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Never So Few

Guest TelephotoMarigold

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Story title: Never so Few

Type of story: Short fiction

Main characters The Guys: Alf, Aden, Geoff, Roman Angelo, Jack

The Gals: Belle, Nicole, Annie, Ruby, Charlie

BTTB rating: A (L V SC)

Genre: friendship, romance, drama, wartime theme

Warnings: Contains Reference to War and violence

Summary: It is summer 1940 and an RAAF unit is stuck in a small sleepy village in the heart of England, they fly their planes over the heart of the English countryside to defeat the encroaching Germans.,,, they are joined by an entertainment troop fresh from Summer Bay….

Wing Commander Alf Stewart walked briskly into the briefing room. It was a large room in the Officers Mess. There were numerous pictures dotted around the room on the cream painted walls. He took in the sight of the other high ranking Airforce types and shared a smile with one of the chaps from his Polish counterparts. He adjusted his eye patch after removing his peaked hat. Squaring his shoulders he stood to attention. He had lost the eye in a scuffle during one of his flights over Dunkirk, when he had been flying cover for the evacuation. The people that be had pinned some silver on his chest and sat him at a desk. He hated the paperwork and he hated the bureaucracy but what was an Aussie to do?

“Wg Cdr Stewart.” He heard his name called from the Group Captain and he moved slowly to join him. He knew the cut glass pommie accent was more for effect than real but he still found it harsh on his ears.

“Ah!” the Gp Cpt continued. “I have a new Chappie for you” he informed him. “Come highly recommended. Been flying over here for a while but we haven’t had the infrastructure to put him in. You should know Alf that we intend for you to run your own Squadron.” He was told.

Alf nodded politely having heard whisperings of this before. He accepted a cup of tea from one of the WRAAF girls and told a sip of the lukewarm brew. “I understand that there is a lot of this going on?” he half asked and half stated, his Australian accent seeming broader for being in the room with all the other Pommies.

“We’re trying to keep you chaps together. We know that Oz is an awfully big country and that but maybe you can help each other with morale and so forth.” Some no account Squadron Leader was saying.

Alf nodded come more before turning and seeing the door open. He took in sight of the uniform, a little unkempt, and the general demeanour. He couldn’t help but smile.

“Sqn Ldr Roman Harris reporting for duty, Sir.” He said his accent broad Australian.

Alf couldn’t help but be a little bit homesick at hearing the accent here in the room.

“Apologies for my appearance Sir, but we had a bit of trouble persuading one of your quartermasters that we were in the RAAF.” Roman was saying.

“Others?” Alf asked.

Roman nodded.

“My wing man Flight Lieutenant Aden Jefferies, Flying Officer Geoff Campbell and Sergeants Angelo Rosetta and Jack Holden.” He murmured and gestured to the corridor.

Alf inclined his head.

“Looks like you’re about to become my Squadron.” He told him.

Roman nodded.

“Sir.” He said standing to attention.

“Alf, I have your orders here you and your Squadron will be based in a small area in East Anglia. I have a driver on standby to take you there. I can guarantee that it will take hard work to get the field operational.” The Gp Capt took him to one side and murmured softly.

He indicated to his Sgt and Alf was handed a large bluff coloured envelope. He stood to attention and placed his empty teacup and saucer on a nearby table.

“Sir.” He said softly.

“Any questions?” The Gp Capt. asked him.

“Just one or two. What will we be flying? And I presume there will be a blind eye turned if we have to improvise on occasion.”

The Gp Capt. grinned.

“Spits.” He murmured.

Alf grinned the Spitfire Aircraft was one of the best.

“I take it you approve Wing Co?” he was asked.

Alf nodded.

“Are our ground crew English?” he asked quickly.

He again was answered with a nod.

“I presume there will not be a problem?” he was asked.

Alf took a half step back.

“No Sir,” he began, “As soon as we teach them to talk Australian we’ll be fine.” He grinned.

Placing his hat on his head he tucked the envelope under his arm and saluted.

The salute was returned and Alf turned smartly and marched out of the room, his new Sqn Ldr following close behind.

“Introduce me.” Alf instructed.

The four men stood to attention in front of the Wg Cdr. There uniforms were ill fitting and one of them was wearing a pair of flying boots rather than dress shoes.

Roman went through their names again and each of the men saluted. Alf took a long look at them before leading them out to a waiting lorry. They clambered on the back carrying all they owned in green kitbags. Alf went in the front with the driver and instructed him to drop him off near his barracks. He had already decided that he would join them at their new airbase in the morning.

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Roman sat with the others in the back of the lorry. It trundled through small village after small village.

“What do you reckon Skip?” Jack Holden asked.

“Yeah?” Angelo Rosetta piped up. “Spits or Hurricanes?”

“Maybe it will be crates?” Aden muttered despairingly referring to Bomber aircraft.

“Settle down and less chatter guys.” Roman called out. He leant back on the uncomfortable seat and closed his eyes. He was tired, not so long ago he’d baled out over Northern France and made his way to the coast where a fishing boat had taken him as far across the English Channel as it could before sending him out in a small dingy. He’d paddled for miles before the boat over turned in the rough seas and he’d swum for it. Now he just couldn’t seem to get enough sleep.

“My money is on Spits.” Aden said.

He turned to Geoff and grinned.

“What do you reckon Bible Boy?” he asked.

Geoff grinned at him in the confines of the lorry.

“You can always pray for it Aden.” He murmured.

The two boys had come from a small town in New South Wales. Geoff had been a farmer’s son installed with a deep religious conviction and Aden never revealed his background. But they had gone to school together and struck up an unlikely friendship, and come the day war broke out they had signed up. After basic training they got on a ship and headed straight to Great Britain to do their bit.

Roman looked at them out the corner of his eye. He smiled at the expression on their faces.

Aden was a strange one, he’d been the town bad boy from what he’d heard said and had only just straightened himself out just before joining up. And Geoff well the boy had an easy smile and an easy going nature. He liked him despite his tendency to quote scripture at them.

Then there were the others, Angelo was third generation Italian-Australian. If it wasn’t for his blue eyes and blonde hair and broad Aussie twang the name alone might have got him in a bit of trouble; beings as how Mussolini had sided with the Germans. He and Jack were boyhood buddies, sheep shearers first trailing around Australia before settling down and deciding to become Coppers. They had been on the force for a couple of years before war talk had made the rounds even in sleepy Outback towns. Jack already knew how to fly, learning to fly crop dusters as a youngster and had taught Angelo so they could join up. They had hopped on a cargo ship in ‘39 and joined up. They’d flown planes from the factory to the various airbases around before being made part of a unit. They gave the phrase flying by the seat of their pants a whole new meaning.

The lorry continued trundling on through the afternoon as Roman dozed fitfully, the others talking in quiet whispers, until it entered their destination.

Roman came awake with a start and looked around.

“We’re here.” Jack said quickly.

Roman nodded wiping his eyes.

The lorry pulled to a slow stop and they climbed off quickly eager to stretch their legs.

“Where the flamin’ hell are we?” Angelo muttered.

Geoff gave him a look when he uttered the swearword.

“Welcome to East Anglia gentlemen. My name is Chf Tech Montgomery Scot and I’m your ground crew. They sent me here because they can’t understand my accent either.” He uttered in a broad Scots accent.

Roman looked at him and made introductions.

He nodded and shook the hands of each of them as opposed to saluting, immediately making friends with them.

“Lets get you squared away.” He murmured and started leading them off.

Roman looked at the others and grinned.

“You heard the man.” He said.

“Yeah but I didn’t understand a word of what he said.” Aden muttered with a smirk.

Roman grinned as they almost ran after the other man. He showed them the barracks and stood back when they entered.

“Draw up a list of what you need gentlemen and I’ll requisition it for you.” He told them, a strange smile on his face.

Aden and Geoff looked at each other and grimaced.

“It’s not bad.” Jack said.

“Yeah we stayed in worse places.” Angelo told them. “Remember Balmory Station.”

“Until you got us kicked off the station by going after the Stockman’s daughter.” Jack laughed.

Aden grinned.

“Through that door is your bathroom. The plumbing works but the hot water is sparse.” Scot told them with a grin.

“We’re used to that after being here for a while.” Aden said in reply. “What is it with you guys, your beer is warm and your bathwater is cold?”

Scot shrugged.

“There is also a room for you.” He said to Roman.

“I wondered where I was going to sleep.” He grinned and moved through the door to see a slightly larger than single bed in a room with desk and chair and a wardrobe. He looked at the mismatched wood that made up the furniture and the three shelves pinned to brackets on the wall.

“It’d great.” He said with genuine enthusiasm.

He tuned and moved towards the others through the door and grinned as they’d moved the bunks. And set up a table in the centre of the room. They found some crates and had these set up as stools.

“We’re going to need quite a few things.” Geoff said.

He pulled out his notebook and turned to the back page.

“Books, a gramophone and records, newspapers.” He began and waited for the others to nod before he wrote them down.

“Extra blankets.” Angelo suggested.

“A wireless set.” Roman told him.

Geoff nodded and wrote that too.

“Chairs. Not just for here but comfortable ones.” Aden grinned. “For when we are waiting for the call.”

Roman nodded.

“I know there is a blackout but more lights.” Jack suggested pointing to the three lights they had. He moved to the switch and clicked it on and only two of the bulbs worked.

Scot nodded acknowledgement.

“Leave it with me.” He said with a grin and began walking out. “Oh.” He said paused at the door. “Would any of you like to know what you’ll be flying?”

“Yes.” Came a chorus of voices.

“The Spitfire.” Scot said and saw them grin.

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"I can’t believe we are stuck here. Can’t they have found us somewhere nicer to stay in?” Came the plaintive cry of Nicole Harris.

“Will you shut up.” Belle cried out. “Some of us are happy to be here.”

Nic glared at her.

“In the middle of nowhere? With no boys and no dances?” she asked her.

Belle nodded looking at the front of her camera and gently dusting the lens.

“It’s a nice pub and the landlady has made us comfortable.” Annie Campbell added to the conversation.

“Yeah, I like Irene.” Belle said referring to Irene Roberts the landlady of “The Bell” public house they were staying in before she grinned at Nic who was pouting.

“Well Ruby agrees with me.” Nic said dragging in the other member of the dance troupe.

Ruby lay back on the bed and looked over at them.

“I like it here. It’s so green and flat. You can see for miles and who would want to be in London with the blitz.” She said quietly.

Nic stood up and smoothed a hand over her stocking straightening the seam at the back before walking over to one of the small windows.

“It’s green because it rains. All the time. Not even in the wet season back home have I seen so much rain.” She said softly.

“Nic are you homesick?” Annie asked her sweetly.

Nic turned round and looked at them a tear falling down her face.

“Yes.” She said then stood up straight.

Annie moved quickly off the bed and came over putting her arms around her.

“I miss home too.” She said to her.

“Its more than that though isn’t it Nic?” Ruby said quietly.

Nic glared at her.

“Tell them.” she insisted.

“I’m here because.” She stopped and sank down on her bed.

“Because?” Belle encouraged.

She looked at each of them.

“My dad is here.” She proclaimed. “He’s flying for the Brits and I’m going to find him.”

“Wow Nic. Now I know why a rich gal like you is in our little bunch.” Belle said referring to the entertainment troop they were part off.

“And what about you Miss Belle?” Nic smiled taking the sting out of the words.

“I took a photo of someone the day they were leaving and I need to give it to him.” she said simplifying the story.

She reached to the small valise under her bed and opened it showing them the photograph.

“I only know his first name. It’s Aden.” She explained showing them the photo.

Nic looked at it for a long time seeing the black and white snap. She looked at the contrasting colours and caught sight of a man in the background.

“Who is that?” she asked.

Belle shrugged.

“I don’t know. I think they were mates though.” She murmured.

Nic nodded and passed the photo to Annie who in turn passed it to Ruby. She looked at it before handing it back to Belle.

“So how exactly are you going to find him?” Ruby asked her.

Belle shrugged.

“I thought I would go to the war office and start making enquiries along with asking around at the shows we do.”

Ruby nodded.

“Sounds like a good start.” she grinned.

Belle smiled.

“We all have a reason for being here don’t we Ruby?” Nic murmured.

Ruby looked over at them and blew on her fingernails. She was painting them a rich red colour.

“My sister Charlie is here.” She began. “She’s a flyer. They won’t let her fight of course, but she’s flying planes from the factory to the airfield.”

“Oh my god!” Annie exclaimed. “That is so brave.”

Ruby nodded.

“I just joined up because it was the right thing to do.” Annie murmured. “I know singing and dancing isn’t very Christian but well I tried the nursing thing and I didn’t do so well and at least being a songbird I can keep their spirits up.”

Nic turned and stroked her hair.

“She’s not telling the whole truth. She did ok, but there was too much to learn in too short a space of time. Our Annie is here to find her long lost brother.”

“Hey we are all here to find people.” Ruby grinned.

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