The bright red MG sports car pulled up in a squeal of brakes at the entrance to RAF Biggin Hill. The two pilots inside showed their identity cards to the corporal on duty who scrutinised them, then raised the red and white barrier and waved them through. They drove in and pulled up outside the Station Officers’ Mess. Anthony Barker opened the door and got out as Johnny Faulkner in the passenger seat gave a big yawn, stretched out his arms and clambered out after him. They had made an early start that morning from their homes in Dover where the day before, to Anthony’s delight, his father had given him the car for completing his degree at Cambridge. Jenkins, the Barker’s long suffering chauffeur, had met the news with a sigh of relief as he had had more than enough of his young master’s tantrums while driving him around in his father’s Rolls.
Un-strapping their luggage from the boot rack, they went inside to find a mess steward who directed them to their rooms. Both were counting their good fortunes, following their postings to 79 Squadron at Biggin Hill. RAF Hawkinge, a satellite station of the airfield close to their family homes in Westcliffe, would give Johnny the opportunity of seeing more of his fiancée Miranda. Biggin Hill was also handy for trips to London and some of the shady nightclubs that more than suited Anthony Barker.
Thirsty after the journey they went for drinks in the officer’s bar and ordered pints of Shepherd Neames ale when a voice boomed at them.
‘Well hello chaps, don’t tell me they’ve posted you here as well? I know there’s a war about to start but things must be desperate if the country will have to rely on ex-Cambridge types whose only experience is flying string bags.’
‘Tom Beckett!’ exclaimed Johnny smiling, ‘What are you doing here? I thought they had posted you to bombers?’ He shook his old friend’s hand with delight.
’That’s true, but I had the misfortune to prang one of Bomber Command’s new Hampden twin engine jobs at OTU. I only realised I had landed with the gear up after it took full power to taxi off the runway!
‘What . . . you’re joking!’ said Anthony
‘Well, yes, I am, but only about the full power taxiing bit as the props got rather bent. They had to use cranes to get it off the runway. Bad show, what! The powers that be posted me off to Fighter Command for my sins, probably because a Hurricane isn’t so expensive to replace as a twin-engine bomber. Tickety do.’ he guffawed.
Anthony Barker ordered another round of drinks from the bar and they caught up with each other, as they had not seen Tom since, although he had followed both athletes progress during the Olympic Games. The conversation centred on the desperate attempts made by some of Britain’s politicians for peace with Germany. They agreed that the prime minister, following his “peace for our time” speech, had done well in getting Adolph Hitler to agree to sign the Munich Agreement and the Anglo-German Declaration. However, all were of the opinion that peace would not last for long and relieved that pressure from other politicians, thanks to the rousing speeches of Winston Churchill, had woken the British government up from its long period of appeasement and was now preparing to fight the future threat of any Nazi aggression.
Anthony and Johnny, with Tom Beckett’s help soon adapted to service life and settled in at Biggin Hill. The airfield was a sector controlling station in No 11 Group, Fighter Command, known as ″Biggin on the bump″ by its service personnel, for the airfield sat high on the North Downs. Wing Commander Grice, the station commander had been a fighter ace who had flown Bristol bi-planes during the Great War. Grice had witnessed the shooting down of the legendary German ace, Manfred Von Richthofen, although who had shot him down had been unclear. It was still a matter of hot dispute among fighter pilots. The wing commander passed his vast experience of aerial combat down the chain of command, so that the pilots of the resident squadrons, No. 79 and No. 32 could benefit. Grice kept his men hard at it with a daily regime of scrambles, cross-country navigation exercises and cloud formation flying. The two friends became proficient in handling their new Hawker Hurricanes thanks to the rigorous training by their flight commanders and practised flying in Vic formation and learned the finer points of dog fighting and taking evasive action.
Towards the end of the summer, during one of his short visits to see Miranda and his family, to Johnny’s surprise he found his sister had left home. Hugh Faulkner, his father, told him that Catherine, who Johnny adored, had fallen pregnant following a brief affair with Max Schiller during the German’s visit. To prevent a scandal, his parents had sent Catherine to a distant aunt in Cornwall for the birth. Arrangements were already in hand for the baby’s adoption, so that Catherine could return home to Westcliffe to rebuild her young life.
In Europe, the storm clouds continued to gather, the shadows lengthened and the voice of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party threatened from across the Channel. At the end of the balmy summer of thirty-nine, events were about to dictate that Britain would soon be on a collision course with Germany.