(Setting: Operational Training Unit Harwarden: Early August 1940)
As they approached the Spitfire, one of the Americans caught sight of the approaching officers and rushed over. “Flight Lieutenant Priestman? Howard Briggs, Detroit Times. Pleasure to meet you. We’ve been hearing some great things about you.”
“All lies, then, I can assure you.”
The American started and then laughed heartily. “Love your English sense of humour! Wonderful!” He jotted something down, and Kennel raised his eyebrows at Robin. “Tell me about this kill of yours, Mr. Priestman.”
“Didn’t you shoot down a Do17 the other night?”
“Yes, I shot down a Dornier 17, a twin-engine, monoplane aircraft of German manufacture. Maximum speed 250 mph – or thereabouts – range roughly 1,500 miles. All four crewmen aboard survived.”
“Uh-huh. Would you tell us about it?”
“About the dogfight,” Briggs pressed him, a touch exasperated by Priestman’s evident reticence.
“There was no dogfight. The Dornier is not a fighter and had no fighter escort. I intercepted an enemy intruder and, in accordance with standing orders, I did my best to shoot it down. This time I was lucky.”
“The Spitfire is equipped with eight Browning machine guns. They are quite effective. I suggest you inspect the wreckage of the Dornier for evidence of their impact.”
“Love to, but your police or Home Guard or whatever it is won’t let us near it. Top Secret. You make it sound very easy, Mr. Priestman – what’s that expression you boys use, ‘piece of cake,’ eh?” How silly it sounded in that American accent, and Robin resented the reporter even more. The reporter was continuing belligerently, “The way we hear it, Nazi planes are flying over here night after night – heard bunches of them myself – and most of them go home unmolested.”
“Have you ever flown at night?”
“Once or twice.”
“Did you find it easy to see other aircraft in the darkness?”
“Uh. I don’t think I tried. But, look, don’t you Brits have some sort of top-secret tracking device for locating aircraft?”
“I’ve heard rumours, but I wouldn’t know.”
“You mean you don’t have any means of tracking the enemy aircraft?” The second reporter, who had not introduced himself, asked with open hostility.
The reporters struck Robin as vultures. Both seemed to be hunching over their pads with their pencils poised, ready to tear him apart. “We have the Observer Corps – extremely efficient and dedicated volunteers, mostly ex-service men and women from the last war. I highly recommend visiting one or more of our observer stations – particularly on a dark night.”
It took them a moment to digest that answer and then Briggs asked, “What chances do you give the RAF of defeating the Luftwaffe?”
“None.” There was a collective gasp – and not just from the reporters. Kennel at once tried to intervene, “Now just a minute, Priestman—”
“In case you haven’t noticed, we are not attacking Germany. We don’t have to defeat the Luftwaffe. All we have to do is convince the German government that it is not worth their while trying to conquer England.”
“And you think you can do that?” the second reporter insisted skeptically.
Priestman looked at the reporter and considered his answer carefully. Then he smiled. “Let me put it this way, gentlemen. I would not want to trade places with a Luftwaffe pilot for anything in the world.”
“Why not? Don’t you think their planes are as good as yours?”
“The Me109 is a very good aircraft. I was shot down twice by 109s.”
“Then why wouldn’t you want to trade places with a Luftwaffe pilot?”
Priestman shrugged and jammed his fists deeper in his pockets. The photographer lifted his heavy camera to his face and with a flash, a photo immortalised the moment. Robin stood in front of his Spitfire staring into the camera, with a plaster over his left eye and his hair falling over the right. “Never fancied getting my arse shot off for a dictator.”
Robin was deadly serious, but for some reason the others all found the answer terribly funny.
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