Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Story Time

The man shambled by the fields of an English autumn. The sound of tractors in the fields rose and faded through the dense hedges on both sides of the road. The macadam was smooth and flat and the day was pleasantly cool. He stopped frequently
to rest. The tall boots he wore were heavy and crowned with wooly sheepskin. The left one was torn and the wool crusted and brown.

Trevor McAig was a Canadian abroad. The faint rumble of an airplane engine beyond the trees froze him in his tracks until he recognised the familiar Merlin rythm; it was the tired sound that came from a Hurricane that had flown at emergency power too often. He flew a Hurricane MkII for Fighter Command of the Royal Air Force. He knew that there was more to it than that but he had no clear memory of what came before. His life had begun on 10 May, 1940. Now in September he was a thousand years old. He was twentytwo.

Trevor stopped opposite a gap in the hedge to rest. A tractor rolled across the broad field. A farmer was rapidly smoothing over one of the brown patches that marred the flat plain of smooth, short grass. There were dozens of these patches,
as well as unfilled craters, scattered into the distance. The farmer drove off, swinging wide around the holes, to begin again at the next one. Another tractor towed a skip heaped high with dark, dense soil for filling the craters. Uniformed
ratings walked in a long line abreast collecting jagged chunks of metal. A truck idled slowly along behind the line. The men and the farmers split their attention between searching the ground and searching the horizons. A shout from the walking line brought a crew of men from the truck to a smallish crater. They gently tapped in wooden stakes festooned with white ribbons to mark the site - an unexploded bomb had been found. The line moved on, and torn steel clattered into the truck for delivery to salvage. The shrapnel would be recast into weapons. The breeze stank of diesel, gasoline, smoke, and cordite. This was Biggin Hill, the shattered home of of 32 Squadron, Royal Air Force.

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