The Flying Officer 02

The car journey down to the new Squadron was a revelation to most of us. To see at first hand all the evidences of war and to realise that within a very few days one would actually be over the enemy lines was to feel that at last training was over and usefulness was about to begin. Upon first arrival at the Squadron’s aerodrome, the freshly-joined Sub-Lieutenant reported to the Commanding Officer, and was introduced to the Mess. Everyone did his best to make him feel at home, and the Flight

Commander, no doubt politely disguising his opinion that if appearances were any guide he was not going to be much use, gave instructions to report tomorrow for a preliminary tour of our sector of the lines. Our new pilot retired to his “cabin” (a Nissen hut) with plenty to occupy his mind. Tomorrow he is to cross the lines, and tonight a real live Squadron Commander actually bought him a drink. His feelings on this latter point will be more readily understood when it is realised that until that glorious moment no “two-and-a-half striper” has ever betrayed knowledge of his existence, except under  official circumstances.

There was one lesson which had to be learned by every pilot who joined the Squadron and the sooner he learned it the more useful he was and the longer he lived. It was essential to realise that, no matter how line a fellow he thought himself to be, he knew very little about flying, less of active service conditions, and absolutely nothing at all about fighting in the air.

As soon as the Flight Commander felt that this was understood, he knew that there was some hope. He knew that he could train his new man in his own way and he knew that the man would learn. The flights which proved the most successful were composed of pilots who reflected their Flight Commander's training and who knew his methods. This does not mean that individuality was destroyed, but that the Flight operated as a team under its captain, and that individual brilliance was controlled and diverted into the right lines, and not allowed to become its own undoing.

The first tour of the lines was generally sufficient to bring it home that there was a great deal one did not understand. A preliminary study of the map was of some assistance, but it seemed hopeless to think that one would ever know the way about, and as for fighting, attacking and being attacked, these were possibilities which seemed appalling. Gradually, however, our sector became intelligible as the various landmarks were memorised, and some fine day the new pilot was considered sufficiently safe to be allowed to go on patrol with the Eight. Before taking off, the Flight Commander invariably issued his last warnings-to remain in strict formation and, above all, to keep a sharp and constant look-out.

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