I’ve been reading The Battle of Britain by James Holland. It’s a very good book. Perhaps the best one I’ve ever read about it. So I’ve had my head filled with Spitfires and Stukas and so on over the past few days. It set me wondering what Britain might have been like back then if it’d been swarming with health-obsessed, risk-averse doctors. The scene and the story gradually took shape…
“Jerry’s late today.”
Edward ‘Biffo’ Bentham spoke to nobody in particular, as he sat back in his wicker chair in the dispersal, cradling a mug of cocoa in his hands. The sun was shining brightly, and the riggers and fitters were busy working on the Spitfires on the grass in front of him. A petrol bowser trundled by.
“Cloud over St Omer,” the C.O. said. “They’ll be here in about half an hour.” He twirled his handlebar moustache absent-mindedly with his forefinger.
Andrew ‘Boozy’ Bagshawe leaned forward. “I gather the new M.O. has arrived. Have they cleared up the bits of the last one yet?” he asked from his leather armchair in front of the mess office, as he leafed through an old copy of the Daily Sketch.
The C.O. pulled thoughtfully on his pipe. “We’ll probably find out in a few minutes.”
The telephone rang. The C.O. answered it, listened carefully, and then hung up.
“Scramble, chaps,” he called out. “Jerry’s coming.”
The pilots sprinted to their planes, started the engines, and as the ground crews pulled the chocks from their wheels, began rolling across the grass towards the runway. ‘Boozy’ Bagshawe was the first to turn onto it, with the other planes lining up behind him. He’d just opened the throttle of the Merlin engine, and begun to accelerate, when he noticed a figure standing by a car parked on the runway ahead, waving a white scarf.
He sighed and cut the engine and rolled to a stop beside the figure. The squadron behind him stopped too. He jumped out of his cockpit onto the wing, slid down onto the ground, and found himself in front of Doc Adams, the new M.O..
“What’s up, Doc?” Boozy asked.
“I can’t allow it,” Doc Adams replied, his voice shaking. “I can’t allow you young lads to put your health at risk like this. You could die. You could die premature deaths.”
“Bleeding heck, Doc,” shouted ‘Leggy’ Allsop, who’d come running up. “Jerry’s coming. We’ve got to get into the air.” The other pilots soon arrived, panting and unbuttoning their flying jackets.
With raised hands, Doc Adams signalled for silence. “Now listen to me. I’ve spent my whole life trying to save the lives of bloody fools like you lot. Fools who keep putting their lives needlessly at risk. And it’s got to stop. And prevention is better than cure.”
“Life is a precious thing,” he went on. “It’s the most precious thing we have. It’s really all we’ve got. It’s more important than king or country, god or money, freedom or democracy. Those things are all illusions. They’re unreal. It’s only this that’s real,” he said, jabbing a finger into Biffo’s chest. “This real, living, flesh and blood man.”
“I hadn’t looked at it that way before, sir,” Biffo said, staring hard at the ground. Yes, the bits of the last one had been cleared away.
“You’ve got your whole lives before you,” Doc continued, climbing up onto the bonnet of his Sunbeam, and gazing down on the men with a fatherly eye. “Don’t throw them away needlessly. Your body is a temple. Look after it. And don’t pollute it with tobacco or alcohol.”
“And Jerry’s life is precious too,” Doc Adams declared, sounding more and more like an evangelical preacher warming to a sermon. “All life is precious. The birds are precious. The trees are precious. The grass beneath your feet is precious.”
Biffo stared even harder at the grass between his feet. Perhaps there were still a few traces of blood after all.
“What about slugs?” Phil ‘Airfix’ Williams asked from the back.
“They’re precious too,” Doc Adams replied. “The whole earth is precious. The earth is itself a living thing. If you could see it from outer space, it would look like… like…”
“A little blue droplet of life?” Charlie ‘Buster’ Jones suggested helpfully.
“Yes, exactly,” Doc Adams replied. “My, my. That is very remarkable. You seem to know some of this already!”
The C.O. pulled up in his staff car. “What the hell’s going on?” he said as he jumped out.
“It’s Doc Adams, sir,” Charles ‘Jumbo’ Wilkins muttered. “He’s been telling us that our lives are precious. He doesn’t want us to get hurt or killed or anything.”
“Get back in your planes, and take off immediately.” the C.O. ordered. “Jerry’ll be here any minute now.”
The pilots climbed back into their Spitfires and began to accelerate down the runway again. As the last one lifted off, the C.O. turned and looked up at Doc Adams, still standing on the bonnet of his car.
“You’d better explain all that to Jerry too, Doc. Here he comes now. Give him a wave with that scarf of yours.”
The sound of an engine began to fill the air. The anti-aircraft guns began firing. On the horizon, a lone Messerschmitt 109 appeared, flying very low, straight towards them.
Doc Adams turned to face the approaching plane, and began waving his white scarf, as the C.O. jumped nimbly into a sand bunker beside the runway.
As the 109 howled across the airfield towards them, the grass around the Sunbeam began to erupt as machine gun bullets tore into it. The car shuddered under the impact, and when the first cannon shells began striking, the resulting explosion engulfed Doc Adams.
As the 109 thundered past just above the flaming wreck, Jerry leaned out of its cockpit, grinning broadly and giving a thumbs up. And the C.O. stood up and waved back. He counted all of 16 stethoscopes stencilled under the cockpit hatch. There’d be another one added tonight.
And already the ground crews were coming in a truck to clear up the bits.
And goodbye Whitney.