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T. E. Lawrence, The Mint




The A.O.C., a very exalted person, strolled round our hollow square, half-hiding a yawn in his gloves, and scarcely letting the fact of us strike his withdrawn eye. Dolly (so we irreverently call him) has played his part in affairs: governed cities, planned battles, and conferred death on many hundreds of men. He enjoys the clash of idea, and such explorations of mind as go far and strangely. The set of another man's tunic seems to him mainly that man's affair. We like him, therefore, for our commanding officer: he is a type to picture; and to yarn of: also his aloof shyness allies itself to his memory of when things were real, to save us from over-much formality.

This inspection lasted only fifteen minutes. The wind blustered down our ranks, also inspecting us, but roughly. It brushed back the flap of the opposite flank's tunics (and of ours, no doubt, in their view), showing the lividly blue pocket-linings, underneath, and the top of each man's trousers. The sunlight caught the lifting or falling cloth at an angle, brightening it. So the still figures seemed to be all signalling together. This movement singularly destroyed the illusion we were set to give, of blue cylinders standing most stiffly, hardly breathing, eyes level and straight ahead.

The wind, taking no heed of our strain, blustered on, whipping sudden curves into the trouser-legs - long bows of curves, from groin to ankle, much deforming the semblance of legs inside. Meanwhile the Adjutant bear-led poor enduring Dolly down the three interminable lanes of us dressed ham-bones all tightly sewn up in bags of unvarying serge. Dolly was too civil to disappoint the Adjutant by saying No: and too decent-minded to scrutinise the reluctant flesh of his men, so paraded for judgment. Very soon came his famous final order, ‘Cawwy on, Sergeant Major,' lisped with relief and a shy salute in our direction. Good old Dolly.

What a revenge that unwholesome Depot takes on its victims! Any drill-order, even on these jocose parades, brings me back the hot odour of our panting flight, and the sound of Stiffy ramping up and down. An instinctive twitch of every nerve follows: and I square myself to hate drill with the hatred in which we hold the Depot. Stiffy's trying to hustle the young west has made the nascent R.A.F. unmilitary by deepest conviction. His square was an alien prelude. An airman at Depot was an airman being warped from nature. That unwholesome subjectitude, which he miscalled discipline, contained not even a root of the motives of service which enrich this place.

The Powers seem afraid to exploit this gravity, this devotion of a deadly purposefulness, which underlies our profession. Worse, they make themselves ridiculous by piping to us on the minor key of their panache. When five hundred airmen on parade see their oflicer march up to the Squadron Leader: (the two live together, as Ching and Alec, in the mess): see him halt with a click at the regulation distance, draw swellingly up, and salute like a pistolshot - then five hundred airmen titter gently. It is theatrical, and theatre in England spells circus, and circus spells clown.

Perhaps, in days of Chivalry, even the north took the parade of arms lovingly, and throbbed at the feel of swords, the sight of banners. Perhaps: though I've chased through mediaeval literature after the days of chivalry, and found their revivals, and legends or reminiscences or ridicule of them, but never the real thing. Today these modes are right out of tune with the social system, whose firm-seatedness makes one doubt if an Englishman's blood can ever have flowed hotly enough for him to swallow a tomfoolery divorced from alcohol.

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