I dislike driving. I much prefer my motorcycle, but even that is getting frustrating. Anyway. When I travel, I try to do so at times, and on routes, which are less boring and less frustrating. When that can’t be avoided, I try to break the journey with visits to museums, country parks, or whatever. On the M11, it’s the Imperial War Museum, Duxford, a former sector airfield in the Battle of Britain, subsequently used by the Americans.
I pulled in shortly after opening time (ten am) and bypassed the entry queue, having an annual pass. In order to access most of the airfield, five of the six hangars, and the land warfare building, one passes a cafe. Coffee.
Suitably refreshed, I set off again, heading for the first hangar which houses aircraft which are airworthy, or in process of being rebuilt. However, I was diverted because there was a lot of activity on the airfield itself. The original runway was truncated when the M11 was built, but there’s enough left for the machines which fly from, or into, there. Along the flight-line, apart from the general aviation aircraft, I could see two Tiger Moths, two Spitfires (one of them a two-seater conversion) two Dragon Rapides in RAF colours, which really made them Dominies, I suppose. There was a Harvard there, and some others obscured by the tower.
First one, then the other Tiger Moth, was started, taxied to a run-up area, then onto the grass. I watched as the engine note of the first rose and it began to move, faster and faster. The tail rose, then the main wheels left the ground. I headed for the fence along the flight- line, and by the time I got there, the Dominies were following the Moths. I watched them all into the air, then headed for the hangars.
The aircraft don’t change much, but they do get moved around, and the boards describing them don’t always follow them. I find that a little irritating, but on the whole I know what I need to know. There is a quite incredible collection.
One of the aircraft, a Bristol Beaufighter, in the process of a very slow restoration, is, I believe, the only extant example of the type. I have watched the progress over several years. It’s still quite a long way off completion. Anyway, I moved on the to the Air and Sea exhibit in the next hangar, and was going on to the next hangar, the Battle of Britain display, when I heard a sound that grabbed my attention.
A Rolls-Royce Merlin is fairly unmistakable to the enthusiast, and I watched the two-seat Spitfire (which is operated by ‘Classic Wings’ along with the Tiger Moths, Dominies and Harvard) run up, then take off and bank round to disappear into the distance.
The Battle of Britain display actually includes aircraft from other eras as well, from a Great War DH9, to Cold War jets. But there are now a number of restored Spitfires and Hurricanes. I find it ironic that an aircraft is ‘restored’ when only a tiny proportion of its parts are actually original. One Spitfire 1a was dug out of the beach at Dunkirk about fifty years after it crashed there during the evacuation. You can imagine how much of it was usable, and how long it took to build it into flying condition.
I was standing, looking at a Hurricane (actually a later model, but painted to represent one from the period, ) when a voice from behind startled me. “My grandmother flew those. Spitfires, too.”
I turned, smiling. “Funnily enough, so did my grandfather. It was years before I realised he hadn’t been in the RAF, but had been a ferry pilot in the ATA. It’s reprehensible that the ATA pilots weren’t recognised until 2007, by which time most of them were dead.”
“Yes.” She stepped up beside me. “Granny died two years before the awards were announced. But she left me with an abiding fascination for the era.”
“Indeed. Me too.” We stood in a meditative silence, then, tentatively, I went on, “I don’t suppose you’d like to keep me company? I’m going next door to the conservation hangar, then the American Air Force Museum, before getting my lunch at the Armoury.”
“I’d like that.”
My heart lifted at her positive response. “I’m David,” I said. “David Halliwell.”
“How do you do, David. My name is Eileen. Named for my gran.”
We wandered round the hangar, which is a two-bay affair. The first half is dedicated to artefacts contemporary with the Battle of Britain, but the rear half has jets, including a Hawker Hunter, a Gloster Javelin, and one of the development Eurofighter Typhoons. We stopped and gazed at the restored Mark 1 Spitfire. The Spitfire was developed throughout the war and, while the final model was identifiable as a Spitfire, the differences were profound. To the discerning eye, the earliest models are distinctive.
We moved on to the Conservation Hangar. That contains a motley collection of part dismantled aircraft and machines, spare engines and equipment. It’s not really possible to see much of some of the items, simply because of the way everything is crammed in. With the exception of a Heinkel 162 Salamander, parked, all on its own, just inside the entrance. It’s complete, and looks in excellent condition. I don’t know how many examples there are of the aircraft – I know there’s one in France – but I’ve been fascinated by it since I first heard of it. A very, in my opinion, pretty aircraft, despite the hump of the jet engine on its back. I can’t think why it’s parked where it is.
As we walked towards the American Air Museum – a very striking building – we heard the Spitfire returning, and watched it carry out a low, fast, pass in front of the flight-line, complete a circuit, and land too far away from us to be seen properly.
The American collection is remarkable, and I can’t do justice to it here. It ranges from a Great War Nieuport biplane to an SR71 Blackbird. We sat with coffee, overlooking the hall, chatting about the different machines, then wandered around, staring. To give some idea of scale, imagine a space large enough for a B17, a B29 and a B52, and still display many other aircraft alongside or overhead.
We finished our wander, and set off, back along by the flight-line. There are airliners displayed statically there, behind the fence which keeps hoi polloi out of the airfield, and we walked between them and the fence. The active aircraft were still active, and we watched the Spitfire take off again. I gather a half-hour fight in the Spit costs around thirteen hundred pounds. I suppose if you’ve got that sort of money laying around, it’s worth it, after all, the aeroplane costs a mint to maintain and run. A Merlin drinks about a gallon – Imperial gallon, that is, four and a half litres – of 100 octane petrol a minute, and that’s just the beginning. I’m afraid that, while I could probably scrape up the money, it would just whet my appetite and frustrate me. But that’s beside the side. It’s a long walk back to the Armoury cafe, and as we walked, we watched the activity on the airfield and discussed what we’d seen and what we were seeing.
We got there, eventually, and ordered. The Armoury does ‘seasonal British food’, and being old fashioned, that’s why I like it. The beer’s expensive, but what the hell. The food’s good. She was a most congenial companion. I learned that she was a manager in a largish shop in Leicester, and divorced. “Just didn’t work out,” she said easily, “we were straight out of school and immature. Happily we’d never had kids and, when I found out he was messing around, well, we divorced as amicably as is possible. I see him around. I kept the flat we were renting, and eventually bought it. He moved in with the girlfriend, though that didn’t last long either. How about you?”
“Never got close,” I shrugged. “I’m kind of a nerd, you know. I get nervous talking to a pretty woman.”
“You’re talking to me. Does that mean I’m not pretty?” She smiled to indicate she was joking.
“Oh, no. You’re lovely. But if you hadn’t spoken to me, about something I’m interested in, I could never have made the first move.” She didn’t say anything to that, but looked receptive, so I went on, “I don’t know why, but it’s really easy to talk to you. I mean, I know we’ve mostly been talking about aeroplanes and stuff like that, but you’re really easy to talk to.”
She smiled. “That’s good. You know, I’m told Cosford* has some ATA artefacts on display.”
*RAF Cosford, as well as being an RAF base and airfield, houses a branch of the RAF museum, with some very interesting, some unique, items on display.
“They do,” I agreed. “I don’t get there often, because the best route skirts Derby, and the traffic on the ring-road is horrendous. I start really early to get past that city before the traffic builds, and get some breakfast once I’m past.”
“Oh, yes. Three or four times, now. I really like it. The ATA stuff is interesting, though there’s not a lot, but there’s a pilot’s log book, some uniform items, things like that.”
“Perhaps we could meet there sometime?”
“Yeah! Why not?” I handed her a card. I carry ‘business’ cards because my address is one no-one can spell, and it’s easier to hand over a card (they still get it wrong, but you can’t win ‘em all) than to spell everything out.
“Just a minute,” she said, fetching a smart-phone out of her bag. She fiddled with it for a minute, then my phone rang. “There,” she said as I reached for mine. “I’ve got your number, and you’ve got mine. My surname is Jones.”
What can I say? Here I was with a very pretty girl, who wasn’t bored with my conversation and actually gave me her number. It was unheard of.
We finished eating, and made our way to the number one hangar, ‘Air Space’. That’s at two levels. On the ground floor, are a number of large aircraft, including a Vulcan, Lancaster, Sunderland, Concorde and TSR2. I usually head for the latter. The TSR2 project was scrapped by the then Labour government in favour of buying the American F111, which ended up years late and way over budget. I don’t think the RAF got any, in the end. The details will probably never be known, but what little has been revealed with time is disgraceful and involves international intrigue at the highest level. But I like to go and just commune with a ‘what might have been’.
On this occasion, though, I was thinking as much about my companion as the aircraft I’d come to see. She seemed knowledgable, and made some penetrating comments about several aircraft. Then we climbed the stairs to view the exhibits from the balcony. It’s interesting, not only looking down on what we’d been next to, but also getting closer to the aircraft which are suspended from structural members of the roof. It was Eileen who commented on the Airspeed Oxford, which had featured in her Grandmother’s logbook, along with the Mosquito, Anson, and Lysander.
Too soon, it was time for me to go and, regretfully, I took my leave of Eileen in the car-park. She would be heading for Leicester via the A505 heading west, and I for the M11 and the nightmare of the roadworks upgrading the A14 north of Cambridge.
I was home just over four hours and one coffee later; the coffee a necessity to prevent me dozing off at the wheel. Despite the coffee, when I got in, I slept immediately my head hit the pillow.
The Tiger Moth was vibrating with the engine ticking over as the instructor climbed out of the front cockpit. “Go on,” he yelled. “One circuit and land. Don’t bend the kite!”
I watched him walk away, not looking back. Solo! Solo after only six hours dual! I couldn’t believe it! But nervous? You bet! Deep breath, Dave. Open the throttle gently. Gently. We’re moving. Faster, now. Tail coming off the ground. Faster, a bounce, and ... I’m flying, solo, for the first time. Shorter take-off run than before. Climbing faster, too. Eyes all round – no other traffic right now. Eight hundred feet. Left hand circuit, landmarks – don’t want to get lost. Hold on a little longer, the kite’ll float without the instructor’s weight. Now. Over the hedge a little high, hold off. Little bounce. Taxi back to the hangar. The instructor’s smiling.
That evening, a party in the mess. Not a lot of beer, we needed to be able to fly the next day. But jokes, pranks, high spirits and even some congratulations.
“Good for you, Dave,” from Eileen Morris, “I’m jealous.”
“You should be able to go soon,” that wasn’t just words, I really thought she was a better touch on the controls than the rest of us.
She shrugged. “None of the instructors will let a woman solo with less than eight hours dual.”
The party wound down, and we trailed off to bed.
I don’t usually dream, but it was so vivid that I was disoriented when I woke in my large, comfortable bed under a duvet, rather than in a narrow cot, on a hard pad, under rough blankets. I could still feel the vibrations of a Gipsy III engine in my fingers and smell the scent of hot oil and dope*. After a shower and breakfast, I dressed and made my way to the office to report on my visit to London. I had to force myself to focus. Somehow spreadsheets and profit-and-loss seemed irrelevant. But the day ended eventually and I don’t think I shorted my employer too much. On the way home I picked up fish’n’chips and mushy peas. I like mushy peas. So sue me. I had to smile, though, as I dumped my meal onto a dinner plate and ate it with knife and fork. My mother’s influence persists, though I no longer own a set of fish knives and forks.
* A cellulose ‘paint’ used to tighten and seal the fabric covering of the aircraft. Very distinctive smell.
My first assignment was to White Waltham, flying Tiger Moths and Magisters, from the factory to training schools, or to and from Maintenance Units. There were several of us based there; as newbies we were stuck with the trainers. We watched with some envy the old hands as they dealt with class two, three and four aircraft. One of the ‘old hands’ actually only had one hand and one eye. And flew high-performance fighters despite the lack.
The ATA motto is ‘aetheris avidi’, that is, ‘eager for the air’, and that certainly describes our little band. Among ourselves, we are ‘anything to anywhere’, but to outsiders ‘ancient and tattered airmen’. All of us have some disability; in my case it was short sight, in others, age or some physical problem (one man suffers from narcolepsy, would you believe? He only flies aircraft with more than one seat and had someone with him to poke him if he dropped off). The most important disability, apparently, is gender. The only way the female pilots can get to fly military aircraft was in the ATA. Even there, they have to fight to get to fly the higher classes. I sympathise with Eileen, who I am sure is a much better pilot than most, including myself, and who is stuck with trainers long after the male members of our intake have moved up. I’d only been at White Waltham a couple of months, in fact, before I was called to see the Flight Captain (the ATA equivalent of Squadron Leader).
“There you are, Halliwell. You’ve done rather well, haven’t you?” he didn’t wait for a response, but went on, “Collect your kit, you’re off to CFS,” the Central Flying School, “to fly class two. Third Officer Morris is taking a Moth over there and she’ll give you a lift.”
Going in the Moth meant I couldn’t take much, just a change of uniform, underclothes, and a toothbrush, but off we went, with me in the front cockpit for once. On arrival, having taxied over to their dispersal, she shut own and we climbed out.
“Thanks for the lift,” I said, holding out my hand, “lovely smooth flight. Beautiful three pointer.”
“Thanks. Good luck with your course,” and a firm handshake. I headed off to report in and she to collect a Magister with some sort of problem.
I didn’t know what to do about the vivid dreams, which were becoming almost more real than life itself. But I somehow managed to keep myself together. After a couple of weeks, though, I thought I was settling down, until I got a call from Eileen.
“Hey, David! How about that ride to Cosford we were thinking of?”
“Sure! What did you have in mind?”
“Well, I’ve got two alternative plans. One is to just meet there at about ten on Saturday. You told me you could do that, even if it meant getting up at oh dark hundred.”
“Or you could toss a change of clothes in your top-box, come here Friday evening, and we’ll ride together Saturday. It’s about sixty miles from here. What did you say? Ninety from Sheffield? And you pass Derby?”
“Well, if you don’t mind being held back, I’ve got a Lambretta SX200, or I’ll ride pillion with you.”
“My Bullet cruises happily at fifty,” I said, with a chuckle. “I don’t think I’d be held up by you on an SX200. Actually, the handbook recommends a maximum of fifty, two up. Tell you what, if you’re happy to put me up, I will come down Friday night. We can discuss whether we ride in company or you ride with me. I don’t mind.”
“Here you are, Halliwell. Miles Master. Kestrel engine. We’ll get you used to this and the retracting undercarriage, flaps, constant-speed airscrew, and once you’re happy, we’ll send you off in a Hurricane. Happy?”
“Yes, sir. Looking forward to it.”
The Master was, compared to the Magister (built by the same company) or the DH Tiger Moth, a revelation; a high-performance, modern, aircraft. The engine, a Rolls-Royce Kestrel, was the same as that fitted to several front-line biplanes leading up to the war; Fury, Nimrod, Hart and Demon. Some Masters were fitted with radial engines, like the Harvard. The airframe was wood, which at the time was an advantage. We had lots of wood, but aluminium was in short supply.
“Come in, David. Make yourself at home. Are you hungry?”
“Yes, I am. I thought I’d get here, and see what you wanted to do, and perhaps go out for a meal.” I was stripping off the oversuit, boots and high-vis jacket.
“That’s lovely, but there’s an Indian take-away just a few doors down and a Chinese just a little further. They’re both good. Apart from that, there’s plenty of good food to be had.”
“Indian is fine. I like spicy food.”
“Not really. Not the really hot stuff, though.”
She pointed me to her spare bedroom, which was cluttered with ... stuff ... but the bed was accessible, just, and had clearly just been made up fresh. I dumped my overnight bag.
When I emerged, she was on the phone and, after a stream of words, I could tell she was giving her card details.
“I would have paid for supper,” I complained.
She grinned. “Never mind. It can be your treat tomorrow.”
We walked together the couple of hundred yards to pick up our order, then back to consume it. Spiced lamb. Pilau rice. Some sort of yoghurt side, poppadums, mango chutney. Onion bhajis. Eileen produced two bottles of Tiger beer.
“Oh, a woman after my own heart,” I laughed. “I don’t know a better drink to enjoy with a curry.”
Replete, we relaxed in Eileen’s small living-room. “I don’t know when I’ve enjoyed a meal more,” I commented, seriously. “Thank you.”
“You’re thanking me? You should be thanking Westcotes Tandori!” She chuckled.
“Actually, I was thanking you for the hospitality, and the company,” I said.
She nodded, suddenly serious. “I know. I was making light of it. You know, I’ve been dreaming lately.”
“Oh? That’s interesting. So have I.” I took a deep breath. “About flying with the ATA in nineteen-forty-one.”
“No joke?” She looked at me, wide-eyed, and I shook my head. “You soloed after only six hours,” she said, still watching me.
“And you were jealous, because no women were being soloed with less than eight hours.”
“And positively green when you were sent to Class Two training while I was still flying Moths and Magisters.”
What the hell? “You know,” I hesitated, “I thought it was strange how easily we got on together when we met. It’s like ... we knew each other.”
“Yeah...” That was drawn out, pensive.
Perhaps this would be a good place to explain that, while I function well enough at work, I’ve always been, well, shy, with the opposite gender. In fact Eileen was the first woman I’d ever spent any time with on anything approaching an intimate level. I didn’t even think of the possibility of sharing her bed, so when my usual bed-time approached, I said I was ready for bed, and did she want to go first in the bathroom? She smiled.
“Go ahead. Sleep well. Breakfast at about eight?”
The Master was more complicated than the Moth or Magister, of course, but they made me learn mnemonics for checking the aircraft before flying and before landing. “Landing with the undercart up will really spoil your day, and everyone else’s.” The aircraft had the V-12 Rolls-Royce Kestrel, water-cooled engine of about seven hundred horsepower, though other models had the Bristol Mercury or Pratt and Whitney Twin Wasp radials.
A couple of hours dual, a few solo circuits, stall and spin recovery (dual)and some hints and tips, and almost before I knew where I was, I was sitting in the cockpit of a Hawker Hurricane. It was an elderly machine and showed its age. At least it had a two-position airscrew, rather than the fixed one of the very earliest models. “Fine pitch for take-off and landing, Halliwell, and don’t forget to change it when you’re in the air.”
The Hurricane, of course, was powered by the Merlin, in that case, of 1,030hp. It was also, obviously, a single-seater. But in essentials, not so very different from the Master.
I ran through start-up – the engine was a little reluctant – let it warm to operating temperature, taxied out, got clearance, and took off. It was a rather nice, steady, aeroplane. I ran through the routine I’d been set, returned to the airfield, landed, and returned to dispersal. I was then given ‘ferry pilot notes’, describing the essential characteristics of class two aircraft, which included Spitfire, Hurricane, Defiant and Barracuda, amongst others. I’d be expected to handle any of them without further instruction. And, as it happened, I was wanted back at base. I was collected in a Dominie, flown by a superior type, a First Officer (equivalent to an RAF Flight Lieutenant) called Marshall. I didn’t think much of his piloting skills, but he wasn’t the sort to listen to anyone else, especially a lowly Third Officer.
I was awake and checking the forecast on my smart-phone when Eileen tapped on the door.
A quick pee and freshen up, dress, and go find the kitchen. Eileen was grilling sausages, and there was a scent of coffee in the air. There were mugs on the table, each with a black plastic funnel affair, from which the aroma was rising. Filter coffee. Say what you like, filter beats espresso hands down, in my opinion.
“White or wholemeal bread, David?”
A plate, bearing a thick sandwich, was placed on the table. “Sit! Eat! Don’t let it get cold!”
“Yes, Ma’am!” I saluted as I obeyed.
By half-past eight, we were dressed and out on the road, having agreed that we would each ride our own machine. I didn’t say anything, but I was glad that the combination of my helmet and Oscar’s engine noise prevented me hearing the pop-pop of the Lambretta’s two-stroke engine. We’d agreed that Eileen would lead as Oscar was somewhat more powerful, and certainly had more torque, so it would be easier for me to keep her in sight.
From Eileen’s flat, we took the A47 – an A road, but not a fast one – about ten miles to Hinckley, where we picked up the A5, which follows somewhat the Roman Road called Watling Street. That’s a better road, with some sections of dual, skirting north of Birmingham, but after Cannock, and crossing the M6, it is less impressive. Actually, there’s less traffic too. Along the way, there was some congestion where major routes, like the A38 join, and, of course, there were points where vehicles could access or leave the M6 toll road. But, after a little more than sixty miles from leaving Leicester, we were turning into the parking in front of the main museum entrance, just as the doors were opening. We left Oscar and Eileen’s Lambretta snuggled together occupying one space, and I tucked a ticket for the parking in the clear cover of my tank bag.
As you enter the first building, the first thing to meet your eye is a little shop and information kiosk, but immediately to the left is that most welcome of sights, a cafe.
I glanced at Eileen, whose cheeks were pink and her lips smiling. “Coffee? Bun?”
The coffee was good. So was the fudge brownie. Early, the museum just having opened, it was fairly quiet, too. I sat, enjoying the peace after the ride, my snack, and the company. Eileen knew how to share a quiet moment. At length, we both finished.
“Where do we start?”
“You get to choose. We can start at the top and work down, or at the bottom and work up. I usually start at the top and work down, but the other way we’ll end up here for lunch. The ATA display is in the top building.”
“Okay, David. Let’s start at the bottom.”
It’s a fair walk down to the lowest building, which contains an interesting, if random, collection; aero engines and commercial aircraft mainly. There’s a DH Comet airliner, the first jet airliner, but the design suffered from having square windows, the corners of which weakened the structure and permitted metal fatigue. By the time the problem had been identified and rectified, the Boeing 707 was available, cheaper and more economical. The Comet was developed into the Nimrod military jet, of which an example also stands on the site. But there’s plenty else of interest, like the Junkers Ju52, and a British Antarctic Expedition Auster on skis. We were there rather longer than I would normally have been.
The next stop was the largest building, the Cold War exhibit. And what do you know? A little snack-bar not far from the lower entrance. I never refuse a cup of coffee, at least, not before lunch. We sat sipping Americanos under the wings of, if I remember correctly, a Bristol Belfast, and next to a Fairchild Argus. When we finished, we stood looking at the latter. “Our grandparents flew those,” Eileen said.
We both grew up after the fall of the Berlin Wall, so all we knew was what our parents and grandparents had told us, which wasn’t much. Still, the exhibits were sobering, especially the ‘Mutually Assured Destruction’ audio-visual display.
The millions of pounds, dollars and roubles spent ... out of a desire to dominate? Or out of fear of being dominated?
And, at length, arriving at the top building. Experimental and prototype aircraft, like the Fairey Delta, which briefly held the world airspeed record, and the SR53 mixed propulsion fighter – with a turbo-jet for normal flight, and a rocket motor for rapid interception of Warsaw Bloc bombers. A connecting door took us into the war in the air display. Some rare, or unique exhibits; the oldest extant Spitfire, a Boulton-Paul Defiant. Some Japanese aircraft like the Ohka, rocket propelled suicide machine, and part of a Mitsubishi ‘Zero’.
The Germans were represented, too; Messerschmitt 109G, 262, and 163. Focke-Wulf 190.
We were interested mainly in aircraft our ancestors had flown; Spitfire, Hurricane, Defiant, Mosquito, all of which were represented there.
Then we were in the small room between the two bays, gazing at the little collection of ATA memorabilia. A uniform hat and jacket, log-book, ‘wings’, flying helmet.
Eileen looked at it pensively “You know, I’m glad I came, but my mother’s got Gran’s uniform and log-book, her certificate and so on.”
“I’d like to see them. I wonder what happened to Grandad’s.”
“Uh huh.” She reached out and took my hand...
I sat in the right-hand seat of the Argus taxi. Third Officer Morris was piloting, and we were on our way to the Hawker factory at Langley for me to ferry a Hurricane to 43 squadron at Drem in East Lothian. I was watching her, and she glanced at me, changed hands on the stick, reached out to take my hand and squeezed it.
“Did you feel that?”
Eileen’s voice penetrated my momentary daze.
“Yeah ... Yes. Wow.”
“We need to talk.”
“Yeah. I suppose we do. But can we eat first?”
She laughed, and it was like ... a stream running over rocks, maybe. My heart lurched.
In the cafe, we ordered, got bottles of water, and waited for our food. My hands were on the table, and she placed her right on my left. “David, when you dream ... am I there?”
I wasn’t entirely sure how to answer that, but I tried. “Eileen, when I dream, I’m my grandfather, back in 1941. Your grandmother is there, too, and ... she’s very like you. But we aren’t them. Are we?”
She didn’t answer immediately, and our meals arrived. We tucked in. We cleared our plates without further words, and sat back.
“I don’t know. It’s like ... one of those repeating lives. You know, where someone claims to remember past lives? All I can say is, I was drawn to speak to you at Duxford, and that’s something I don’t do. Talk to strangers, that is.”
“Eileen, you’ll probably guess I’m not confident with women ... I don’t have any experience with that sort of emotion. I mean, there’s been no-one since Jane Almond turned me down when I was thirteen. I don’t follow the soaps, or dance, or go to clubs...”
“Me neither!” Eileen actually grinned. “I’m not much more experienced than you. I was married for a couple of years, and that was a disaster.”
“So what I’m trying to say is, I really like you. Time with you is ... like taking my life in greyscale, and suddenly turning on the complete spectrum.”
“That sounds ... um ... important? Significant? Something like that. I hope it makes you feel better that I feel much the same way.”
What I wanted to say was that I was falling in love with her, except that I was uncertain of what that meant and, any way, I didn’t want to frighten her off. “Have you had enough to eat?”
“I think so. Why don’t we go for another wander round before we go home?”
I’d taken more interest in aeronautical development since the War, so was able to fill out some of the information on the displays. The TSR2 was sister to the airframe at Duxford, and I’d talked a little about that story while I was there, but next to it, the Saunders-Roe SR53 experimental machine stood, and I was able to give at least an outline of the history and how recently it had emerged that Lockheed had bribed the German government to buy their F104 Starfighter rather than the proposed development of the SR53. Not to mention the high rate of fatalities in the German air force, thanks to the Starfighter’s limitations.
“Politics and corruption,” Eileen commented.
“Yeah. Gets everywhere.” We were silent then. I didn’t see any point in going over any more of what I knew of the politics of the aero-space industry.
Mid afternoon, we made our way to the car-park and our machines, and set off back to Leicester.
“Are you really hungry again?” Eileen enquired as we arrived back at her apartment.
“I’ve got plenty of bread and stuff to go in sandwiches.”
We ate, and watched a documentary about women pilots in the ATA, then went to our separate beds.
“Congratulations, Second Officer Halliwell. Your promotion has come through, and you’re off to train on class three.”
“Thank you, sir! That’s great!”
“You’ve earned it. Now, then. I wonder if you’d like to suggest one, or more, of your colleagues you feel would do well with class two?”
I hesitated, but took a deep breath. “Third Officer Morris, sir, without a doubt. I think she’s a better pilot than any of us.”
“A woman? Hmm. I did hear some were being trained and doing quite well. “Very well, Halliwell. Be ready to go in the morning.”
“Do you need to go straight home this morning?”
“Not desperately. What do you have in mind?”
“A short ride on Oscar to the Great Central Railway*.”
*The Great Central Railway is actually a preserved heritage line, not part of the national rail system.
“Sounds great!” I was happy to spend more time in Eileen’s company. Besides, I really enjoy steam railways.
Fifteen minutes after straddling Oscar and kicking him into life, I was heaving him onto his stand in the Leicester North Station car park and affixing the disc-lock to the front brake.
When I stood and turned to Eileen, she was pink-faced and grinning. “Oh, David! That’s a bit different to my put-put scooter!”
“Your SX200 is hardly a put-put,” I corrected her.
“Perhaps not, but the sound, and the vibration ... my God! And we didn’t get above forty, did we?”
“No, we didn’t.” I waved at the station entrance and we went in to buy tickets. Of the options, we went for Roamer tickets, which entitled us to ride all day and get off and on as we wished. That meant we could stop at the intermediate stations to explore and get on the next train. It was fun. And interesting. We arrived at Loughborough station in time for lunch, and finally left Leicester North on Oscar again at three-thirty.
I was going to leave Eileen at her apartment once I’d picked up my bag, and go straight home, but there was no way she was going to let me get away with that. I lost my virginity to Eileen that afternoon, thanks to two fifteen minute rides on a five-hundred cc single-cylinder, old-fashioned motorcycle. Despite her marriage, she wasn’t much more experienced than I. In fact, thanks to much porn, I actually knew more, in theory, than she did. I ate my first pussy – which was delicious and very rousing – and after a couple of orgasms for her I found myself thrusting into her frantically while she responded in much the same way. There was no way I was going to last, but the way her pussy rippled and clamped down on me, I couldn’t soften either, and with her legs clamped round my thighs, I couldn’t have escaped even had I wanted to. When we did part, we squeezed into her shower together. It was a squeeze, but neither of us were fat.
You can be sure I didn’t much want to leave, but home and work on the morrow called. Our parting kiss was rather intense.
Oscar thumped happily the thirty miles up the M1 at sixty miles an hour. I was pleased to leave the motorway in favour of the A617 to Chesterfield. There I picked up the A61 into Sheffield, and was home soon after eight o’clock. Suddenly I realised I was tired.
Back from class four training, I was ferrying quite a selection of medium bombers and transports, including Mosquitoes which were getting quite a reputation for completing impossible missions. For some reason, I liked the Dakota; solid, reliable and easy to fly.
Eileen had been transferred to Hamble. She, too, was now a Second Officer and cleared to fly class four. The ingrained prejudice against the women pilots had been overcome by sheer necessity. I’d moved, too, a couple of times, so we met rarely and then, briefly; too briefly to exchange more than a smile and a few words. The pace of the war was really building up. One thing we were doing was ferrying fighters, mainly, to Maintenance Units to be dismantled and packed up for export. Australia and Russia, mainly. My overwhelming feeling was tiredness.
“Hey, David! Can I come to yours at the weekend?”
“Absolutely! On the Lambretta?”
“If you don’t mind me on Oscar’s pillion, I’ll come on the train.”
“That’s great! I’ll meet you, if you just text your arrival time. If you’ve a lot of luggage, we can use the tram, or a taxi.”
“I’m afraid I can’t travel as light as you, David. I’ll have a case. I don’t think Oscar would be very practical. Do you live far from the station?”
“About a twenty minute walk. But you – or I – won’t want to lug a case that far. I look forward to it.”
“Lovely! I was hoping we’d visit the Yorkshire Air Museum.”
“We can definitely do that. It’s only about sixty miles. We can eat in the NAAFI*.”
*The Yorkshire Air Museum at Elvington is in the buildings of the former bomber base, RAF Elvington. The cafe tries to replicate the wartime ‘Navy, Army, and Air Force Institutes’: an organization providing canteens, shops, etc., for British military personnel at home or overseas.
“Wonderful! See you then.”
“Oh, Halliwell; yours is a Spitfire Vb to 131 squadron at Castletown.”
The Spitfire V was obsolescent as a front-line fighter, being replaced by the IX model, but it was still a joy to fly. The aircraft I was to fly had been rebuilt at a Maintenance Unit, and would provide air cover to Scapa Flow. It was a five hundred mile flight, about two and a half hours in the air at an economical cruise. Without extra tanks, I’d need at least one fuel stop.
You know Murphy’s Law? And the corollary? What about ‘O’Toole’s commentary? If you’re not familiar with it, it’s ‘Murphy was a fucking optimist’.
Things were fine as far as Kirknewton, which was over halfway. The kite was fuelled up and I took off.
I was about fifty miles from my destination when there was a slight, I don’t know. Not a noise, exactly, and if it was a vibration, it was over too quickly to notice. The engine was purring along perfectly, and the prop was spinning, but the aircraft was slowing. All the instruments were fine, but there was no power to the prop.