I’m Charlie Grymes, I came to England last year when the war started. I’ve been flying for years, dusting and storming back in Texas. So, when the Gerries and the Brits went to war, I figured it was my chance to barnstorm for real. I hopped a steamer and arrived in England just as the battle for Britain was really getting underway. When I got to the airfields, I realized how close things were. Shattered hurricanes littered the outskirts of the airfield, mechanics picking over the ruins just to keep the other planes in the air. They needed pilots so badly that I was in a squadron within a week.
This was no barnstorming. The klaxons rang every couple hours; I’d jump to my feet and sprint to my plane. The crew was always tightening or filling something while they started the engine. They’d only scatter as I roared out of the blocks and into line at the end of the runway. That was the worst time for me. Until I was in the air, I was just an ungainly duck, waddling around. Once I was in the air, it was all different. The 109s wanted to bounce us. They came over the channel almost out of sight and dove on us as we tried to get some air under our wings. I always tried to corkscrew or scissor my way up to altitude. We weren’t after the 109s, we wanted the Heinkels and Dorniers coming in behind them to bomb our fields. The hotshots in the Spitfires got to tangle with the 9s.
Let me tell you, 8 .303 machine guns will take out an 88 in under two seconds, and a lot less if you get a lucky shot into the bomb bay. Most of the time, I only got a short burst off before I had to dive away from a 109. One Sunday, I was just getting to the top of the 109s and the bombers were coming into range. Out of nowhere, a spitfire blazed left to right in front of my canopy. A second later, a 109 passed behind me, guns blazing. I felt several shells hit aft of the cockpit. The Hurricane is mostly tubes and canvas, so they just whistled through. It scared the heck out me, though, and I jammed the yoke against the instrument panel. The engine coughed a blast of blue smoke and stalled. The sudden silence snapped me out of it, and I cursed myself for being so stupid. My crew chief told me every time I took off “the carbs work on gravity, push the stick forward too fast, and she’ll stall on you.”
I rolled over to get some gas back into the engine and it started right up. Just as I was leveling out, I saw the prettiest thing. A 109 had gotten too low chasing a spitfire, and was trying to gain altitude right in front of me. I found myself muttering “gravity carbs” as I lined him up. I twisted the safety off and squeezed a long burst into his tail. He must have sensed something was wrong, because he split left just as the tracers reached him. It was too late, his tail came off in a single piece. He flipped upwards violently. I chopped power and skidded around the wreckage on my rudder..
I never saw the 109 that shot me down. I was just coming out of my turn when the cockpit exploded in a spray of hot oil and petrol. It only scalded me for an instant before it caught fire. The explosion knocked my canopy off one track, so it only took a little effort to fling it back into the sky. The black, roiling smoke that filled the cockpit instantly disappeared. I started to climb out of the cockpit.
I don’t remember how I got out of the plane. I was lying in a village square, my parachute draped over a bench. My plane had started a small fire in the forest outside town, but no one seemed to investigate. There didn’t seem to be anyone in the village at all. My skin felt tight, but not painful as I got to my feet. That surprised me, and my burns didn’t seem too bad. Maybe I was in shock. The airfield was just a kilometer or so away, so I shrugged out of my harness and started towards home.
As I was leaving the village, I heard a soft clattering behind me. An old man sat at the reigns of a cart. His head bobbed from side to side as the horse pulled him up the lane. I couldn’t see his face, he kept his hat low on his forehead. He nodded as he came up to me. I flipped a crown to him, which he deftly pulled out of the air. He drew it under his hat and seemed to examine it closely. He waved towards the back of the cart, so I climbed up and sat on some loose straw. The road was rough cobblestone, but our slow pace just rocked us back and forth. I watched the cobbles pass under my feet and wondered. They came from all over the world to lie here in a country lane. I tried to remember each one as they passed, but there were too many.
I looked up and saw that we were passing my airbase. We must have traveled further than I thought. The old man made no reaction as I hopped off the cart, he just continued on his slow journey down the lane. I could see figures sitting around the tower, waiting for another alarm. They were playing cards, listening to a phonograph and standing in small groups, talking. I walked up to the nearest group, but I didn’t recognize anyone. One of them looked at me with a wry smile on his face and nodded towards the barracks. A warrant officer was leaning against the door frame. He stood up as I approached.
“Welcome to Uxbridge, Pilot Officer. You in this morning’s sortie?”
“Who are you? Why don’t I recognize anyone?”
“We must have come before you got here. We’ve been seeing a lot of new faces lately.”
I grabbed his shoulders, but his eyes held no deceit or anger. My hands dropped to my sides as I realized the truth. “How long will we be here?”
The warrant officer shrugged “I’ve no idea, have we beat the Gerries, yet? Sit a while and tell us the news from the other side.”