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T. E. Lawrence, The Mint




We spend hours on semaphore, dotting ourselves on not-foggy days round all the edges of the valley to waft obscenities at one another with our arms. The fellows mis-spell these words phonetically, never having in their lives seen one of them in print. The Air Force, outside the Depot, doesn't use semaphore: so my brain remembers it no better than will carry me through the test at the end of the course. It's another kind of Euclid for the dullard recruits - a brain-food. Whereas lads brought up in the street cannot afford dullness.

School also is washed out after Depot. Squadrons have no compulsory education. So the zest of learning has gone out of that hour too. Not that it ever had a tremendous zest. I used to read Faust, which was pleasant: but the march there and the march back were burdensome straws to have piled on the back of our daily parades.

I'm sorry for the school-master, defeated after all by a physical circumstance. He stood so bravely in the other camp and avoided being an officer to us. Even he avoids being official, if he cannot miss that third rock of being a civilian - creatures from whom we feel strangely far, uplifted here by ourselves within our ring-fence. Every recruit feels always eyed, exposed, pedestalled: except at school, which we'd like to like, for the master's friendliness: but there's that wearisome distance and the sense of waste it carries, like semaphore.

Wasted, too, I fancy are the hours devoted to teaching the man-handling of aircraft. Probationer-officers take us for that: and they do not put enough effort into it to meet our demand. We have almost a habit of trying hard, now. Some of us have read a little aerodynamics; so we expect the officers to know a great deal. Troops ask everything of their officers. Yet at the first lecture in the gloomy shed through which the wind blew damply upon the carcass of the imprisoned Bristol Fighter, Flying Officer Haines confused incidence with the dihedral. Horder and I, standing there stockily like the rest, half lifted a secret eyelid one to the other. Drip, drip, drip, went Haines' voice, wet as the wind.

It was worse later, on October the twenty-sixth, when another young officer deputised for Haines. He tapped the epicyclic gearcase with his cane and airily told us, 'This is the Constantinesco gear. I won't muddle your heads explaining just how it works: but take it from me that it revs up the prop to twice the engine speed.' Our Allen, a country-bred, has been an air-gunner. I saw his legs wilt and his ears slowly redden with the news. He leaned forward crying, 'Eh': but my kick turned his mouth in time. It wouldn't be tactics to expose an officer before so new a crowd as ours: but it's a culpable carelessness. The R.A.F. claims to order our sitting and standing, our lying down and our going forth. Soit: but let its direction be supremely good. It is ourselves, our last gift, we give it.

Unfortunately Corporal Hardy saw me kick Allen and ran me for fooling on parade. He got me a smart sentence. 'Seen you before, haven't I?' said the flight commander. 'No defence? Then I'll make an example of you. You've had fair warning.' So I now pity myself nightly before and after an hour's jazz with full load on square: from which in a muck sweat I scramble into overalls and scrub some floor or other for the duty corporal (it's generally his sleeping bunk or daytime office) till he's pleased to let me go.

Not till ten o'clock do we defaulters finish for the night. That cuts short these notes but nothing will shorten my day, nor this self-pity which debilitates. I'd like to fight it off: but while my body has toughened here in the Depot and budded muscles in all sorts of unused places, my stoicism and silence of mouth gradually fade. I begin to blab to the fellows what I feel, just like any other chap.

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