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The funk I found myself following the previous mission seemed to stay, hanging over me like a shroud. Although everyone had celebrated my marksmanship when I shot down the enemy plane I kept thinking about the pilot. What if he was someone like me? What if he was writing letters to his own Mom back in Germany somewhere? I tried talking to some of the guys about these thoughts at one of our usual card games. Benny’s immediate reply was ‘S____ ‘em. You forget they’re trying to kill us Chalky. Get them before they get us.’ A general chorus of approval followed this comment.
I get what Benny was saying, I really do, and perhaps if Fritz had shot me I’d feel different, but I was struggling to reconcile what I’d done with the idea that it was something ‘good’ or ‘right’. I walked away from the table and as I did so Mac walked over to me.
‘Peter, I can understand your concerns. I know you lot tend to think of me as distant and that I like to think of myself above you all.’
I made to protest but he waved me into silence and continued. ‘It’s alright, I prefer it that way. It’s the only way I can get through this...thing we’re all in.’ He took a deep drag on his ciggie. ‘When one of you dies, which you will, Charles did. It’s better that I think of you all as fellow airmen rather than comrades or dare I say, friends.’
I was horrified. Was this indeed the only way to cope with what I’m doing? Would I need to become as unfeeling as this man talking to me? He stubbed his cigarette out, only half finished.
‘Pep talk over, Peter. Get the men together, we’re flying to Rotterdam.’
The flight over proved to be rather uneventful. Having saved his life over Meaulte and now having shot down an enemy plane, Tiny seemed to have warmed to me a bit, even joking as we headed toward Holland. Fritz flew a couple of small fighter wings our way but due to our position in the squadron we were saved any close attention. It wasn’t until we were nearing Rotterdam that enemy fighters eventually made their way through to us. Our own fighter screen was occupied elsewhere affording us little protection from the 109 and 110 that approached under the starboard wing of the Wailin’ Jennie.
The MGs of Tiny on the starboard waist and Gonny in the ball turret roared at the 109 zeroing in from beneath us. Although Tiny missed, Gonny’s MGs claimed a good hit and the plane turned away having missed with its own attack. Our navigator, Teddy, blazed away with the starboard cheek gun but due to the difficulty of the angle the 110 was attacking from, missed. The 110, firing back, didn’t.
When the bullets stopped flying around the bomb bay Tiny and me took a wary look around whilst the 110 turned for another pass.
‘Looks ok to me’ I said to Tiny.
‘Yeah, I think you’re right’ Tiny said and looking at the heavy payload we were carrying he reported in to the pilot. ‘All ok here Mac, but some of our passengers look to have taken a couple of knocks. Be best drop ‘em off as quick as possible.’
Mac’s reply was lost as Teddy, now shooting from the port cheek MG took, out the enemy plane as it began its next pass at us.
‘Hey Teddy? You been getting some practice in?’ Gonny exclaimed.
The muffled thumps of the usual welcoming flak barrage began.
‘Hang tight guys. Fritz is giving us quite the welcome today’ The Jennie’s co-pilot, Gillie, said and as in grim agreement, our plane rolled following an explosion on our starboard side. I could see fuel beginning to stream out from the fuel tank.
‘J____ said engineer Sammy Whelan. The mechs only just fixed that after last time!’
‘Perhaps they’ll do a better job this time!’ Gonny shouted up from the ball turret. ‘Looks to be worse this time too. How we doing Mac?’
‘Let me worry about flying the plane, Francis.’ Mac replied ‘But just to put your mind at rest we should have enough to get us back.’
‘Great.’ Tiny said next to me. ‘Should...’
Following Tiny’s advice, once we were over target Benny dropped the bombs as quick as he could. ‘Dun look like ya hit anything. All this way fer nuthin.’ Bill Williams in the tail turret stated as we turned about for the homeward leg.
‘Well ain’t ya just a ray of sunshine!’ Gonny replied, trying to make light of the situation and trying to mimic Bill's accent: ‘Mebbe you should just keep quiet, Williams, you’re bringing us down.’
Bill did reply again, but for the sake of decency I think its best I don’t write down what it was he said.
And so it was for the rest of the return leg. Fritz seemed to mirror our own mood; only half bothering to put up anything like a fight. Indeed, the only wave of fighters we saw was turned away by our dependable fighter screen. The quietness just lead to more bickering between Gonny and Bill.
Fortunately Mac and Gillie landed the Jennie easily and as soon as we had stopped moving there was a stampede between us all to exit the plane and leave Gonny and Bill to it.
Send Dad and sis my love, as always-
Your loving son
Roll of Honor
Charles ‘Tailend Charlie’ Trent