Letter of Application

Some Go in Darkness

Death flamed in Berlin skies but revenge burned brighter in the bomber pilot’s heart

W. E. JOHNS February 15 1942
Letter of Application

Some Go in Darkness

Death flamed in Berlin skies but revenge burned brighter in the bomber pilot’s heart

W. E. JOHNS February 15 1942

Some Go in Darkness

Death flamed in Berlin skies but revenge burned brighter in the bomber pilot’s heart

W. E. JOHNS

A Short Short Story

START UP.” The signal flashed across the night-enshrouded airdrome. Flight Lieutenant Clive Gilroy, the new flight commander of the Wellington Squadron, climbed heavily into his cockpit. As he dropped into his seat he glanced at his second pilot.

“Hullo,” he said. “You’re Lacy I suppose? I’ve been looking for you to introduce myself. I’ve just arrived.”

“I’ve been up to town—just got back.”

“I’m Gilroy.”

The two men shook hands.

“So it’s Berlin tonight,” remarked Lacy. “Berlin it is.”

Gilroy turned to the instrument panel. As he did so he caught sight of something in the eerie glow of the luminous dials and bent forward to examine it more closely. It was a miniature in a gold frame, a colored photograph on ivory, of a girl, a lovely girl in the early twenties. The photograph had been taken full face so that the eyes, wide, grey and steady, seemed to look straight into those of the pilot.

Gilroy turned again to his companion. “Friend of yours?”

“No—Barton’s. I think she was his wife. He used to fly this machine.”

“What happened to him?”

Lacy hesitated. He indicated a patch on the side of the cabin. His manner was inconsequential. “That’s where the flak came in. Killed him outright. I brought the machine home.”

Gilroy nodded. “Bad luck.” He looked again at the face on the panel. “Why didn’t you take that off and send it home with his kit?”

The other looked confused for a moment. “I suppose I should have done, but—well, I got used to seeing it there. It was like having her—with us ... if you see what I mean? The face sort of comes to life when the engines start. I suppose it’s the vibration. You watch her eyes.”

Gilroy considered his comrade thoughtfully, but he said nothing. Five minutes later the machine was in the air, heading eastward.

For an hour neither pilot spoke. Between spells of watching starlit sky and sombre earth Gilroy’s eyes wandered restlessly over the instruments. But always at the finish they came back to the face on the panel.

“You’re right,” he said at last. “I swear her eyes moved then.”

“I know.” Lacy smiled faintly. “The aircraft wouldn’t be the same without her.”

“What was her name?”

“Joan.”

Another hour passed.

“How did you learn that her name was Joan?” asked Gilroy.

“Barton used to talk to her.”

The other turned, incredulity furrowing his forehead. “Talk to her?”

“Yes, he had a sort of ritual. For instance, when we started up he used to say, ‘Come on Joan, let’s go.’ ” “You must have found that a bit disconcerting?” Lacy shrugged. “Perhaps I should have done had Barton been an ordinary pilot.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“He flew like a madman. We usually finished up at a couple of hundred feet shooting up everything in sight. He seemed to enjoy it. Matter of fact, that’s how he got hit. I hope you don’t suffer from the same complaint?”

Gilroy smiled grimly. “I don’t take more chances than are necessary.”

Time passed. As the machine neared the target area the flak came up and lacerated the sky with flame. Sometimes unseen missiles struck the aircraft, causing it to shudder. On one such occasion Gilroy happened to be looking at the face on the panel. The eyes seemed to smile encouragement. He glanced furtively at his companion—then back at the girl.

The bomb-aimer’s voice, calm and dispassionate, spoke in his ears.

“Right a little . . . little more . . . hold it.” Outside, above and below, hell was flaming.

The Wellington rocked a little as its cargo left the bomb racks. Gilroy tried not to look at the panel, but the face drew him irresistibly, and he caught his breath at the reproach in her eyes. They were no longer smiling.

“Let’s get home,” snapped Lacy.

Gilroy, hard-faced, swung the big bomber round on its westward course.

“See what I mean?” said Lacy quietly, when, four hours later, they landed.

“Yes, I see—what you mean ” '”rned Gilroy. Deep in thought he walked slowly toward the squadron office to make out his report.

TWICE a week for a month Gilroy flew the bomber to Germany, and with each trip his face seemed to settle into harder, sterner lines. He knew, now, why Lacy had left the portrait on the panel, knew that without her there the machine would be just a soulless thing of steel and fabric. Had he not been in love with her himself he would have scoffed at the idea of Lacy—or any man, for that matterbeing in love with a picture; as it was, he knew that without her life would not he the same. At least, life had become different since he had known her—so much so that his visits to the machine by day became more frequent. Once he had found Lacy there, sitting in his seat, a silk handkerchief in his hand, and he understood then why the picture was always spotless.

The following Sunday he went to the adjutant and asked him about Barton’s wife.

The adjutant looked puzzled. “But Barton wasn’t married,” he asserted.

Gilroy stiffened, trying to keep his expression unchanged. “Can you tell me the address of his next of kin?”

The adjutant took down the file. “It was his mother,” he said, and wrote down the address.

Gilroy got out his car and drove away. Two hours later he stopped outside a cottage in a Surrey village. An elderly lady, dressed in black, was there.

He went to her, saluted, and introduced himself. “I am looking for Mrs. Barton—Flight Lieutenant Barton’s mother,” he said.

“Flight Lieutenant Barton was my son.”

Gilroy went on. “Please forgive me for coming here, but there is something I must know. Your son left something in his aircraft—I took it over. Or it may belong to a lady named Joan. If you know her perhaps you would be kind enough to tell me where I could find her?”

Mrs. Barton was silent for a little while.

“Joan was my daughter, John’s sister,” she said at last. “She was killed in an air raid last September. That is why my son joined the Air Force.” Night had fallen when Gilroy got back to the airdrome. The air was vibrant with the sullen growling of aircraft engines. He got into his flying kit and took his place in the cockpit. Lacy was already in his seat, but he did not speak to him. His eyes went to the instrument panel. His hand gripped the throttle.

“Come on, Joan,” he said huskily. “Let’s go.”