The Shining Links
Air Force discipline can be tough, both for those who take it and for those who dish it out
D. K. FINDLAY
A SQUAD of aircraftmen, just arrived from manning pool, stood stiffly on the parade ground and the drill sergeant was addressing
"You been sent here to learn, and you’re gonna learn. And the most important thing you’re gonna learn, you’re gonna learn right here on this parade ground. The thing that makes the difference between the rabble that you are now and the credit to the service that you’re gonna be. Which is— to obey orders. By the right, quick march.”
Squadron Leader Holland smiled as he crossed the drill ground on his way to the administration building. The sergeant’s address of welcome never varied so that everyone at the station from the commanding officer down could quote it word for word. He stood for a minute on the edge of the flying field watching the stream of yellow training planes gliding tranquilly down, buzzing busily up. None of his school, the army co-operation group, -was in the air.
"You might as well pack them off to a lecture,” the chief instructor had said. "They’ll be chewing each other’s tails off. Not one of them will be worth a nickel till this Court is over.”
He went on past the standard of the R.C.A.F. and entered the Adjutant’s office. One by one the
other members of the Court, the senior officers of the station, appeared. At four o’clock the door of the C.O.’s office opened. They stood, and Group Captain Smeed took his place at the head of the table. The Adjutant read an order requiring a Court of Inquiry to assemble at such a time and place and enquire into the forced landing of a Lysander training aircraft No. CATP246 on Lot 10, in the 10th Concession of Connaught, on the 13th inst., whereby the said aircraft was demolished, the pilot being Sergeant Pilot Jerome and the observer, Sergeant Leslie.
"You may proceed, Mr. Keith.”
"Call the flight sergeant.”
Squadron Leader Holland, the youngest officer in the group, sat intent and quiet. He had served overseas for a year with a fighter squadron, he had been wounded and decorated and sent back to Canada for instructional purposes. He was now head of the army co-operation school attached to the station. The two occupants of the demolished aircraft were students of the school, and one was his friend. As the enquiry followed the familiar pattern, a part of his mind was busy with the pictures behind the evidence.
He and the Adjutant had driven out to the scene of the accident a few minutes after it had happened. The ambulance had gone, a guard had been posted over the wreck of the aircraft. The farmer on whose land it lay was still almost incoherent with excitement.
"You never heard such a bang in your born life! I was sure the barn was tore to splinters. An’ the next thing I saw was the hay. Gents, it purely rained hay—that stack must be spread over forty acres.”
"Had you seen the airplane before you heard the crash?”
"Surely, surely. Why, we watched it from the porch here. Gen’rally we don’t pay much attention —they just go by, tendin’ to their own business— but this one was as good as a show. Pfirst he come straight down, then EEEYOWW! he’d climb up in a big curve an’ over on his back an’ jest float down like a yellow leaf. Then he’d roll over like ’twas no trouble at all—he mighty near rolled into them treetops—then he comes straight for the cables yonder. I yells, ‘He’s a goner, he’s into the wire!’ Then he ducks under it an’ comes roarin’ past the porch. An’ then we heard the crash. Gents, it’ll puzzle me to my dying day to figger out how them lads weren’t killed right there.”
Gradually they were able to build up the complete picture. In pulling out of a roll, the aircraft had nearly run into a power line, had got under it, then suddenly faced with a knot of buildings, the pilot had tried to bank between them. The lower wing tip struck a gate post, the aircraft staggered, had almost righted itself a few feet above the pasture field, when the other wing struck a haystack. It swung around and rolled over and over, crushing the airframe into a mass of fabric.
The officers walked on past the wreckage to where the edge of the pasture fell away in trees and piles of stone into a gulley. The Adjutant peered over.
"If that haystack hadn’t stopped them—ug!” He turned around and looked at the cluster of buildings with some admiration.
"If it hadn’t been for that one post sticking up, he would have made it. The kid can fly, Holly.” "Best pilot in the school.”
"What about the other lad—Leslie?”
“Nice kid. Not the same advantages as Jerome. Finds the going tough at times and works like the devil. He’ll do his best to shield Jerome, cook up some fantastic story about an air bump ... if he gets the chance.”
The Adjutant looked at the twisted wreckage. “His chance can’t be too good.”
CONCUSSION and abrasions were, miraculously, the only damage done to Sergeant Pilot Jerome. The news from Leslie’s ward was not so good. Shock, possible injuries to the spine. Holland was in the hospital a good deal the next few days. One morning the medical officer showed him a sheaf of photographs. “You’d better tell him— you’re his O.C.”
He had cleared his throat outside the door and gone into the quiet room. The shape on the bed did not move for it was held rigid in a cast, but the eyes rolled to meet his. There was always the question in those eyes, the question that no one had answered yet. Holland stood smiling down at him and into the boy’s face came a look that he would not forget.
“It’s okay, Leslie. The news is in. The X-rays say that you are going to be all right.”
He bent to catch the murmur.
“Fly again? Sure—fly all over God’s heaven. But not right today, boy. They want you to stick around the hospital for a bit. You might scare the L.A.C.’s into fits going out in that cast.”
“Thank you, sir.”
The whisper was grateful, as if Holland had performed the miracle.
He went across the corridor into Jerome’s room. He was sitting up in bed, his handsome head done up in plaster, his spirits buoyant as ever.
“Congratulations, lug, on getting out of a spot that you should never have got into. Did you have a touch of blackout?”
“Just for a second. No alibis, though—it was pure pilot error. Sorry about washing out the Lysander.” His exuberance overflowed. “But what a ride ! Holly, I swear a cow looked me square in the eye as we crossed the barnyard. Then whango! out go the lights—and in the morning,
nothing worse than a hangover. What a break! And old Leslie is going to be all right, too. There’s something about the army co-operation group—we even bounce.”
“Yes. If I may make a suggestion, while you are lying there loafing you might give a little thought to two things. What good is a pilot who lets his nose fall out of a roll; and what are you going to tell the Court?”
Jerome was sober at once.
“Cripes, is there going to be a Court?” He brightened again. “But you’ll be a member of the Court, Holly.”
Holland remembered a cocktail party shortly after his arrival at the station. He had come rather shyly into a room filled with people and saw across the smoke and chatter, in the centre of a gay group, a shapely girl with extraordinary golden brown hair.
“Jane,” someone said, “this is Squadron Leader Holland.”
“I’ve been waiting for him,” she said and took him by the sleeve. “Come with me to this quiet corner. Let me get you another cushion. Are you quite comfortable? You better be quite comfortable because you are going to hear the story of my life.” She dragged up a chair and sat on the edge of it. “First, I was an extraordinary child. When I was born, I weighed eight pounds and a quarter without a tooth in my head. When I was two, I was the fattest baby on the street and when I was six I was all pigtails. My, I must have been the fascinating creature. But here’s where I really get interesting— get set for the big punch.” She hitched her chair closer. “Listen, when I was eight my pony bit me in the slack of my habit. Yessir, the ungrateful little beast reached right over the fence and bit me in public. At a horse show. Imagine! Am I boring you?”
“With your hair shining like that? Never.”
“I haven’t made a mistake, have I? You look awfully young. You are Squadron Leader Holland, D.F.C., aren’t you?”
“Usually just Holly. Go on, please.”
“No, I think you’ve had enough. I wTas just trying to get even. You see, I’ve heard about nothing but you for weeks, from Ted, and I thought it only fair that you should know about me.” “Ted?”
“Sergeant Pilot Jerome. My young brother.” Her look was straight and serious. “I hope you are awfully good, Squadron Leader Holland, because Ted’s class has you taped. You’re the tops. For them you shine in the dark. I know, because they are in and out of the house all hours of the day and night and I’ve been robbed of a good deal of sleep listening to your praises.”
“That’s odd, Jane, because you look as if you had never lost a wink of sleep in all your life. Everyone in the station seems to run in and out of the Jerome house except me.”
“It’s the food, I guess. Mother and I and Mary, the cook, we go to town for the Air Force. We feel that we are a part of the establishment. Why don’t you come over and inspect us?”
He looked at her golden brown mop, her curving mouth, her grey eyes which were serious one moment and twinkling the next, and knew that this was important.
“Jane,” he said, “it’s a wonderful world.”
Holland came to know her hospitable home very well.
Mr. Jerome, senior, had been drafted by the government—
Dollar - a-Year Jerome his family called him, and never failed to act for him their version of him trying to collect the dollar. Mrs. Jerome was a handsome, humorous woman, who would join a charade as quickly as she would a charitable movement. Family affection was the keynote of the home; each had as lively an interest in the doings of the others as if they lived in a one-room shack. There were only the two children, Jane and Ted. Ted had cut short his college years to join the Air Force. It was typical of him that he could not wait to graduate. He was clever, impulsive, hiding a deep feeling for certain things under a gay manner. Jane, Holland discovered, was a general favorite, especially with eligible young men. Sometimes he thought there was a special twinkle in her eye for him, sometimes he felt glumly that he hadn’t a whisper. But they can’t rule you off for trying . . .
THE EVIDENCE was nearly complete. An instructor of the school testified that at 1500 hours of the day in question, Sergeants Jerome and Leslie had been sent on a reconnaissance exercise. Jerome was to fly a given course, Leslie was to identify and map a certain area. The map had been found in the wreck of the aircraft. The deposition of Sergeant Leslie, taken in hospital, was read.
“Call Sergeant Pilot Jerome.”
The boy came in, tall and handsome in his uniform. He gave Holland a quick look, half cocky, half appeal. He answered questions clearly and without evasion. He had lost height during a manoeuvre; he had not seen the power line in time; he was into the farm buildings before he could think.
“You were aware, Sergeant, that there is a standing order against aerobatic flying on reconnaissance training flights?”
“Have you any explanation to offer?”
“That will do, Sergeant.”
“Well, gentlemen?” said the C.O.
“The usual thing,” said the Senior Flying Officer. “We’ll have crashes like this as long as we have youth and high spirits. Of course, he w^as stunting—he’s lucky to be alive.”
“I agree,”said the Second-in-Command. “Leslie’s evidence only showed that he was trying to shield his friend. That’s the angle I don’t like. If these boys feel that they have to let off steam, they might have the decency to do it alone.”
The findings of the Court were duly embodied in official language, to the effect that the forced landing and consequent demolition of the aircraft was due to no defect in the aircraft but was due to pilot error and that the said aircraft had been engaged in dangerous flying.
The C.O., the Adjutant, and Holland remained in their places after the Court had adjourned. “Well, Holland, what do you think?” “Disciplinary action, sir.”
“This is the second crash in the army co-operational school since you took over, isn’t it? This is pretty much your baby. You have had time to think about it. I’ll rely on your recommendation. What is it?”
“It’s not the usual one, sir. Transfer to nonflying personnel. For six months.”
The Adjutant looked up quickly. “It’ll break the kid’s heart. His class is due to go overseas shortly. Aren’t you being pretty tough—on both of you?” Holland colored.
“Transfer after he’s got his wings and is due for his commission,” said the C.O., “is unusual. I’m
thinking of the service. We need pilots like Jerome rather badly. He has a splendid record, fine background. Don’t you think that a stiff fine and confinement would meet the case?” “I’m thinking of the boy, sir. Couldn’t you have him transferred to Link trainer personnel? Have him sent to Veeville; he wouldn’t be wasting his time there.”
“Might be arranged.” The C.O. stood up. “That is your decision, Holland?” “Yes, sir.”
Holland left word with the orderly sergeant that
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Continued from page 9—Starts on page 8
he would see Jerome after he had been paraded before the commanding officer. The boy came to his room and stood, as white a3 paper.
“Transferred. They might as well have kicked me out of the service!” “I wanted to see you to tell you that the transfer was my suggestion.” Jerome’s head jerked back as if he had been struck.
“You? But I thought you were for me! I don’t understand; you know all about me. You know how I feel about my wings. I thought you would do all you could for me.”
“I’m doing it because I think it is the right thing to do.”
The boy’s eyes began to blaze.
“I see. You knew that crash was pure bad luck, that I might have got away with it. You know they get away with it every day in the service. But because we were friends you couldn’t let me get away with it. Someone might say you let me off. So I’m to be made the goat—to scare hell out of the others. Okay, if that’s the way you want it.”
“You’ll have plenty of time to think why I did it. That’s all, sergeant.”
FROM Jane, like an echo, came “That’s all, Squadron Leader Holland.” She had never learned to be impartial about her young brother. She was stung to resentment by an order that seemed to her both stupid and hard. Holland drove her home from the station Saturday night dance.
“There’s a war on!” she cried vehemently. “Don’t they want pilots? I suppose I should be glad— he’ll be safer on the ground—but I know what this means to Ted. To be busted out of his class; not to go overseas with the boys he trained with. He expected to be punished, but he didn’t expect that.”
“There is the matter of discipline.” “Discipline ! That’s a sweet system of discipline—putting your best pilots on the ground. He is good, isn’t he?” “Very good. One of the best. But because he is good, he has a tendency to kid the rule book. He likes to make his turns close to the ground, to hold on in a dive, to skim the hedges. And he w'as a sort of natural leader in the school; the others all tried to
follow him. A spirit of recklessness is quick to spread in a school. It always means trouble.”
“But it’s a good spirit to have in a war, isn’t it? And these boys are going to war. You’ve told me yourself how the pilots overseas would do a victory roll almost into the grass.” “I’ve done it myself. And after one pilot was killed doing it, we were ordered to stop it and we stopped it. I wish I could explain it better, Jane. There are lots of orders that seem pointless, but orders aren’t given just to spoil someone’s fun. We close our eyes to a lot of stunting. When a pilot gets to a certain stage, he feels that he’s got to stunt or bust. I know exactly how Ted felt. But he was on an exercise under orders, and there was someone else in the plane. That makes it serious.”
“But the very spirit that makes him a good pilot would make him forget all that on an impulse. The commanding officer might have tempered justice with mercy.”
“He would have. He would have let him off with the usual. It wasn’t the C.O. It was I.”
“I don’t understand that,” she said slowly. “It’s not like you. Or as I imagined you. I didn’t think you were a martinet, insisting on the letter of the law. You know Ted, how keen he is, how sensitive and high-strung. Now he feels himself disgraced. You went out of your way to pick the punishment which would hurt him most.”
“Jane, it is because he is like that, because he feels things so much, I thought it best.”
“I don’t understand that. Tell me one thing. Perhaps I haven’t the right to ask this—put it down to feminine curiosity. You know how it is with us Jeromes. Did you think how we would feel, the rest of us?” “Yes. I thought of you.”
“Thanks, that’s all I wanted to know.” She pushed open the car door and jumped out.
“No, thanks, I’ve had enough. I’ve made a mistake. I’m going away for a while, somewhere where there is fresh air and people with real feelings and not just a lot of stuffed uniforms. Good-by.” Continued on page 30
Continued from page 29
THE TRAINING aircraft swifted in and out of the fields. The affairs of the school ticked like clockwork; aerobatic flying was confined to the schedule. Holland stood at his window a good deal, staring at nothing in particular. He was beginning to hate this job; there was too much responsibility. He wished he could wangle his way back into the combatant service.
Perhaps he had been wrong. Everybody seemed to think so. He had tried to do his best in a situation that might have become tragic, and perhaps he had just been a dope. The graduation of the senior army cooperation class had been deferred because of additional navigation study. At the end of three months he had put in a request for the retransfer of Jerome to the school, but personnel authorities were often slow to act. There was a list of sergeant pilots to be promoted to the rank of pilot officer on his desk now. Ted’s name should have been on that list.
Jane had come back from a series of visits—she seemed to be a transcontinental visitor—but as far as he was concerned, she might have still been away. When he called, she was either out or busy.
He was standing in his favorite position by the window when there was a knock at the door. “Come in,” he said, without turning around. “Good afternoon, sir.”
He swung about. Jerome, very smart and stiff, was standing there. He saluted. “Sergeant Pilot Jerome reporting, sir.” He grinned, half uncertain, and put his hand out and Holland went quickly to meet him. “Boy ! I’m glad to see you.” “Thanks, Holly.”
“Are you on leave?”
“Yes — forty-eight hours — and transferred back here. And am I glad to get back !” He strolled to the window and looked out happily over the fields. “Best station in Canada. Best thing that ever happened me was to leave it.”
“Oh. Been learning about Link trainers?”
“You aren’t kidding me—much. About Link trainers and other things. 'You know, Holly, we always gave ; you full marks for the other things.
I didn’t give you enough for being devilish acute—Sir.”
Holland waved a hand. “Don’t mind me.”
“Oh, well, you know, this is to say that I know why you grounded | me and thanks very much and I’m sorry I popped off that day.”
“That’s okay. I rather counted on your seeing through it.”
Jerome sat down on the edge of the desk.
“You know, there is an observers’ school at Veeville. Nothing like us I here, but a pretty good show. They ! haven’t enough trained pilots; someI times student pilots fly the student observers. I roomed with one of them, Sergeant Observer Harmon.
I got to know him pretty well, all about his mother and his home. I thought him one of the finest lads I ever met. One of the very best.”
He carefully moved a desk ornament one inch and carefully moved it ! back again.
“I was in the locker room one day. '
He was putting on his gear. ‘I’ve drawn this cluck Whosis for a pilot,,’ he said. T hope he doesn’t smear me. He’s got a girl over at Fairmile. He’s always clowning round.’ ”
Jerome jumped off the desk and went to the window, turning his back.
“He smeared him, Holly. They were both killed. Whosis was showing off before the girl’s house. He sheared off a row of trees. I saw the crash right afterward. You read about these things and people tell you about them, but you don’t realize them until you see what happens to the flesh and bones of somebody you knew. Just something to be covered up as quickly as possible. And that’s all there is for Sergeant Observer Harmon, who liked being alive. Perhaps his mother didn’t care much. Perhaps she’ll get over it.
“It was Whosis’ second crash — the first was wacky too. Someone said, ‘Well, if they’d had the sense to wash him out then, they would have saved two lives.’ Something inside me crawled, Holly . . . There, but for the intervention of providence, went Sergeant Pilot Jerome. Every morning that’s the first thing I think of. I didn’t kill him. Thank heaven I didn’t kill him.”
He turned around. ‘‘You know the first thing I did when I got here? I hunted up Leslie and took a good swing at him. I had to make sure he was perfectly okay.” He laughed. ‘‘He thinks I’m nuts.”
The sound of marching feet came to them. Another batch of new aircraftmen swung by the window and wheeled on to the parade ground.
“Listen to old Cranby doing his stuff,” murmured Jerome. “Maybe he’s got something there. They have learned something when they’ve learned to obey orders.”
“Just half of it.”
“I’ve been thinking about that. About giving orders. It must take a lot of stuff to give some of them.” “My squadron leader used to say
that discipline was like a steel chain running from man to man. You keep your link bright and hard—and that’s the longest sermon you’ll ever hear from me. How is Jane?”
“Dunno. Haven’t been home yet. But that’s a funny thing for you to ask me.”
“I haven’t seen her since you were transferred.”
“You mean she went spft! because you chased me? The nerve of that girl—messing in service affairs ! Wait till I get her on the mat. I’ll parade her! So long, Holly, be seeing you.”
HOLLAND sat down at his desk feeling cheerful. It wasn’t such a bad job; there were some compensations. Some time later his telephone rang.
“This is Jane Jerome, mere civilian, speaking. I wonder if you would mind a polite enquiry—whatever have you been feeding the troops? I’ve just been struck by lightning the size and shape of a sergeant pilot.” “Probably do you a lot of good too.”
“I see. No sympathy at all. When a girl is in wrong with the Air Force, she’s a sad case. Well, before 1 go back to my pack drill, have you noticed how long the evenings are getting? Sometimes I say to my friends and neighbors, ‘Seems like,’ 1 says, ‘we might as well be living at the South Pole or somewhere, the nights are so long—’ ”
“Listen, I called you and called you—”
“You called me four times. I’ve got the times all chalked up here on the wall. I don’t call that even trying. You should see some of my civilian scores.”
“Okay, here I come again. Jane, when can I see you?”
“What’s the matter with right now? I’ll have the door open; you can whish right in.”
But he was later than he expected, and somewhat shamefaced about it. He had been picked up for speeding. Flying too low, the cop said.