It didn't take long. I'd just finished school and was starting to help out with the newly formed ARP, checking the blackout. I only did it for a couple of weeks. Joyce had finished her first year at Uni and volunteered for training as a nurse.
Mum was the first to see it. I got home late one night, and she'd waited up for me. Dad was working extra shifts, and had taken to staying over in central London some nights. I immediately knew it was something serious.
She was sitting with a small light in the kitchen, staring at the table. There was a brown envelope there.
"Came for you in the second post.
She looked at me, and I saw that she was holding back tears. "They're going to take both of my boys."
We hugged, and I looked at the envelope over her shoulder. I didn't understand. Peter was six months older than me, and he got his envelope only a month ago. I'd been thinking that I wouldn't get anything until the Autumn, and by then all this bad business might be over. I was a bit young then.
"Well, no use waiting," I said, and opened it.
She gave me a moment, then asked, "So what's it going to be?"
I read it again. Under all the official notices, I was told to report to Bristol. Yet I was to be joining the RAF.
It took a while to sink in. Me, in a plane? I'd never been in an aircraft before. I spent a restless night. I only had a fortnight to get ready.
Dad seemed to have more of a clue.
"Not all RAF jobs involve flying. You might be stuck on the ground crew or ground defence. You'll be seventeen and a half when you report in. That's the new policy. You'll get six months training."
Then when Mum was busy with housework, Dad took me for a walk. Again we started about the weather, and I waited for him to get to the main course.
"You're growing up fast, but you're still a young man," he said. "Don't worry about the training. It'll be hard, but they want you to succeed. You'll make friends there, but then you'll all be split up again once you get into action."
He looked me in the eye, "don't be a bloody fool, and try to be a hero. Just do what you must. You'll get orders that make no sense, but you'll have to do your best to carry them out. Be somebody your chums can depend on - they'll pay you back the same way."
He stared into the middle distance, and continued quietly, "war isn't like in the films. Men don't die cleanly or easily." His voice went low. "You lose pals and friends all too soon."
Then he smiled. "When you get leave, I'll buy you your first pint." He squeezed my shoulder.
I didn't have the heart to say that he was a bit late on that one, but I was glad for his advice. He was treating me like a grown up all of a sudden. I wondered if he'd said the same thing to Joe.
The day approached. Joyce was busy in the hospital, Mum was getting all her old pots and pans ready for the metal drive, and Dad was working lots of hours. The day before I left we got a letter from Joe: He'd received his commission. This at least made us all a little more cheerful for my last home supper.
I had one more thing to do before I left - I had to say goodbye to Eve. We'd been seeing each other for a year, and she was a sweet thing. She showed me just how sweet the last time I saw her. She whispered in my ear, "come back to me."
"I promise," I replied.
I tried to keep a stiff upper lip when I departed. Dad and Joyce said goodbye when they left for work; Mum walked me to the train station. I took the train into town, then the underground, and then caught a Great Western train from Paddington. The ministry were kind enough to provide me with a ticket (second class) to Bristol. I saw several other lads on the train, but wasn't sure that they were heading for the same place.
I got off and headed to the main building. The letter had given me an address, which turned out to be a large set of low brick buildings with corrugated iron roofs.
Once inside we waited until individual names were called. I was issued with two uniforms, boots and a hat. No sign of any guns yet.
Then we gathered together to listen to a man in a grey blue uniform. He looked really old to us, but looking back I suspect that he was about twenty-one.
"Right, you lot. You passed the initial physical, which means that you're the cream of the new intake. God help the milk."
Chorus of sniggering.
"Oi, quiet. Now, being the cream and ready for some training, you're all off to Canada."
There was some intake of breath at this. Canada? I'd never been further than Scotland.
"You'll be leaving in two days. Tomorrow you help us move some equipment. From now on you are to refer to me as sir. Are there any questions?"
...and that was it. No marching or saluting at all. We had a dinner in a big hall, and were then sent to a row of bunk beds in another room.
The next day was tough. An NCO rang a bell at six, and we worked all day. Every time we finished one job, another was given to us. My arms and legs ached by the end of the day.
This was life in the forces: hard work followed by a lot of waiting around. Ah well, per ardua ad astra and all that.
The voyage was murder. Not literally, you understand, as this was before the submarine scare really got underway, but for me it was hell. I got seasick. I threw up, lay down, ate, then threw up again. There was a little band of the afflicted, and the rest of the lads gave us hell. They were relentless, making motions when they went past my bunk, or ordering something greasy as soon as I got to the galley. I couldn't work out whether it was worse below decks, or up above. The constant smell of diesel turned my stomach. I did make a few friends out of fellow sufferers. At the end of it I wondered if flying was going to be so bad.
Yet no sooner had we reached harbour than I felt much better. There was no time to hang around, as we disembarked, then boarded a train, where it was eight to a car. I was used to bunks by now, and the train motion was fine. It took two days, and then we changed on to a smaller train. We went through Montreal at night, so the only thing I can tell you is that there are a lot of trees in Canada.
The smaller train still took several hours, and we only saw the occasional farm from the windows. I really felt like we were going to the back of beyond.
We all got off the train with our kit, and lined up. Everyone looked nervous, but nobody spoke.
"Welcome to RCAF Station Borden," bellowed a voice from the front.
The Hunter and the Hunted completed novel
A Slice of Life short story (horror)