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T. E. Lawrence, The Mint




The hangar and our day's work.' That sounds an easy picture to draw. Now, for a year and more, it has been the staple of my life: but not yet can I see its truth in sober prose, though always I am thinking of it, always trying to see it.

The facts of course are there. Our hangar is a girder frame, sheathed in iron. The floor is of concrete, without one pillar or obstruction across its main expanse. The mere space of it is rewarding, to a daily dweller in low rooms. Too rewarding, perhaps. An airman alone in it feels puny and apprehensive. It is as great as most cathedrals, and echoes like all of them put together. We have parked fourteen aeroplanes within its central hall.

The southern face is wholly door: giant twenty-five foot leaves of iron, hanging on wheels from their top edge, and rolling back, leaf by leaf, with the roll of thunder when three or four of us put our shoulders to the work. Then, on every fine day, the sun streams in, gilds our kites, and plants fifty-yard ladders of dancing motes in the dingiest corners of the huge place. Also the sun evokes the private smell of B. hangar: something in which oil and acetone and hot metal have part.

I like the hangar well in storms. The darkness and its size conspire to make it formidable, ominous. The leaves of the closed doors tremble in the guides, and clap boomingly against the iron rails. Through their crevices, and the hundreds of other crevices, packs of wind hurtle, screaming on every high note of the scale, to raise devil-dances across the dusty floor. Screech, boom: and the rain after the squall is like all the rifle-fire of an army. That shivering moment Tim will choose to issue from the office, and set all our hands to sweep the half-acre of concrete.

At night it looks a palace. We switch on lamp after lamp, high in the roof, and a wedge of golden light pours through the open front across the illimitable aerodrome which runs up, saucer-like, to a horizon like the sea, and sea-coloured, of waving grey-green grass. In this stream of light puny figures, eight or ten of them, swim, at a game of push and pull around the glitter-winged Bristol Fighters or Nine Acks. They drag them one by one into the lighted cave: then the doors clang shut, the lights go out: and the dwarfs trickle out from a dwarf-door in rear, across grass and gravel, bedwards.

Tim is the Flight Commander. He's a jewel. We enjoy every massive inch of him. It's a sight to see him shaking with silent mirth when somebody is foolish. We can watch the smile coming, from behind him, by the slow widening of his jowl. It's another sight to see us scuttling with fright behind buses and round corners, when word goes forth that Tim has a weed on. Tim is our barometer; he sets the flight's weather. B. Flight has the most exciting climate in the world.

At Cadet College the R.A.F. officer comes back to his own, in the foreground of authority, with the flight commander as the absolute fore-head. Our fifteen-man flight has three or four officers. Can they help meeting us, speaking to us, knowing us? We are the hands who actually push their machines about: on our vigilance and duty the officers' lives depend, for hours every flying day.

Because officers take their proper places, sergeants and corporals take theirs. Gone is the Prussian N-c-ocracy of Depot. They become our representatives, not chosen by us perhaps, but nominated from our best with tacit approval. We accept them as useful creatures who intervene and parley for us with the government. If they do not function to our bidding, we can go behind their backs, informally, any day out on the drome where we have the officers to ourselves. The incumbent give-and-take makes us a family: a happy family if the grown-ups are good, an unhappy family when they do not pull together. Praise be to Tim that B. Flight can never suspect a meanness in its constitutional king.

We adopt the officers. Tim is flight-property, the general boast: but John belongs to the three who valet his kite, Crasher to those other three, while Ginger is the object of my gang's service. We match our poppets and swap their virtues and vices in the hut of nights, as the airmen out east match their fighting scorpions and tarantulae.

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