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T. E. Lawrence, The Mint

PART III


 

8:  WORK

Just as the roomy, sordid, clanging, momentous hangar is our cathedral, so our day's work in it is worship: and the one's as hard to rationalise as the other. There's a defiance of common-sense in every faith. We believe the job's worth every last lift of our arms and kick of our legs: and our belief, to outsiders, may well seem senseless as a Mass.

It's no slug's life we lead. Inside the hangar they keep us for the eight hours of an ordinary workshop: and before and after that there's our own cleaning, bed-making, hut-tidying: another hour and a half. Add, much grudged, an occasional hour wasted over equipment or bayonet for some posh parade: our monthly week on duty flight, when we stand by all the hundred and sixty-eight hours for emergency aerodrome occasions: firepicket at night: a rare police guard, when we relieve the service police of some special responsibility: and you get a full life of work. Wednesday afternoons, Saturday afternoons and the few Sundays not desecrated by a parade service are golden spots in our laboriousness.

So much work, even when the work is worship, dulls the devotees. I get out of bed, often, as tired as I was at Depot: but so gratefully tired. And it passes off, for we all muck in: - the keenness of whoever feels fresh that morning whips up the reluctant. When they fag us out, in Cadet College, it is at least upon the pith of life and not upon a surface adornment. We are greatly useful here in the eyes of all who accept our premiss, that the conquest of the air is the first duty of our generation.

The darling partiality of Nature, which has reserved across the ages her last element for us to dompt! By our handling of this, the one big new thing, will our time be judged. Incidentally, for the near-sighted or political, it has a national side: upon the start we give our successors in the arts of air will depend their redressing our eighteenth-century army and silly ships.

Don't imagine that we all feel this, or that this is all we feel. We face something whose scale towers out of our imaginations. Each of us knows that a hundred thousand men like him will work their hardest at it, for many lifetimes, and still not see an end. My loose loquacious mind gets so far in words. The extreme carefulness of our work gets further. It's not mercenary work, nor duty work. The Air Force and the pay are only fleas making our inspirations itch.

And don't fly away on the notion that I'd pretend us wonderful. We are everyday sinners, keyed to extreme action only because we're up against something bigger than ourselves: but we translate this into talk of nuts and bolts for the day's need. If one of our kites can't go up, for an avoidable reason, the flight hangs its head in disgrace. Suggest to Tug, there, that he's left something undone in his rigging: or tell Cap'n that his engine's not as well maintained as he can maintain it: - and then run for your life, if they think you serious.

When I passed from Depot to Cadet College I passed from appearance to reality. After two days I was saying I had found a home. At Depot we had soldiered so long and so harshly that soldiering had become second nature: sterility quickly beds down into habit, by use. Now at Cadet College I was to learn to be an airman, by unlearning that corporate effort which had been the sole spirituality of the square.

It was a stress, the being chucked a job, and just bluntly told to get on with it. Taffy Jenkins had given us the detail of every movement, by numbers, for a joint performance at the word of command. Here they take intelligence for granted and are impatient with those who ask to learn. If we don't do the thing our way, sincerely, quickly and well enough, we're thrown out to something else. There's a ruthlessness with their human material that braces us: and a refreshingly high standard among the survivors. Our machines fly when they're as good as it lies in our power to make them. If that is not good enough, we drift to mess-deck fatigues or to sanitary squad: forfeiting the technical esteem of our pals. That is a harsh penalty, which puts poor Stiffy's extra drills far in the shade. There is no judgment so beyond appeal as the judgment of peers: and B. Flight's a republic: - or would be, but for its willing obedience to King Tim.




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