way the nose and two engines seem to be the same length, sticking out from the thick wing, and it's long thick fuselage, and that big tail plane, make identification easy.

“Magpie to Buttercup. One Ju88 spotted. Position is approximately 5 miles north of Daleford. Attacking now”.

As we drop lower, aiming to come in at a decent attacking position, I have a second to ponder who this pilot is, and what's he up to?
He's probably on a reconnaissance mission, but for what? He's flown in under the eyes of our RDF beacons, and being down so low, he can't be on a weather recce. Maybe he's lost?

I concentrate on the task ahead. Guns armed, safety off. I'm slowly catching up to him, thanks to the shallow dive we came in on.
“Here we go David, firing...NOW!”

I open up. The sudden flashes of the muzzles, and the white streaks of the tracers, momentarily blind me. I watch as my rounds flash past the 88. DAMN!, too high. All I've done is scare the hell out of the crew. I push the nose over a fraction, and open up again. I see my rounds hit the tail of him, a small wound but certainly not a mortal one.
The rear gunner is wide awake now, and he knows his trade! His first burst was his range finder, he altered and adjusted, and the second burst comes screaming at me. I instinctively duck, knowing that the angle of those bullets as they approach, are going to definitely pass through the same airspace as me.
I have just enough time to shout a warning...
“Watch that bloody gunner David!, he knows what he's abo......”

The first rounds hit home. I feel the aircraft shudder, as the engine takes hits. The roar of the engine changes slightly, and I know I'm in trouble. I'm aware of sparks flicking back from the wing, as rounds hit there, and suddenly I feel a bang close to my head, and my goggles shoot off and disappear somewhere. The usually comforting hiss of the static from the headphones is silent.
I realise that I've shoved the nose down, in an attempt to get away from the bullets.
A quick check of my gauges.
Height is less then 500 foot. Oil temp starting to climb. I try the radio. Dead. Damn! I look up and to my left, and watch as David opens fire at the 88. His rounds hit home, on the fuselage and wings, but by now the enemy pilot has opened his throttles wide, and is diving for the trees. In seconds he has vanished into the early morning haze.

I gently ease the stick, checking to see just how bad the wounds to the old girl are. She responds, but I can tell she is hurt. The engine rumbles now, not roars. I suddenly feel liquid on my neck, and for a second panic thinking it's petrol splashing over me!
I lift my hand to may head, and realise that my left arm is numb. I check myself over, and with a shock, see a tear in the sleeve of the jacket. Stuffing is poking out, but it's coloured red...
If I lift my arm, it hurts, but if I just make little movements with my forearm, trying to keep my arm by my side, I am ok...
Suddenly, the engine misfires. With a fright the backfire blows a bright flame from the exhaust. I check the gauges again. I've climbed a couple of hundred feet, but the oil temp has rocketed. I do a lightening quick calculation.
We are about 10 minutes flying time from the airfield. I think the engine will last maybe a minute. Two, at the most. Do I try for height and bale out? Or do I try for a forced landing.
The old girl makes the decision for me. Two more loud backfires, and the engine clatters to a stop.
I've maybe a minute to find a place to put her down. I don't know if the hydraulics work.

I feel myself become calm. Surreal. So, this is how I will die.

But what’s that? Up ahead, a long flat field. Just what the doctor ordered!

I quickly line up an approach. Switch off the fuel, the electrics. Slide the hood back with difficulty, and lock it. I'm aware of the silence. Just the whistle of the air over the wings, and the soft whoosh as it flows past the cockpit.

The landing is a bumpy one. I bounce two or three times, before rolling to a roller-coaster stop. No green pasture this, but a farmers field left fallow.

As soon as I've stopped, I don't know why, but I panic. I try desperately to get out of my harness. My left arm is now completely dead. I feel so tired. I hear voices from far away. Memories of being shouted at to wake up by my parents.

I wake up in a bed, clean sheets, flowers on a table. The room is long, there are other beds, other occupants.
I have one almighty headache, and the driest mouth ever.
I try to sit up, but my left arm is encased in plaster. The noise of me moving brings the attentions of a nurse. Soon, I have water and the promise of the doctor to visit me.

I find out that my arm had numerous bits of metal taken from it, and one lovely broken bone. I've a lovely set of stitches along the top of my head. The doc is pleased to say that I will soon be on the mend and will be able to leave, in less than a week. But, I will be off flying for a while.

A pretty nurse makes sure I am comfortable, then gives me a pill and some water. Within minutes, I feel my eyes close, and I am dead to the world once more.

The End

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