Jones’ own aircraft had the greatest damage, however. There were some cannon holes in the canvas of the fuselage, and a piece missing from the rudder. But the biggest problem was that the canopy runner had been damaged by something blown back at the squadron leader when he shot pieces off an enemy aircraft. The ground crew had only been able to open the canopy by using a crowbar – and that, of course, had done more damage to the runner and canopy frame. Clearly the aircraft was unserviceable until the entire runner and canopy had been replaced, but Jones insisted he did not want to take another aircraft. He wanted his aircraft serviceable by 5 am the next morning.
Appleby took one look at the job and knew it couldn’t be done. Not alone. He reported to Flight Sergeant Rowe, and Rowe came to take a look for himself. He made a face, but he kept his opinion to himself and shouted for Tufnel.
Tufnel worked with Sanders on “Q,” one of the reserve aircraft usually assigned to the sprogs. It was still u/s after the engine packed in yesterday, and so had not been flown and was not in need of repair. Together Appleby and Tufnel set to work removing “J’s” entire canopy and the fittings for it, and then installing a new one.
They took a break for tea but returned to finish the job by artificial light in the blacked-out hangar. The sound of their tools echoed in the otherwise empty hangar, and Appleby was beginning to get muscle cramps from trying to hold himself in place on a ladder and still get enough force behind his tools as he worked. Tufnel was looking tired, and when he dropped a spanner for the second time and had to climb down, Appleby said in sympathy, “Ain’t no bleeding reason why the CO couldn’t take up one of the new kites!” He nodded towards two new aircraft that had been delivered by the ATA during the afternoon.
Tufnel glanced over at Appleby and shook his head. “That may be, but it ain’t our job to question it. If the CO wants to fly ‘J’ then we got to stay up all night, if that’s what it takes.”
“Why?” Appleby wanted to know.
“Because he’s got a right to fly the aircraft he prefers. He’s the one facing the bloody Hun!”
It had started to rain, and the sound on the broad roof of the hangar made conversation difficult, so they fell silent for a bit. With the rain came a noticeable drop in temperature, too. Now, in addition to the discomfort of working in awkward positions on ladders by poor lighting, came the added unpleasantness of damp cold.
A door opened somewhere, sending a gust of wind through the hangar, that rattled anything loose and made both riggers look over sharply. It was Sanders – and he was carrying a thermos and several mugs. Tufnel started backwards down his ladder at once, and Appleby followed a little hesitantly. Sanders put the things down on one of the work-tables on the side of the hangar, and smiled over at Appleby. “Thought you could do with something warm.”
Although Appleby knew that Sanders was doing this for Tufnel more than himself, he still appreciated it, and said so. The three men sat together on the work benches and sipped the hot, sweet cocoa.
Tufnel asked his fitter, “Did you get a chance to see the Adj?” At once Sanders’ face fell. He nodded. “Same answer. The CO’s been too busy to look at it.”
“But he’s had the request for a week!” Tufnel protested.
Sanders, noticing Appleby’s blank look, explained. “I was planning to get spliced to m’popsie on July 1, but then we got our orders here and I had to call it off. I’ve been trying to get three days leave ever since. It took me a month to talk Chiefy into forwarding it and now the CO won’t act on it!”
“Jones won’t give you three bleeding days leave to get hitched?” Appleby asked incredulous.
Sanders shrugged. “He hasn’t said ‘no.’ It’s just he’s too busy to sign off on it. According to the Adj, even some of the officers haven’t got the leave that’s coming to them.”
Appleby frowned sceptically. Jones had time to go to the pub this evening, after all. It didn’t seem fair. Tufnel was frowning too, but Sanders just looked sad. And then Flight Sergeant Rowe found them, gave them a bollocking, chasing the riggers back to work and ordering Sanders not to “distract them.”
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