Terry goes to Libya, and Jane goes to Bob.
Due to my standby commitment, I was not allowed on leave and I spent Christmas Day on the half-deserted camp. The unit was almost back to full strength the day after Boxing Day and I was glad to see the return of my friends. New Year's Eve, I was dressed and ready to leave the block for the party in the NAAFI, but I sat patiently waiting for Mark and Bob.
"Well, at least we can all have a good ole session tonight," Mark said. "Jane's on leave, so you won't be able to slope off and sit holding hands with her outside the WRAF block all night. How are you getting on with her anyway? Are you giving her one yet?"
I laughed. "No, of course not, you know what I think about WRAFs, she's just a friend."
"Shall we call at The Eight Bells first," Bob interrupted, "or are we going straight over to the NAAFI?"
"I don't know," Mark replied. "You know the barmaid over at The Bells has got the hots for Terry, don't you? We might never get him out of there."
"I'm not going over there," I said. "Last time I was in there she tried to get hold of me. I had to physically restrain her. The place was full of Rock Apes and I felt a prat. And then she punched me in the face and told me to leave her prat alone." The men's laughter echoed down the corridor as they left for the NAAFI, via The Eight Bells.
I was called to station headquarters on New Year's morning, given a rail warrant, and told to report to RAF Fairford the following day. I left on my adventure before Jane returned from her leave, wishing I could have seen her before I left, but I knew I was only going for a few months and would soon be back.
I arrived at Fairford and joined a large group of airmen in a transit accommodation block. The following day, straight after breakfast, we entered through the rear-loading ramp of a Hercules transport plane for the start of our journey.
It was early evening when, after a ten-hour flight, we disembarked at El Adem airfield. I soon made myself at home in the aluminium transit huts. I sat and wrote three letters, one to my parents, one to my friend Mark, and one to Jane. I lay on my bed for a while thinking of Jane and thinking how she seemed to be continuously in my mind. My thoughts wouldn't settle for long on any other subject, but my feelings for her. Now she was not around me, now I couldn't talk to her I realised what a terrible mistake I had made not spending more time with her. I knew I was in love with her and remembered our intimate moments together, but I felt that my stupid attitude towards WRAFs had sometimes clouded my mind and caused me to avoid her.
My thoughts were depressing me. I decided to go and find my new friends and I set off to search out the nearest NAAFI bar.
It was only a few days later when I decided it was time to be honest with Jane. I needed to tell her how I really felt about her and I wrote her another letter. I re-read the last bit again a few times before sending it off in the Forces Post.
...when we were talking about marriage that time, I said that I wouldn't consider getting wed until I was thirty. Well, Jane, maybe I was a bit hasty. Since you went away at Christmas, I've missed you terribly and I can't imagine living my life without being around you. Perhaps twenty-two would be a better age to get married. Am I proposing? No, I'm bloody not. I'll wait until I get back to you so I can look into your eyes and ask you personally. There is not a day that goes by that I don't spend some time thinking of you. I lie awake at night wishing that you were close to me. I don't know if you feel it as well, but I feel a sort of charge running through me when we are together. I really feel as if we were put on this world to be with each other, and if I were to spoil it, it would be a sin against nature.
She would be over the moon when she read this. At least I hoped she would.
I returned to camp and was disappointed to learn that Terry had already left for Libya. It added to the mood of depression I was in following the disagreement with Gwen. I was sitting in the airmen's mess further troubled because I hadn't heard from my brother and I was wondering if he had abandoned me as well.
"Cor! Cheer up, you'll turn me off my dinner."
I was startled by Bob's sudden appearance but pleased to have his company.
Bob sat opposite me with a seemingly permanent grin across his face. "What's up, are you missing him already?"
"Terry, your boyfriend."
"My boyfriend, what makes you think he's my boyfriend?"
"You said he was, before Christmas, when I asked if I could take you out."
"Oh yeah. Well, we're just good friends really."
"That's funny, he said that as well."
"Did he?" I looked at him as if I didn't believe him, or didn't care.
"Yeah, he said he don't like going about with WRAFs anyway." He paused, as if surprised that his comments seemed to have little effect on me. But then he continued with a different approach. "He said that you were looking for a husband, you brought it up, and he told you that you had no chance of marrying him."
"It wasn't like that. Why did he say that?"
"He says lots of things in our room. Said he takes you out now and then because you look sad and lonely."
"I'm not sad, and I'm not bloody lonely."
"Hold on, Jane, I never said it, did I? You don't have to have a go at me, you asked."
"And what else has he been saying?"
"No, I'm not telling you. I don't want you blaming me. It's best if I just keep my mouth shut."
"Look I'm sorry, I didn't mean to have a go at you, but you have to tell me now you've started. I'd tell you if someone was saying things about you."
Bob gave a big sigh as if he were reluctant to continue. "All right, but don't take it out on me. I like you, Jane, I like you a lot and I don't like people making snide remarks about you behind your back." He paused again for a few seconds while I sat staring at him. "He said you've got fat legs."
I started laughing. "No he didn't. I haven't got fat legs."
"I know that. You've got great legs, but he obviously prefers skinny girls." He paused again as if he were trying to think of something to say."Did he give you one of his massages?"
I was visibly shocked by the question. I didn't answer, but I showed a blush as I looked at him.
"I wasn't sure if it were true, but I am now. He said things got quite steamy, told us everything."
"Us! Who the hell else knows about it?"
"Everyone, he's told everyone. I mean it's private really and he should keep things like that to himself."
I suddenly stood up. "He's lying or You're lying."
"Please yourself, you're the one who knows the truth, not me. I just know what I've been told. Look, why not forget about him for a while. I was thinking about going down the West End tomorrow night. Get some tickets from The Union Jack Club and go to see a show or something. What do you think? Do you fancy a night on the town?"
"No!" I said. "And don't ask me again." I walked off feeling hurt and angry while Bob sat grinning.
A few days later there was a knock on the door of the WRAF rest room and Bob looked in. "I've just brought the mail over and put in the rack in the rest room lobby. There's a letter for you Mandy."
I walked out from the ladies room. "Is there a letter for me?" I asked.
"Sorry, Jane I didn't know you were in here. Yes, there's a letter for you as well."
"I bet mine's a letter from Freddie," Mandy said.
"A letter from Freddie," I said. "He's only billeted across the parade square."
"I know. He's trying to make it up with me, but he can piss off." I'm due out now, I'll take the letter with me in the ration truck. "But your one is a love letter from Terry in Libya, Ill bet."
I gave a laugh. "Perhaps," I said feeling hopeful that it was.
We went to get our letters. Mandy rushed off to her truck with her letter. I stood looking at my letter with a London postmark. I was disappointed that it was not from Terry but glad that it was probably from my brother. I looked into thre main rest room. Bob was on his own, making himself a coffee and I called out to him. "Bob, do you know if anyone has heard from Terry?"
"I don't think so. I'll ask the barmaid over The Eight Bells, she might have heard from him."
"Why on earth should she hear from him?"
"Look, I didn't want to say anything in case you got upset, but they've been seeing each other."
"Seeing each other. I don't think so, Bob, he doesn't even like her."
"I think you'll find he does. He had her back at the block New Years morning. When I went into our room they were both sleeping in his bed."
I laughed. "I don't believe you."
"Please yourself." He turned away and stirred the sugar into his coffee.
I stood looking for a few seconds, before closing the door and walking off to the privacy of the WRAF rest room. I thought the letter was from my brother Tommy and it surprised me when I realised that it was from Ronnie. It was written in an unfriendly manner telling me that Tommy had been killed in a road accident. It said the funeral had already taken place and there was no need for me to go over to East London, except perhaps to visit my accomplice Marion. It went on to say that if I continued to pursue a claim against Carol's estate, then the family would take action against me for fraud.
I was sitting in a silent state of shock. I stood up and made my way to the main rest room. Badly needing support from someone, anyone.
Bob looked up from his easy chair as I opened the door. The tears were filling the wide eyes in my ashen face as I stared blankly towards him. "Good God, Jane, what is it, whatever's wrong?"
His words seemed to give me a kind of release from my shock and I burst out in tears. "It's my brother, my brother. He's been killed."
Bob stood up and rushed over to me, pleased to be the one to comfort me, to hold me in his arms and try to help to relieve the pain of bereavement.
I became more annoyed as the days passed, every day checking the letter rack, frustrated, wondering why he hadn't written to me as he had promised. I was almost sure that Bob was lying, but I kept wondering about Terry and the barmaid. I even made a trip over to The Eight Bells one night, but although the girl was behind the bar, I couldn't bring herself to ask her. I thought of Terry's friend Mark. Terry was sure to have written to him. Mark was alone in the fire section when I walked in and he looked up from recharging a used fire extinguisher.
"Have you come to make me a brew, Jane?"
I noticed the kettle just starting to boil and smiled as I walked over to the table to make his tea. "I was wondering how Terry was getting on in Libya, I thought he must be writing to you."
"Yeah, he reckons he's having such a great time, he doesn't want to come back."
"You're getting the mail all right then?"
"Oh yeah, it only takes about three days. I thought he'd have dropped you a line. You two got on all right for a while, didn't you?"
"Well, perhaps he's got too much going on."
"Yeah, all them Arab girls belly dancing round him, the dirty lucky sod." We both laughed as I took his tea over.
"I'd like to write to him, could you give me his address?"
"Of course, I've got it in my locker back at the block. I'll fetch it in for you."
I was having trouble asking the question I wanted to ask and began to walk to the door, but I turned to look at him again. "Mark, do you know if he's been going out with the barmaid from The Eight Bells?" There, I thought, I've said it. I've got it out.
"I think he would have told me if he was, but I can't really be sure, it's possible I suppose. He doesn't like going out with WRAFs you know, he prefers the civvies. The only WRAFs I've seen him with are you and Susan from the band. Are you getting a serious crush on him then?"
"Well you know us WRAFs, Mark, anything in trousers."
"I'm wearing trousers, Jane." We both laughed as I left the room.
I walked out from the fire section as Bob was passing. He smiled and stopped walking as if he were waiting for me to walk along with him. I thought on how he had been pestering me for a date. He was a good-looking man, always well dressed and well spoken. I had already been considering spending some time with him. Terry had obviously lost interest in me and I knew I dare not let myself get too depressed about it. I didn't want that feeling creeping up on me again, that feeling that nobody wanted me, that I didn't matter. Nevertheless, I didn't commit myself. I was still not sure about him. Especially as I was almost sure he had made a guess about Terry giving me a massage, it was common knowledge that Terry had trained as a masseur.
A few days later, I was sitting drinking a cup of coffee in the WRAF drivers' room when Mandy walked in smiling broadly. I smiled back. "The wedding's still on then?"
"Yeah. You were right, you know. Once we started talking we soon made up. Oh, by the way, Bob was asking about you this morning. He still wants to go out with you, even though you practically ignored him in the NAAFI last night. If you fancy making up a foursome..."
"A foursome with Bob. I don't think so, Mandy. I'll wait till Terry gets back."
"Haven't you given up on him yet? He's a nice bloke and will always be a nice bloke, but he doesn't want to go steady with a WRAF. Nothing personal, it's just the way he is, don't ask me why."
I was good at giving advice, but not so good at listening. I was not prepared to give up on Terry just yet. Mandy left for a trip to RAF Halton and I sat waiting for the afternoon's chores that would be given to me by the duty corporal. Sure enough within minutes, he walked into the room.
"Aero-medical," he said. "Great Ormond Street. Get going, you have to be at Northolt in thirty minutes." I enjoyed doing the aero-meds and was up like a flash.
The old Bedford ambulance was built like a tank, big and heavy, but it glided down the road like a Bentley. It was not far to Northolt. There were two police cars, and two police motorcycle outriders already waiting there when I drove the ambulance in off the Western Avenue.
My rush to get there was wasted, the aircraft was late and it was over an hour before it appeared in the distance. I sat looking at the aircraft as it seemed to float down onto the runway. An airman guided me out onto the tarmac and I opened the rear doors and stood waiting for the patient to be transferred. It was a young girl no more than four years old, her father alongside the stretcher, not wishing to break the visual contact with his daughter. He tried to get into the ambulance, but one of the police officers stopped him. He protested, but reluctantly allowed them to lead him to the police car.
It had just turned five o'clock and the traffic out of London was jamming up. Although the ambulance would be heading into town, there was sure to be some congestion. I drove the ambulance back out onto the Western Avenue with one police car in front and the other behind. The motorcycles went off ahead to stop the traffic at the junctions. There was a host of flashing blue lights accompanied by the two-tone siren blasting out from the front car.
Just before White City, the medics asked me to pull over. I signalled to the police car in front, indicated, and then pulled into the kerbside. The medics were concerned, but they didn't appear to be panicking. I was filled with despair and helplessness as I looked back at them.
The medic gave me permission to continue and I gave a headlight flash to the police car. The convoy moved off again, but we would be going through dense traffic from now on. I turned on the siren in case I was cut off from the leading police car. Into Central London and there was a police officer or traffic warden at every set of traffic lights, waving us through. All the sirens were sounding and the blue lights flashed back off the fronts of the buildings. Everybody seemed to be stopping to look as the ambulance passed, wondering if there was someone special inside.
There was a group of medical staff waiting as I pulled the ambulance into the courtyard of the children's hospital. The medics got out as the girl's father dashed into the ambulance and tried to talk to his unconscious child. He looked on as the hospital staff took the girl out, and then he turned to look at me. "She'll be all right, won't she? She's gonna be all right, isn't she?"
"Don't worry, she's in good hands, she'll be fine," I said, wondering why he was asking me and hoping I were right.
"Thank you, thank you," he said, before hurrying off.
I sat alone in the ambulance, waiting to give the medics a ride back to Northolt, and wondering how the little girl was doing.
The back door opened and the two medics got in. "Let's get going then."
"The little girl, how is she?" I asked.
"She's okay; she'll be all right now. I think we should all give each other a pat on the back, we all done well, and your driving through all that traffic was brilliant."
I smiled, turned away and drove off. I realised my problems were small compared to some people's. I thought of the girl's father. The strain and worry of the journey must have been enormous. Then there was the joy and relief when he knew she was going to pull through.
It was time to move on. I blamed myself for Terry's lack of interest in me, thinking it must have been something I had said or done. I decided I would have the date with Bob and make up the foursome with Mandy and her fiancé, but I thought I must give Bob a lot of love and attention if I were to avoid the rejection that always seemed to follow my relationships.
I met up with Bob, Mandy, and Freddie, the regiment gunner. I was a little worried about spending time with Freddie, thinking of the bad memories in Cyprus, but Freddie was nothing like Stan, he was polite, friendly and very much in love with Mandy. We spent the evening in the NAAFI bar dancing, singing and making merry with the crowd. Mandy and Freddie left as soon as the bar closed, going off for a drive in a friend's car; a trip where no one else was invited.
Me and Bob remained at a table as the place began to empty out. "Well, Jane, I've not been that bad, have I?"
"No, Bob, no it's been nice."
"The offer still stands."
"The offer, what offer?"
Bob had half a glass of beer and he took a sip, obviously not wanting to finish it too quickly in case I got up to leave. "The trip to London, down the west end. We can go there Saturday and get tickets for a show. 'There's a Girl in My Soup' is supposed to be right funny, and we can go for a meal afterwards, if you want to."
"I'd love that, thanks, Bob. But I want to pay my way."
"No chance, Jane, I wouldn't dream of it. That's not the way we do things up North." He picked up his drink and finished it off. I followed his example and finished my port and lemon before standing up to put my coat on. "It's over too quick. It's been a real thrill to be out with you, Jane. I've been praying for this to happen since the first time I saw you walking across the MT yard."
I laughed. "Terry mentioned that." I laughed again, but sat back down.
"Terry, he's probably having a right time in those brothels."
"I don't think so, he's not like that." I looked straight at him, staring almost.
"What! What's up?"
"You told me you caught him in your room with that girl at New Year. Was that true, because I didn't really believe you?"
"Cross my heart, may I drop down dead now. She was in bed with him, and it wasn't the first time I've been told. Just ask Jock if you don't believe me."
"I don't like Jock, he's very crude."
"Let's not talk about Terry. Why should we care about him? He's out there enjoying himself without a care about us. He said he would drop me a line, but I've heard nothing from him, not a sausage."
"No, neither have I."
"Jane, I'd like us to go out together."
I turned my palms up. "We are here, aren't we?"
"Yeah I know, but I want us to be steady, forever if you'll let us. I'm serious, Jane, I fell in love with you the first time I saw you. I think we can make each other really happy."
I stood up again. "Well let's just take it a day at a time for now, see how it goes."
"Whatever you say, as long as I'm with you I'm the happiest man on Earth." We walked back to the WRAF block and kissed briefly before I broke away, said "good night," and went inside the block. Idiot, I thought, bloody idiot. He wanted to spend some time kissing, but I broke away from him. Lots of love and attention, must remember to give him lots of love and attention or he'll go off like all the others. Anyway, I thought, he's not that bad really.
Two weeks later, I walked into Mandy's room at the WRAF block and held my arm out. "Well, what do you think then?" I said.
"I've already seen the watch. It's not a Timex and that's for sure. He must think a lot of you to buy you that after just two weeks."
"He does think a lot of me, take another look."
Mandy looked at my wristwatch and suddenly noticed the sparkling diamond ring on my finger. She let out a yelp, a scream almost as she took hold of my hand to get a closer look. "You're engaged." She laughed, her laugh a mixture of joy and sarcasm. "You can't be pregnant yet."
"Course not, but he asked me to marry him and I thought…"
"You're getting married?"
"Well, that's what engagements are about, aren't they?"
"Not with that lot over the NAAFI. They get engaged because they think it gives them licence to have sex with you. Freddie's room mate has been engaged four times."
"Bob's not like that."
"So when's the big day?"
"We're trying to arrange it for June."
"What, this June?" The grin on my face gave the answer. "Blimey, you'll be wed before me. Look, I don't want to sound bitchy, but you've not known him that long, are you sure about this?"
"Course I'm sure. All right we've only been together for two weeks, but I've known him since before Christmas and we've always got on. Anyway, I'm twenty-six this year. I'll end up on the scrap heap if I'm not careful."
"Don't sell yourself down, Jane. You’re a nice girl, and a good looking one at that. Half the blokes in the NAAFI would love to get their head between your legs."
"Mandy! What a thing to say." However, I gave a laugh at the thought.
"So, while we're on the subject, what's the sex like?"
"I don't know, we haven't done it yet."
Mandy let out a large sigh. "Dear o dear. You go and get engaged after just two weeks and you haven't even had sex with him. You've gotta try the goods before you buy, Jane, and that's a fact."
"Will you pack it in. I wish I hadn't told you now. Don't forget it's you who's been trying to get us together for weeks."
"Yeah, I know, but blimey. Have you wrote and told Terry?"
"No, he hasn't sent me his address. I really don't know if he'll be upset or not."
"Probably not. He's a nice lad and fun to be with, but he has this thing about going out with WRAFs. He went out with that girl from the WRAF band for a while, but she done the dirty on him. Then of course he's had a few dates with you hasn't he, but you two never got up to anything. Or did you?"
"No, not really." Mandy didn't notice the slight blush that I felt on my face as I thought about the night I made love with Terry in the moonlight, but I also reflected on the words that often troubled my mind, Terry's words: 'no one should get married until they are at least thirty. Getting married before then is a waste of life'.
"You'd think he was queer," Mandy continued, interrupting my thoughts, "I mean, how many men train as a masseur, if it weren't for his sleeping with her from The Eight Bells...."
"And how do you know that?" I interupted her.
"Freddie told me, he was talking to Bob about it."
I shook my head and walked to the door. "I've gotta go, we're going out for a ride in his car tonight."
"Well if I were you I'd get him in the back seat and try him out."
"Piss off, Mandy. And you're not me are you, you young nympho''?" I poked my tongue out before walking from the room, leaving my friend grinning.