DAWN – By Will Roe 21st September 2023
The airman stood at the edge of the airfield watching the dawn light slowly reveal the huge grass area that was the runway. He shivered suddenly as the cool air got through both his tunic and the overall that he wore and reminded him of the early hour.
Behind him other airmen were busy attending to the Hurricane’s lined up on dispersal, busily getting them ready for take off at any moment if a scramble should be called. During these times the aircraft belonged to the ground crew, they didn’t belong to the pilots until they were airborne. The aircraft were the common bond between ground crew and the pilots.
A hand touched the airman’s shoulder from behind and he whirled round to see his pal standing there puffing away on a cigarette.
‘You’ll catch it if sarge sees you smoking out here near the aircraft’.
‘Well, I’ve just seen him duck into the control hut, so I’m having a crafty drag while he’s out of the way and not around to know. Probably having a smoke himself.’.
The airman shrugged his shoulders and a grin spread over his face as he watched his pal puffing away on a Woodbine.
‘You know, I bet the pilots would love a fag when Jerries chasing their tail up there. Bet that’s what they think about’
‘Nah, more like they’re thinking they’ll change their underpants if and when they get back here’.
His pal ground the cigarette butt into the grass and they both made their way over to dispersal and the tasks that were waiting for them there.
Just then the Tannoy screamed out ‘SCRAMBLE, SCRAMBLE. ENEMY AIRCRAFT APPROACHING – SCRAMBLE’.
The ground crew were on alert like rabbits to get the aircraft into the air. The pilots exploded from the control hut still sorting out their flying gear ready for take off, running hell for leather to their aircraft. The whole area had erupted into action, no one was static, all had a role to play.
The airman was ready by the cockpit to help the young pilot in to prepare for a quick take off. Engines roared into life, the noise deafening, splitting the dawn silence. The airman could feel the heat from the exhaust as he finally tapped the pilot on the shoulder as a sign that all was OK. He climbed down as the pilot grasped the window ready to slide it shut. ‘Good luck sir’ he shouted over the noise and giving a thumbs up sign. ‘Give ‘em hell’. He knew full well the pilot couldn’t hear him.
He and the other ground crew airmen stood watching as the squadron bounced off across the grass, gathering speed and lifting off into the morning light.
Thoughts mixed between going off to breakfast and which aircraft would return from this mornings sortie and what state their aircraft would be in. Some of the ground crew thought of the pilots that had just left, many much younger than themselves. Just lads really although of course being officers they were a world apart, both on the ground and in the air.
But it was just another day in what would later become known as ‘The Battle of Britain’.