This from C***** B****** …
(with apologies to Captain W.E.Johns)
Scene: The Western Desert - 1942
Squadron Leader James 'Biggles' Bigglesworth stepped down from his dusty Hurricane IID and walked over towards the debriefing tent, wiping his sweating brow with his silk scarf.
He entered the relative cool of the tent. 'Spy', the Intelligence Officer, was there, as was his CO, Wing Commander Wilkinson, who looked up as he entered.
"Well I think I got three Panzer IVs and I made a mess of a halftrack. Two trucks destroyed too - but you'll have to check with Bertie whether that halftrack was a definite. I think we gave them a bloody nose today," announced Biggles.
"Good show Biggles," said Wilks. "I've got new orders for you here - you are being taken off 'Ops', old chap."
"What?" said Biggles, sweat and grime still caked on his face. "Rommel is pressing us harder than ever ... whatever can be more important than this?"
Wilkinson tapped his pipe and looked at Biggles squarely. "We need a keen, resourceful officer to complete a special mission on which the balance of the whole war might rest."
Tired as he was, Biggles eyes lit up. "I think you have the right chap sir - tell me more!"
"You'll be posted immediately to Cairo."
"Some cloak and dagger stuff? Crossing swords with Jerry in the souks?" enquired Biggles.
"No, much more important! We want you to choose sock designs for the summer season of the new RAF clothing collection," said Wilks, puffing on his pipe.
Biggles jaw hung open. "I'm not sure I understand - reviewing socks?"
The WingCo looked serious. "That's right Bigglesworth - its important we get front line feedback from chaps like you on what is fashionable ... The previous Typhoon Trainers, as you well know, are now being used to line AA emplacements, anti-splinter mats on MTBs and the rest as landfill - we don't want that cock-up happening again. God only knows why we were talked into ordered 5 million pairs of them."
"But - we've got Rommel on our doorstep, we're down to our last seven Hurricanes, we're running low on fuel and ammunition and a party of squadron mechanics got kidnapped the other day by tribesman...." protested Biggles, but he was cut off.
"- we've got those covered Biggles - firstly you be receiving new aircraft immediately - the government realises how serious the war effort here is and as a result 266 will be getting four Gloster Gauntlets." Wilks sounded pleased at this outcome.
"Biplanes?" exclaimed Biggles? "You can't be serious! How are we expected to kill tanks with those - let alone fight 109s?"
"I don't know - you'll figure it out. I would expect you to crash into them, sacrificing yourself - especially if I tell you to," said Wilks cheerily.
Biggles thought fast. "What about those eight P-40s on lend lease from the Yanks - are they still sitting doing nothing in that hangar in Cairo? Give me a day to fly out with a few of my chaps and we can have them bombed up and attacking the forward German divisions in no time!"
Wilks shook his head. "I'm afraid not Bigglesworth - RAE Farnborough has qualified them day VFR flight only - after the cockpit upgrade to install a British spec ashtray went terribly wrong. We can't use them for combat - too risky."
"Riskier than being overrun by Rommel's panzers?" snapped Biggles.
"Don't worry - it's being worked on - another three or four years and they will be cleared for use."
"And what about the fitters - aren't we going to try to get them back? I can take Algy with me and we can beat up that tribesmen's fort with cannon until their eyes water..."
"Heavens, no - all we're going to do is put out a few press releases and maps and keep our fingers crossed- no point in inflaming the situation... Once they see that our maps are correct they'll do the decent thing" said the Wing Commander, pointing at the situation maps in the Int tent.
"But - what if they don't hand them back?"
"Then we'll get really tough - with a bring-and-buy sale, a T-shirt press event and an wireless telegraph petition campaign." Wilks clamped his jaw.
"And another thing", said Biggles, "two days ago Algy almost got shot down by a couple of over-aggressive Yanks."
"Well did he identify himself properly? - They are very new in theatre, you know."
"Yes - he fired the colours of the day, but the clots kept on attacking."
"Well I don't know," said Wilks angrily. "Why don't you paint your aircraft with luminous orange panels? - they wouldn't be able to miss those, surely."
"I wouldn't count on it…sir" Biggles was suddenly tired and made for the tent flap.
"Before you go there's some more admin news from the top. Fighter Command, Bomber Command and Coastal Command are all merging to form Air Command - unusual name, eh? While that move will be creating more three star slots at high level, we will be generating a more cohesive trained audience out here in the desert. Impressive, eh?" Wilks beamed at the thought of redoing the squadron's letterheads to incorporate another mission statement.
"Audience?" said Biggles, "This isn't the Windmill Theatre sir!!"
"Now, now Bigglesworth" said Wilks to the pilot, "No need to get all defensive. There will still be plenty of command slots what with the new Merchandising Command being formed."
But Biggles was already striding out - dust was blowing across the desert as the last of the squadron taxied in to dispersal. He entered his tent and was astonished to see a young woman with blonde hair, sitting at a desk with mirrors, and a hairdryer preening herself.
"Aren't you in the wrong tent?" asked Biggles.
"No, sir I've been posted here - do you want to put your stuff in my Samsonite? your kit looks a bit dusty... that black heavy thing.."
"My service pistol -"
"…nearly fell on my foot" she said accusingly.
"We'll see about this" said Biggles quietly.
"OK - but can you be a sweetie and hold this mirror while I just rub this suntan lotion in - I might as well get a decent tan while I'm here - say - have you got any toe separators so I can do my nails?"
But Biggles had spotted Wilks walking past the lines outside his tent. "One moment," he snarled.
"Wilks - why is there a WRAF in my tent?" he said in a low voice. "And I fully realise that question may be an insult to WRAFs."
"A WRAF? No, that's your new wingman, or wingwoman, anyhow." Wilks grinned, "Don't worry about her - she's a good stick - she's only admitted to pranging five aircraft so far..."
"Five aircraft so far?" asked Biggles, eyes wide, "But there are lots of women flying in the ATA today who have probably got more hours on Spits and Hurris than me - so where on earth did we find her?"
"On a reality radio show - where else? Do keep up with things, Biggles." Wilks said condescendingly. "After the success of Big Soldier and the Navy doing Sailor Idol - the RAF had to do something so we had 'How do you solve a problem like the Luftwaffe?' - and she won..."
"But surely sir the way to beat the Luftwaffe is by killing them and breaking their stuff?" said Biggles, thinking of those panzers in his gunsight earlier today.
"That's a bit kinetically minded old chap - look you'll just have to lump it - she's very popular with the general public. And I'd keep you sexist anti-wingwoman comments to yourself or you'll get voted off the squadron very early..."
Biggles looked shaken. "Voted off the squadron? By who sir?"
"The general public, of course. We're hosting Celebrity Love Oasis at this airbase from next week - haven't you heard?" said Wilks.
"I'm afraid that news passed me by, sir, what with the Afrika Korps knocking on our door…"
"Well, no matter, just get cracking on the sock designs - and remember Bigglesworth, I expect every pilot in this squadron to make the ultimate sacrifice and crash into the highest priority, ultimate target if the situation demands it…"
"What sir? - do you mean that Adolf himself has been spotted visiting the front line?" asked Biggles hopefully.
"No, you dummy!" exploded the Wing Co, "The Afrika Korps is about to launch its revamped spring women's fashion collection - I want their head stylist taken out - otherwise we're never going to shift those RAF bikinis I requested! There's a whole convoy full of 'em due in from Malta tomorrow!"
"And our desperate fuel and ammo situation sir?"
"I don't know - for you it's always the glass is half empty isn't it Bigglesworth…" said Wilks, walking away…
Biggles wasn't listening as stood watching his CO walk away. Nearby erks, stripped to the waist, were busy loading 40mm rounds in 266's Hurricanes, under the merciless sun, ready for action.
He squinted his eyes into the distance. What was happening to his beloved air force? Rommel was on the offensive - the chips were down and the air marshals were interested in sock patterns... Was this any way to fight a war?
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