Tuesday, April 3, 2012
Charlie Briggs, Chapter 10 By Roisterer
They patched me up, of course.
Well, what else could they do? I was in the field hospital. They stitched me up, gave me some morphine, put salve on my face for sunburn, and other salve on my legs for the prolonged contact with water. The nurses were distinctly unimpressed with a junior officer, even one who was close to their age. I asked about Beaner, Taffer and the Wirral, but nobody seemed to know anything.
After a day, they sent me out, with orders to report in the next day. When I saw the state of some of the poor blighters there, I understood why. They left the end of my foot bandaged up, telling me that I was lucky to have the toe left. I waited outside on a crutch with a boot on one foot and a bandage on the other. A truck was kind enough to give me a lift back to the base.
We still had an improvised base. Half the buildings were tents or shacks with iron and wood. One structure held the CO's office. The WRAF gave me a sympathetic look as I waited. Then I knocked on Biter's door.
"Ah, Briggs, how are you feeling? How's the foot?"
I managed to salute despite the crutch. "Doc tells me it'll be all right, sir."
"Good, good. Sit down, no need to stand with an injury" He indicated a plain wooden foldable chair, the only other one in the room. Gratefully, I lowered myself into it. I wondered if I were going to cop a fizzer for losing the crate.
"Now, the RAF want to thank you for getting those people back. You did a tremendous job there."
"Thank you, sir. May I ask how Officer Hughes is doing?"
His face darkened briefly. "Beaner lost his leg. He won't be flying recon any more. He'll be heading back home on the next red cross tub."
He must have seen my reaction. He got up and came over, holding my shoulder.
"Don't be sad, man, you saved his life."
When I had composed myself, he let go and went back behind his desk. "Officer Hughes can still serve his country. He'll still be able to train new pilots, and we're short of good trainers. I'm sure he would thank you if he could. I certainly want to thank you."
"We heard what you did from Evans," he went on. "That man is a skilled photographic operator, and we wouldn't want to lose him."
Which left the Wirral. "What about Private Stone?"
His face fell again. "I'm sorry, he didn't make it. He had several bullets in the abdomen."
Wirral was gone? I may not have got on well with the man, but he was one of my crew. I began to suspect that not many men survived ditching in the ocean.
"Now, you need to get back to normal," he looked at a file on his desk. "You're to take two weeks leave in Cairo," he said with a smile. "Take a good rest."
Two weeks? I hadn't had any time off in nearly a year.
"When you come back, we're going to give you your own crate. You'll be promoted to Pilot Officer. Congratulations." He stuck out a hand.
My head was reeling as I went out of the office. The WRAF organised my lift back to Cairo for the day after next.
I lay on the bunk, alternating between sadness, anger and guilt. Why had the Wirral not made it, and I had? Poor Beaner, what was he going to do? How come Biter was treating me like some kind of hero, when only two of us were going to be fit in future?
I went into the mess in the evening, and there was a round of applause as I entered. That wasn't the only round that evening. People were buying me drinks left, right and centre. They also reminded me that I had no mission the next day. For a while I forgot about everything.
The next day, hungover, I attended the Wirral's funeral with Taffer. The chaplain said a few words, and we bowed our heads. The turnout wasn't too bad. There were plenty of freshly dug graves in the cemetery, and more than a few open, waiting for the next set. It was all over in a few minutes, and I shivered despite the heat. After a moment's silence, I couldn't wait to get out of there.
Taffer came up and shook my hand - he'd got off with nothing worse than thirst and sunburn. As I turned to go, I wondered if I'd see him again.
Then it was back off to the hospital to change the bandages, and on to Cairo in a truck, with orders to keep off my left foot for a week. I wasn't sure if that was going to be possible, but I promised to do my best.
Cairo was as noisy, chaotic and smelly as I remembered. It was even worse, as this was the hot season, and the temperature regularly hit the hundreds. The filthy natives were even worse, always wanting baksheesh. Fortunately, being an officer, they put me up at a hotel with a bar. The bad news was the mosquitoes, which were much more prevalent than in the desert. I discovered to my delight that there were many few of them in my room on the third floor.
I spent most of the time propping up the bar. One or two fellow officers wanted me to visit a local establishment, but I wasn't interested. I was thinking of Eve. I had time to send out more letters, although the ones from home had not caught up yet.
Every day a nurse gave me a new bandage, and after a week they took the stitches out. I had no toenail left, but at least it wasn't a bloody mess. In the end, the toenail grew back, and I had enough of a toe left not to affect my walking, although I was never able to run full tilt again.
Then, all too soon, it was back to the grindstone. There were several bright spots. I got a new uniform, and another round of applause in the mess, although this time I had to buy the drinks.
Then I got to see my new crate, and my own crew. The photographer was a Harold Fox, known as Thumbs, as he seemed to make mistakes with everything except the actual photographs. I'll never know how such a clumsy man could do anything accurately. His assistant was Farmer Parsons, named from his West Country accent.
Then I had a new APO, and it turned out to be a fresh trainee, who was even younger than me. His name was Derek Hunter, and we had to look for a suitable nickname. It was so strange being in the pilot's seat for the first mission. I remembered how Beaner had handled it, and let the young chap land her as I pretended to sleep.
Well, soon there was a big push on, and the 8th Army broke through and relieved Tobruk. Then we were back in our old airfield. The jerries had been using it in the meantime, and most of it was destroyed, so we had to make do with tents for a while. The battle raged to and fro, and for a while we heard that the jerries had elements in our rear, as the old joke went. We managed to advance and cut them off, and then everything was looking great. At which point all hell broke loose in the Far East.
The Hunter and the Hunted completed novel
A Slice of Life short story (horror)