The metal rimmed anti- glare aviator frames a visage that has already been claimed. Not by the Ray Bans company, no, but by an entire world of course mates, colleagues, unit officers and the service.
It is a dazzling world of comaraderie and esprit de corps, light enough to keep you in a giddy, happy and bubbly cloud. There is a self-perpetuating culture of complete denial of any trials or tribulations that has you smiling through the ride on the merry-go-round. It is after all, life in a community thriving on decorum, mutual trust and an equitable life style.
There is a condition though! This world of uniforms and protocol precludes any startling non-conformity. You have got to align yourself with the mores. A ripple here and there will be absorbed but a storm; now that would be tough!
Against this public bonhomie and cheer, there are private lives in progress behind closed doors. It is feasible that he walked out of the bedroom door, pillow under one arm, on the baby’s first night home; early morning briefing to attend. It would not be unusual for him to have more in common with his Squash buddy than he has with you. Have there been long walks he would not open up during, about his world away from home, in the guarded, restricted entry area? Do you remember coming home from late night parties that ended in deep slumber for him and matchsticks in the eyes for you?
You can tell. There are signs. Lying around the house will be some rolled up towels, arranged alongside the bedclothes. These are to ease out strained necks, courtesy their heavy duty helmets. Are there strange, cylindrical, blue wooden boxes stacked in the store? A supply of narrow, orange coloured towelling scarves? There most certainly will be a monkey cap on the bedside during the winters, such a turn off in bed but his Achilles heel is in the ear!
The indications run into the social hours. Look out for a pair of hands, simulating motion in the air with hand paddles and adroit wrists. An involuntary flexing of the neck muscles; a row of four deep glasses to work around the bar closing hours; mess bills that have not been vetted; a lofty disdain for financial planning and future projections; the ability to be content in the moment and a strange, juvenile devil-may-care charm!!
Is it a state secret that the man flies a fighter plane?
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I have climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-spilt clouds-and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of-wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up the long delirious, burning blue,
I’ve topped the windswept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle flew-
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untresspassed sanctity of space.
Put out my hand and touched the face of God.
Pilot Officer Gillespie Magee
No 412 squadron, RCAF
Killed 11 December 1941