Bill Todd -- Two Aviators
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 Chapter 19

Henry's School

Liz wasn’t sure just how long Henry had been engaged in writing his history of aviation, but he had been in the middle of countless conversations about aviation, and, of course he made his usual inferences. He might not be able to design an aviation training program, but he was fully capable of keeping an existing one going. Along with Ian, Henry and his assistants were going up in the Walrii, and, extraordinarily enough, Sheila and a couple of others were teaching them to fly. Liz and Viv hadn’t been fully aware of that, but Viv pointed out, “We haven’t had any crashes, and the best way to learn is to teach.”

Agreeing, Liz said,  “It’s a good thing that we aren’t under any kind of official supervision.”

     After a few more nights in the tent, Liz was happy that she and Viv were going to spend a couple of nights with Barbara at the luxurious Polygon Hotel in Southampton. On the train, Viv proceeded to tell Liz about their new assignment from Ivan. At the end, Liz said, “All the people in aviation, British, French, German, American, and even the Russians, seem to know one another so well. I don’t see how they can go to war.”

“Left alone, they’d probably content themselves with air races and mock combat. But some of them work for people like Hitler and Stalin.”

“Anyhow, if you’re occupied with these people, Henry and I can run the training program.”

“I’ll need you a lot of the time, Liz. You’re fluent in French, and, at some point, we’ll be dealing with rather backward French men. You can move the sorts of men that I might alienate.”

Liz replied, “I’ll take a very hard line with any of them who want you to be a latter-day Joan of Arc, fighting the Luftwaffe in an inferior fighter.”

While only joking, it did seem to Liz that Viv might bite if the French gave her a chance to fly combat again.

     The next day, they went to see Ivan aboard the ship at Portland. That ship was now fully operational with Royal Navy ratings all over the place, a navy captain and a mixed civilian and navy aircrew. Ivan, as a civilian, couldn’t give naval officers and men orders, but it seemed that his suggestions were always taken.

     Sitting in the privacy of his large cabin, he said, “Things are getting complicated, partly because the English think I have more influence in Washington than I do.”

Liz replied, “I thought America was being totally neutral in European affairs.”

“Officially, but, in fact, Roosevelt wants to go to war to stop Hitler. It’s semi-secret, and something he denies when politically inconvenient, but it’s assumed by the important people here, and in France.”

“Can he actually do anything in Europe if he’s so constrained politically at home?”

“He can make promises. But they have to be indirect. Typically for him, he has one man tell another man to make the promise.”

Viv pouted a little and said, “So he can claim that one or the other made it up?”

“Yes. But he arranges it so that the man he likes better tells the one he likes less well, or not at all, to make the promise. The promise is that America will eventually go to war to support England and France if they resist Hitler.”

“But you aren’t involved in any of this, are you?”

“I tend to be asked whether these indirect promises are genuine. Beyond that, there are people in America who want to know exactly how much England and France could do against a country that has a Luftwaffe.“

Liz said, “They must know as much about the Spitfire and the 109 as we do.”

“Not really. The water has also been very much muddied by Charles Lindbergh.”

Liz knew about that. The first aviator to cross the Atlantic single-handed had recently been making trips to Nazi Germany. A none-too-bright political naïf to begin with, he had fallen in love with German aviation in general, and Messerschmitt’s 109 in particular. He also admired the Nazi ideology that had produced such things, and had accepted a medal from Hermann Goering. Ivan went on, “He’s announced to all the world that no one has a chance against the Luftwaffe , and that Hitler should be given all he wants. He’s persuaded, among other people, the American ambassador in London, Joseph Kennedy. As an Irishman, Kennedy dislikes the English. Both he and Lindbergh are spreading the news of England’s incipient demise in backward circles in America.”

“Roosevelt can’t like that.”

“Kennedy has too much political influence to be fired, but Roosevelt has ordered his ambassador in Paris, Bullitt, to order Kennedy to make these promises to the English.”

“Isn’t it strange to have one ambassador convey orders to another?”

“Yes. But Bullitt’s a trusted favorite whom he doesn’t want to compromise. If it happens to Kennedy, all to the good. That’s Roosevelt.”

“Okay. So we need some pro-Spitfire propaganda.”

“The people who count already know that it’s on a par with the 109. But they do wonder whether Joseph Smith can match Willy Messerschmitt, improvement by improvement, as both aircraft develop further. I’ve given them some reassurance on that point.”

Liz was glad of that. She had an intuitive feeling that Smith, with his quiet competence, would outlast a braggart like Messerschmitt. For one thing, there were rumors that Willy was fighting a private war with the high-ranking and influential Erhard Milch in his air ministry. Smith would never get involved in anything so distracting from the job at hand.

Ivan continued, “Very little is known in Washington, or even London, about French capabilities in the air, and, even more important, their attitudes and intentions. That’s where we come in.”

As always with Ivan, it was pretty clear what he wanted. It remained only for him to make the necessary arrangements.

     As Liz and Viv rode the train back to their base, they had a discussion, unusual for them, about the world situation. It was obvious that Hitler’s next target would be Poland. He was demanding the return of Danzig, which had been taken from Germany and given to Poland at the Versailles Peace Conference. It was also clear that, once Hitler was given one thing, he would take a whole lot more. Viv said, “Even if Hitler should leave Poland as a semi-autonomous country, he’d want to do very bad things to the millions of Jews in Poland.”

“The Poles aren’t budging, and the columnists in the papers are wondering whether England and France are going to guarantee Poland.”

“If they call Hitler’s bluff, it may turn out that he isn’t bluffing.”

Liz felt quite uneasy. She wasn’t as comfortable with war as Viv and Ivan, and kept hoping for a way out. But, accepting what might be inevitable, she asked, “Do we put our training program on a war footing, whatever that might mean?”

“Mostly, our kids are having fun flying and shooting at targets. It’s a game for them, but they play hard. Would they play any harder if we told them that war’s on the way?”

“Probably not. But they may well be shot at by the AA guns that U-boats carry. Wouldn’t that be a nasty shock?”

“It might be a thrill. And, since we’ll outgun the subs by a large margin, it could develop into euphoria.”

Liz guessed that that was what her sister had felt in her air combats in Spain. Liz knew that she herself wasn’t a real hot-blooded warrior like Viv. But she did think that she might manage to sink a sub in her cool and collected way.

     In talking with Sheila, Liz found that she wasn’t terribly happy. Henry had said that she couldn’t fly unless she put more effort into her studies. It was obvious that she wanted Liz to countermand Henry, but Liz instead said, with a light-hearted tone, “Of course you can study harder. Tell me the thing you like best.”

There didn’t seem to be anything that evoked great interest, but Sheila did mumble something about chemistry. Liz responded,  “I find the periodic table of the elements fascinating. Do you think that it’s magic that things are arranged in that way?”

That elicited a yowl. Sheila wasn’t a child who believed in magic. Liz sneaked electrons into the conversation, and was prepared to suggest that they both pretend to be electrons, but that wasn’t necessary. Sheila was actually quite smart and just needed to be started up. It was like that with a good many of the others. Some figurative carrots and sticks helped, and the students could be jolted into attention in various ways.

     Henry didn’t claim to be producing miraculous results in their makeshift school. “These kids are in an odd position, and it’s hard for them to concentrate on their studies. They’ve just escaped pretty horrible things, but they hardly know what’s going to happen to them.”

“I’m afraid I don’t know myself.”

“They want to get to America, as far away from Hitler and craziness as they can. But they haven’t been invited.”

“If things go as planned, England will owe them something. Perhaps we can get most of them into college here.”

“Oxford and Cambridge require Latin and Greek, but the red-brick universities don’t. Should we hold that out as the ultimate reward?”

“I’ll try it out on Sheila.”

     The opportunity came just after they had done a practice landing on the Bolsky carrier, HMS Frog. Sheila had set the Walrus down easily on the deck, and Liz, in the co-pilot’s seat with her own control column, hadn’t felt the least need to take control. Sheila was euphoric after such a successful first attempt, and would ordinarily have run off to be with the other students, making sure that none remained in ignorance of such an accomplishment. However, she didn’t know anyone on the ship except Ivan. When he appeared, Liz made a little gesture to warn him away, and led Sheila to the little snack area which he had put in, the only RN ship to have something of the sort. After congratulating Sheila, Liz said, “It might actually be possible for you to have a career in aviation.”

That surprised the girl. Sheila had long since assumed that she would always fly. After a momentary pause, she asked, “Haven’t you flown since you were a kid?”

“Yes. I had a father who was a rich man, and could afford planes.”

“Wasn’t he also an inventor?”

“That, too. Between his money and his inventions, there was always a plane for me to fly.”

“I guess we refugees are pretty lucky to have these Walrii.”

Liz had already known that Sheila was an odd mix of child and adult. In consecutive sentences, she could go from fourteen to twenty four. She didn’t usually think of herself as a refugee, but as an ordinary kid, albeit, a very gifted one. Liz had kicked her into her adult mold, and said to her, “We have the Walrii because there’s a war coming. When it’s over, there’ll be very few military pilots. Mostly civilian airline pilots.”

Sheila already knew that airlines wouldn’t hire women pilots, and Liz added, “Your brother might manage to become one.”

She flared up a little at that, and Liz responded, “We women will still have opportunities. Ivan will see to it that there are opportunities for us in the aviation industry, and, if we do well, there’ll be company planes for us to fly. Perhaps even test.”

Sheila was full of questions, and, of course, one had to graduate from college before embarking on such a career. Liz finally happened to ask, “You’re teaching Henry to fly, aren’t you?”

“Yeah, he’s coming along. I don’t know how good he’ll ever be.”

“He thinks you have definite intellectual ability. He may be able to get better results with you than you can with him.”

Sheila started laughing, and Liz concluded, “In return for his flying lessons, Henry can show you exactly what you need to do.”

     That evening, in their tent, Liz recounted her conversation with Sheila, and said,  “I think she’s convinced that she’ll have to study.”

“Good. She’s the leader. Others will follow.”

“Now that Ian and Olivia have finished with the guns for the Walrii, we can add them to our teaching staff.”

“Ian could teach science and engineering.”

Liz replied, “He certainly knows his stuff, but I don’t think he’s ever taught. That might not be so successful.”

“As with Rick, the girls will be delighted. The boys will want to be like him, and will bust a gut trying to please him.”

“The boys will compete to get Olivia’s attention, hopefully in productive ways. She can certainly teach English history. In fact, she told me that all girls should know the story of Anne Boleyn.”

“Is the moral that a girl shouldn’t get too close to a powerful man?”

“I think so.”

Bill Todd -- Two Aviators
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