Commonwealth Air Training Plan Museum
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British Commonwealth Air Training Plan

Cover For Convoy
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​​This short story was published in the Legion Magazine, February 1973.​​

  
``Cover for Convey’’
Reprinted with permission from the London Free Press
By Helen Waugh

It was a large uninteresting brown paper envelope, headed at the top with the letters OHMS and RCAF underneath. At the bottom was the warning: Don't waste words- Don't waste paper." Inside the envelope was a book. It was labelled Royal Canadian Air Force, Pilot's Flying Logbook. The pilot's name must have been written by himself at the bottom, but was indecipherable now from frequent handling.

A few typewritten words under the Royal Canadian Air Force letterhead informed her that: "The enclosed Logbook, which is part of the service estate of the above named, is passed herewith for your retention." It was signed by a wing commander for chief of the air staff.

The first page enumerated the pilot's certificates of qualification such as, first pilot of Tiger Moths, Harvards, Spitfires and Lysanders. Then followed a record of his life, day by day, from AC2 to FO. There were the dates, names of his instructors with the results of tests and remarks. All very methodical.

She felt his excitement when he first wrote "Self" under the pilot's name. She had the same feeling when she read "first solo." She remembered the letter that told about his first flight alone. He wrote, "Up above the clouds is another world and one is another person. I would not have been surprised to see the fairy castles of Mother Goose loom up in front of me."

There were special entries such as "cross country" and "50.hour check," followed by "dual navigation," "map reading" and "night-flying". Then came the certificate which made him a pilot having passed written and cockpit tests to the satisfaction of Wing Commander So and So. This meant graduation. Relatives did not go to graduation in 1941. A pity. She wished she had that memory. He was so proud of his wings.

Two blank pages followed. Not blank to her though, but alive with a vivid picture of his embarkation leave days; the sound of laughter and young voices, the memory of his warm smile as he ran down the steps. She had waved him off as she had waved his father off to another war.

England and the entries told of Miles Masters and Spitfire planes, alternating down the column, sometimes with an instructor, generally alone, mention of dogfighting aerobatics and sometimes a landing at this place or that, reason not explained. Aerobatics – she smiled. He had written : "We looped the loop, banked this way and that, all very exciting, but when we landed I slipped behind the drome and lost my breakfast! " The best of them did that.’’

Page after page told his daily story, with the flying hours mounting up. Circuits and landings, formations, formations, formations, cloud flying and air-firing at D with notation: "Not so Hot." Assessment of ability as pilot: "Above the average." She glowed. There were the little notes such as "Crashlanded at W., lack of petrol," "Hit telephone pole" and one which landed him in hospital.

He wrote about that one: "Landed In some trees, came to a stop two fields away, with only the engine and cockpit Intact, but passenger and myself not scratched - not much. Guess I was born to be strung up, Mom!"

Then there was the strident note in red ink which said briefly: "Endorsed for disobedience after flght." 
Oh-oh, always the nuisance boy. He wrote about that too, rather naively, "Had words with my flight commander, he got mad and I laughed, so I am leaving this squadron."

The change seemed to have pleased him. He was now on Lysanders. It was about this time that two Jerry warships made headlines by a dash through the Channel. She had shivered at the news on the radio that told her "forty of our planes are unaccounted for." For two days the sound of the doorbell terrified her. Later he had written : "The Jerries were all about me in the fog, and I was badly scared as my plane carries little armament."

He was back to the Spitfires, working hard for the great day he mentioned so often now in his letters. He wrote : "The improved Spitfire is a beautiful job, but a flying arsenal, and I have a lot more to learn about it."

He leaned through page after page of machine gun calibrations, formation flying, formation interception. Moves from one Squadron to another, refresher courses, one after another. It was at this time that he joined the squadron where he spent his last year, a year of the great excitement of "ops". Moments of triumph and fear.

The records of operations were brief, as if he feared to say too much. There was "a sweep to T, no trouble at all" or "patrol channel, nothing seen,"Thunderbirds had all the fun again.’’ Now and then a bit of action
like, "took a squirt at a 109F, damaged it." "Burst a tire on takeoff - landed OK, surprised myself," or "Got a train in France."

There was a short note, "Lost Bob," and she wondered, was Bob's mother reading his logbook too? The flying hours went up and up and escort duty took him to many places.

At last the invasion, though the record seemed as laconic as before.

"Invasion started - fighter cover for beachhead" she read. "Hit by flak just behind the cockpit."

He had changed planes the next day when he noted "Fighters around - flak heavy." ‘’Then the last short entries with no added notes "Cover for invasion - escort for Bostons - cover for convoy." That was the last entry and the end of the month.

The first two days of the next month which had not been logged, his  squadron had been cover for convoy too. She knew about the third day. It was on that page that she recognized the two signatures of the flight commander and the squadron leader for they had both written to her.

They had said : "A great little fighter pilot – his services to the squadron in all its activities were invaluable."

She closed the book, took it to the living room and put it on the bookcase below his picture. She looked at the picture, firm, stern and old for his 26 years. She replaced the book in its brown paper envelope and saw again "Don't waste words - Don't waste paper". Only lives, dear God, young gay lives, their ambitions and sweet dreams unfulfilled.

Through her jangled thoughts came the clear ringing of a bell. Prayers for peace at the mission church across the road. Blindly she turned to the hall. Her steps echoed on the porch and crunched the gravel of the drive.

A few children were trying to force open the chapel door, swollen by the recent rains. She opened it for them and under her outstretched arm they tramped noisily in, smiling up at her as they passed. She smiled too.

"Cover for convoy," she thought, and followed them in!