Nineteen and just qualified Albert Vose managed three days out of the apprentices before Dunkirk. School had been chalk and slates and chiming responses, canings and clips round the ear. Fourteen and in the trade, he had it made. Every time he smelled bread he thought of home. His was the well-to-do side of the family. They were bakers – master bakers, and he had gone to school at lunchtime, which was at home when everyone else had bread and jam, porridge and jam, but always jam - at breakfast. Fourteen and with plenty to eat, no board to pay and all else in his pocket he had trained to be a fitter. Which was skivvy work and labouring, tin boxes and easy times when the foreman knew there was bread and buns for the asking. Three days out of the apprentices and the guild badge still shiny, there had been Dunkirk.
Leading Aircraftman Vose, three months from basic. For every aircrew in the sky dozens more kept them there. Trade meant rank, war made it come all the quicker. One year in Sergeant Vose ran the ground crew for an Avro Anson. They slept when it flew and they worked when it didn’t. Posted to Coastal Command Bert had to take exams to keep the rank, and being a Vose what he lacked in the formal intelligence he made up for in the native. If you were a Vose, you were smart. Another year and it was Flight Sergeant Vose and up in Scotland. Having never flown active duty Bert Vose trained men his own age to do what he never had. He pushed and he wrangled and made a nuisance of himself because the war was getting old and qualifying on Sunderlands he was posted active the day before the squadron went into refit and retraining. He met Cicily Morrison, it was the war, and they were married and that made it worse, because it was 1943 and married men went down the active list.
In Birmingham he raged for six months in the class room. He was an odd cog, he had it cushy. Before the end of the year a gay blade he had trained in Scotland was already a Squadron Leader. Not so gay, not so eager, he saw only boys and remembering Flight Sergeant Vose pulled and pushed and wrangled Vose up with him. It was Pilot Officer Vose, in the mess and the oldest junior officer for thirty miles east to west, up or down. And they all had a lot to learn, now with the Flying Fortresses the RAF didn’t want and finally, finally, it was off out east.
But someone had to go with the stores, the spares, and Flying Officer Vose not only the most junior, not only the oldest, but – let’s be honest – by far the most common shipped when the flight flew. A month on the fat old tramp and they were sunk in the Med. Injured, Flying Officer Vose got off and in a boat with twelve others was picked up inside the week. Downgraded and put into the medical it was six months before he was in the squadron again, and more before he would get out of the stores and into the air. To train again, to teach those that never had what he had never done either.
D-Day came and went elsewhere. Those he trained were promoted, or died, or transferred.
Pilot Officer Vose took off on his first operational patrol late 1945. It was a clear day, the sea calm. Two miles out catastrophic engine failure saw a loss with all crew.
It was four days before VJ day, and two weeks before Japan formerly surrendered.
For fucks sake, great-uncle Bert!