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Squadron Farewell

 

Sneh seemed to be far happier now that she 'had seen off' any girl friend but I resented the intrusion. Not that I wanted any other woman but that she had inserted herself between me and several good friends. I realised that this was partly her feeling of insecurity. Before, when I had joined an operational squadron she had felt that I was virtually committing suicide and that she would lose me. Now that the war was so obviously coming to an end our future was even more uncertain. This resulted in the most blinding rows which could erupt without warning and for no apparent reason. Previously I had given in to her but now I tried to trace the reason for her accusations which usually lead to her realising that there were no valid reasons.

I found all this very difficult and unsettling and although each little reconciliation seemed complete, there was, within me, a feeling that some unseen thing was wearing thin. I was fully aware that I was jaded and tired but was still carried along by our complete mutual infatuation. It gave me a strength that I could hardly support. The one thing that eased the situation was the upcoming concert and the professional that she was, she was in her element. It had all started as a squadron concert such as we had produced in the jungle but as soon as she became involved the lads were happy to leave it to her. She just naturally took over and the bunch of amateurs as one man followed like happy sheep. Some how she had wangled the co-operation of the All India Radio orchestra to be there on the night. They offered their services completely voluntarily.

I was treading a very thin line with squadron duties and was most anxious not to raise any dust. The C.O. realised as well as I that my posting from the squadron could come at any time. I was treated as supernumerary to the strength. In any case he was quite enthralled by Sneh and came to dinner as often as could be arranged. I had, for some time, been wondering why I was still a P/O and contacted my father who had received a letter dated the previous September (30/Sept 1944) to the effect that I had been a F/O (Flying Officer) since just after I arrived in India! Also I was promoted to F/Lt within a day or so of my "Arrest". So, for some reason unknown to me I had been acting as a rank below my true one for almost two years!

This hardly improved my already pallid view of life in the services. I had given dedicated service to my duties as a pilot but I must always have been a bit of a maverick as far as my superior officers were concerned although, with one exception, I was on the best of terms with them. No matter how much 'scrambled egg' decorated that cap I never accorded more respect than I would to the lowest 'erk'. This horrified my fellow officers but often led to conversations that were completely frank and open.

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I had, at last, an aircraft to myself. I had shared "B" with P/o Jimmie Milne, a happy go lucky lad who had just been commissioned. Strange life, when I was flying her she was all mine. We were on different flights and although we seldom met when on ops we were both very proud of her and 'our' fitter and rigger. Now, my very own Spitfire had no letter, just a number. I wanted to call her Omega and use the Greek letter but the wish remained just that. A wish. She never had a letter.

Then it happened, as the following letter reports:-

7/8/45

"Dear Mother,

Today we listen to "Atomic Bombs". What are we to think? Who can, even in a passing thought, fail to think of what has been released on the world. Pilotless planes, rocket bombs and now this. Where is civilization taking us? Where are the philosophers to rule us and the technicians to administer the world's wants? Now it is within the ability of a few men to devastate a country the size of England at the loss of few lives and almost overnight.

It is true that the world is becoming overpopulated but surely we are sufficiently advanced for us to limit it's members by a more reasonable method.---- I have just read Jawarlal Nehru's comments on the Potsdam Declaration. He is a great rock of sanity in this chaos and it is to England's shame that such a man has been imprisoned for so great a span of his life. The crimes committed in the name of Christianity make me reel. It is bad enough that one knows what is right and that one is bound to support that which one knows to be wrong. Let us see what will happen under the Labour Government. Can it be that England is bloodlessly becoming a Social Democracy? Can it be that we shall become a nation of happy artisans and mind our own business? I must stop or I shall begin to feel instead of think.

By the way - May I drop a word in passing, that you do not thank Sneh for what she is doing for me, as though she is a charitable institution. She lays somewhat more claim to me than that! Again and again I ask you to take the most assiduous care of your's and the family's health. At the slightest hint of anything not being well go to bed and take the greatest hygienic care. Watch milk and water supplies and eat, if possible, only your own produce. I know that things are alright now but God help England in epidemics after the war".

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This was from the heart and from a world where atomic warfare seemed remote. The crushing realisation of human vulnerability was, for the first time, palpable. There was a strange atmosphere of the world being in limbo for just over a week. We knew our enemy very well and it seemed likely that they would fight to the last man. Surrender was inconceivable to the Japanese psyche so we carried on wondering how this new weapon would affect the war.

We were in bed and asleep when something struck the window. I climbed out of bed and looked out. In the pool of light round the street lamp were a few friends led by "Slim" Suri. "It's all over Sparkie!" Strangely, there was no feeling of elation. Those at home in England were getting used to peace. We, as always, did not seem to matter. We were used to it; The Forgotten Army. The Forgotten War. "You organising a pissup?" "Nah! What's the use.' 'We are just going to get some sleep." I thanked them for troubling to come out to tell us and they drifted off.

The following day I went to flights and sat in W for Omega for some time before taking off. I chucked her all over the sky; after climbing to some 25,00ft I went through all of the manoeuvres that I could think of short of pulling the wings off when that tightness under my helmet reminded me that I had better get down. Eyes on the port wing root as I brought her in to line up on the runway, bring the wings level. A little flashy but comfortable, I hardly felt the touchdown. Suddenly a "Bang!" and a jerk to port. "You're not going to ground loop on me you little bitch." Hard starb'd rudder and almost up to the gate with the throttle! She didn't like it and I didn't care. My right eye was almost closed. She looked demure but wounded with the remains of her port tyre wrapped round the rim, port wing down, just off the runway. The war had ended yesterday and she tried to tame me. I had never ground looped any plane but came pretty close to it that time.

The 15cwt truck picked me up and took me straight to the M.O. Once my helmet was off, my forehead which had been contained by the pressure looked normal for a few moments, and then I felt it bulge out to match my cheeks and it became so swollen that I could only just see. The M.O. was most sympathetic. The injection of adrenalin had no effect. "You know what this means Sparkie?" I knew alright. I was grounded.

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Letter home. 23/VIII/45

"I suppose that I should be happy now that the war is over but things do not seem to be running that way. I hear nothing from England, Sneh is going back to Poona the day after tomorrow and I have lost my squadron. It is the last time that I shall writing to you from the familiar old address on the top. It had to come in the end but it hurt when it did. I was with them from the formation of the squadron. I have flown my last single seater fighter. From now on I shall be a bloody bus driver. It is fortunate that my F/Lt came through before the posting. Where this job will land me I do not know but it will not be in China or Japan. It will mean an entirely different group of people and missing the openheartedness of a squadron mess. Flying different aircraft, having to work with a navigator, doing long, long flights, no fun, spending most of my time away from base. They may even expect me to sit in an office. That is something that has only just occurred to me. God how awful! The sooner I can get out of this lot the better.

Tonight the C.O. is coming to dinner again. He is very fond of Sneh's cooking. A few evenings ago we put on a show and she did six items, more than half of the programme. It was a smashing success and those who came for politeness stayed to the end. The barman refused to serve in the bar and was put in gaol and then it was found that there was no one on duty, they were all at the show. That meant more trouble but it was a grand show all round. We had the orchestra from All India Radio etc: etc: I was glad that she was able to give the boys a chance to see and hear her before I left the squadron. They were all very thrilled. It was my swan song with the other ranks."

When we parted on the station as she returned to Poona, we had no idea where the future lay. The day after that, waving until the small white clad figure vanished round a curve in the line I was told that I was to be posted to Worli (Bombay/Mumbai) and invalided back to England. So I would be back to Sneh again before going to England. Another officer and I had to hand in all of our "Jungle Kit" before leaving the squadron. He had always played the "Burrah Sahib" and was racially prejudiced to the point of hatred. He paid!

I must admit that there was no one more infuriating than an Indian clerk when 'power' rushed to his head. It was though the centuries under British rule must finally be reckoned with. Every single item was carefully examined (we had never expected to account for fishhooks, needle and thread and so on ad infinitum). The poor chap (actually he really deserved it) became more and more furious as every missing item was priced with great deliberation and delay. I did not feel in the least bit sorry for him even when my documents were filled in on the nod.

Sad, but it was with such ignoble thoughts that I left Number 10 Squadron Royal Indian Airforce.

 

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Edward Sparkes 1998-2002