September 1940

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The photograph does not tell the story.

The faces, improbably fresh, betray little but youth. The uniforms are new, the flying boots unbuckled over battledress trousers. One fellow wears a jaunty scarf tied around his neck in the manner of Errol Flynn or Douglas Fairbanks as he leans against the ops shack in an attitude of studied coolness, cigarette poised in his fingers.  Others around him sit in camp chairs balancing tea and cake on little saucers.

The photograph does not show the line of Spitfires parked along the grass, the canvas patches on the wings plugging bullet holes, the mechanics working in fury to get even one more aircraft ready to fly at a minute’s notice despite the strain of six to ten combat sorties a day for weeks on end, the impossible odds of fighting an enemy more than twice your size.

Nor does the picture betray the knots of raw fear in the young pilots’ stomachs, the knowledge that in twenty minutes they might be trapped in a burning plane spiraling to the ground. It shows nothing of the nightly drinking games in the mess, when the men—boys, really—would place mugs of beer atop their heads and dance on the tables trying not to spill, the group getting smaller every night.

No, it is just a photo of pleasant-looking young men in RAF uniforms relaxing in the sun. They seem to be staring at something in the distance.

 

Sunday Photo Fiction

 

Here’s a link with more on the subject.

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