Air Vice Marshal Park got to his feet and went to the bar. Coming up behind Murray, he asked, “Is that another Kiwi I hear?”
Murray spun around, totally flabbergasted. “Sir? You’re a New Zealander?”
But the others were sputtering, “Kiwi? What’s a Kiwi?”
“Some kind of stupid bird from Down Under, I think.”
“Ugly little runt, as I remember.”
“A bird that can’t fly.”
“Well, now you have met two that can,” Park countered, his hand on Murray’s shoulder, as he turned to Murray again and asked, “So how are you getting on?”
“Food’s bad. Beer’s terrible. Weather’s bloody awful. But the Spitfire’s absolutely wizard, sir!”
“Except for the fact that it has a retractable undercarriage,” Priestman noted dryly, causing the trainees to burst into a new round of whooping laughs.
“Yes, bloody nuisance that undercarriage, sir,” Murray agreed soberly. “Couldn’t they build the thing with a sensible fixed base?” he suggested.
Park smiled faintly. “I don’t think we have time for major design changes at the moment. Now, I’m afraid I must be on my way, but maybe I’ll see one or the other of you in 11 Group one of these days.” He shook hands with each of the young pilots, one after another.
“I’m raring to go, sir,” Murray assured him, “but the skipper here,” he nodded to Priestman, “seems to think I still have a few things to learn.”
“All I ask is that you land on the wheels rather than the belly.”
Park laughed with them and then looked at each of them in the eye again. “Best of luck to all of you.”
As he started for the door, Kennel caught up with him, and Park remarked as they left the Mess together, “Keep their spirits up, George. We need them like this.” Another volley of laughter followed them out into the night, as if to underline what he meant.
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