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T. E. Lawrence, The Mint




Airmen are so healthy and free of the joints, that they exult to fling their meat about. Activity does not remind them, yet, how man hangs in his body, crucified. So we drill hard, desperately hard, exercising our bodies. It is a kind of fun, just to pant them out. The raggedness of the mass-effort testifies that, after his own time, each man is caring to the utmost for his good health and muscularity.

Stiffy would have called it a rebellious caring, which tried more for movement than for combination, pretended towards individual benefit, and made his rhythms only a means to fitness. That centipede-lesson of a comity had been the occasional gold upon the slavery of Depot. Slavery? We now called it soldiering, a strumpet-exhibitionism. The airman at Cadet College who dared try for excellence at drill was a bull-shitter, a bobber, a creeping cunt.

Stiffy has been superseded by the new redeeming standard of a job to live by. In its virtue we resist the gas of militarism, which is breathed at us by our sergeants: - eight in ten of whom are old soldiers or old sailors, transferred in authority to the R.A.F. till the baby service has bred its own veterans. They do their best with us men-in-the-moon, do these old minds, which were set before ever they transferred: but we and they speak different languages: their traditional eyes cannot even see how far from their pasts we have diverged.

Airmen estimate in terms of their trades. The overwhelming responsibility our generation lays on us is that our kites and engines must always be airworthy, to take our masters and ourselves into the air. If these masters so interpret their duty as to break into work-hours with drill, then are they so much less our masters: but we must not complain except privily. It is for the public, which pays them and us, to see to it. Besides perhaps they are like cunning old Tim who vexes us with bull-shit if he sees a trace of dirt on the machines. After a minute on the square how excellent is work, how real!

A touch of punishment for slackness in duty: - yes, that's drill's reasonable function. Men will never work for long, unpunished: but punishment, for the thin-skinned, must be feather-light, only perceptible by the victim in its after-effects. But if the Powers blunder and ask that a drill be done well, for its own sake: or for a decoration, to smarten our bearing: - why then the body politic festers. We instinctively work canny, resisting within bounds to checkmate the enemy. At least so we intend: but all of us aren't saints enough or clever enough to stop in the right place. Our lightweights will go wicked and take their revenge out of the innocent work, identifying their splendid service with some trumpery drill-maniac.

The hard names show how we are moved. At Cadet College was an abortion (we called it the clockwork lobster) for whom the poetry and high feeling and zest in achievement of the irks were so many devils to be hammered out of them by discipline. When Dolly gave his lobster a yard of line, these complainants of ours would go slow in the workshop not merely on the day of drill (we all did that, in nausea. It is bitter to be betrayed by an officer of our own service) but on the day before and on the day after, too. Happily the greater part saw it was bad form so to betray that the atom could anger us.

Against these few bolshies, the fellows of my kidney would struggle fiercely, preaching submission: even, if necessary, as low as the Depot point of sterilising ourselves to await orders for everything. Let the militarists have their way to its nth of futility. Time played into our hands. If the technical men held together and, ruefully smiling, offered both cheeks and the conduct of their handicrafts to discipline, why in no time the whole freedom of the future would be forced on them, by the discovery that the soldier and the mechanic were mutually destructive ideals. As the art of flying grew richer, the trade must deepen in mystery, or go under - and there could be no failure for the R.A.F. with the material now accepting enlistment. It had grown bigger than its rank and file, bigger than its chiefs.

The officers might delay progress for a few years: no more. Even now the airmen called the tune, in work-hours. A spanner, a screwdriver, a scraper, a file - these are our insignia: not the plumed wings, the swords, the eagles. There compete for our respect the officers who order the public carriage of our canes, and those who design new aircraft, or authorise two extra thou of backlash in the planet pinions of an epi-gear. Which will win the suffrage of fellows as trade-proud as ourselves? Yet the first sort think to bully it with high chins over us on parade, while the others are round-shouldered, shy, and scruffy with oil-stains. A parting of the roads!

It is a real danger. In this new service there can be nothing more traditional than the immemorial crafts: nothing so human as the mechanic off duty: nothing sentimental except a rare pantomime at Wembley or Hendon. The working mechanic will not be gay, with the weight of the effort towards indefinite victory on his unguided head: - unguided, largely because the Officers' Mess achieves the public-school tone, and so dares not look beyond the concrete.

Those we regard as our natural aristocracy show three generations of artisan forbears by their mere grip of the tool-handle. Lacking this touch, though you're the best fellow in the world, you cannot be our leader. A pilot climbs into one of our buses, yanks the throttle open and flogs her into the air. Hear us curse his ham-fisted cruelty to machines. Our machines, please: the beloved created things whose every inmost bolt or outstretched spar has felt our caring fingers. Many officers know only the back and bottom cushions of their cockpit seats. 'Officers? I've shit 'em' rigger or fitter will choke out over there, angered nearly to tears.

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