By Mickey S.
This is a fictional story. Most of the characters and events are figments of the author's imagination. However, some of the fictional characters take part in real events and some real characters take part in fictional events. In spite of that, this is a fictional story. My thanks to Tim and Drew for all of their help. The author retains all rights. No reproductions are allowed without the author's consent. Comments are appreciated at NJMcMick@yahoo.com.
The army was even worse than I expected. I knew basic training was mostly about teaching us the army rules and instilling discipline. As someone who was somewhat meek I'd always been good about following rules and doing what was expected of me, so I didn't think that would be a problem. And I knew that in spite of the down-to-earth upbringing my parents had tried to give me, our financial circumstances had left me a bit pampered and spoiled. Sharing a dorm room at DeWitt and then a year of sleeping in a makeshift bedroom in a cellar hadn't prepared me at all for the austerity of barracks life. And while I expected to be a little overwhelmed I didn't imagine the extremes they would go to in drilling military discipline into us.
The day began before dawn and we were kept on the go until lights out at night. I crawled into my bed physically and emotionally drained every night. That was probably the whole point - to build up our strength and at the same time break whatever independent streak we might have had in our makeup. They kept us moving at double time the whole day, never letting up. They screamed at us, treated us like garbage and gave us the worst jobs imaginable, whether on KP or cleaning latrines. We marched and ran for hours in good weather and bad, we learned how to shoot and even how to take apart and reassemble our Enfield rifles.
I barely managed to get through the physical aspect. While still small, I wasn't the scrawny kid I'd been when I arrived in England. I was what Terrence called wiry, thin but with good muscles. The long walks and exercise with him had left me in pretty good shape. Even so, I was pushed to the limit and there were days when I thought I wasn't going to make it.
As in the early days at Bancroft's, I found myself being treated as a curiosity, an American thrown into a very British institution. I had a pat explanation prepared, briefly explaining that my family had been living in England for two years. While the other men still thought me a little odd, they gave me a bit of respect, knowing that as an American I really didn't have to join their army. I didn't think it important to mention that as a dual citizen I really didn't have much choice.
What little free time I found (maybe five minutes a day) I filled with letter-writing. I alternated writing to my parents and grandparents every week. I knew that they'd all share every letter I wrote, but I wanted to contact each one personally. I also wrote to TR but less often, as transatlantic mail was slow and it took a while for responses to come back. I also corresponded with Alice and Mrs. Atkins. And my grandparents in New York as well. I always addressed my letters to both of them, but it was Grandmother who wrote back.
And of course, there was Terrence. I had to watch what I put in my letters to everyone, but especially to him. Dad had told me that all transatlantic mail was routed through Bermuda where it was read for security purposes. But military mail within the British Isles was also checked to make sure no sensitive military information was being exchanged. And the word sensitive covered just about everything. There wasn't much we could give away while we were in training but once in the field wherever we ended up being stationed, it was important that our letters not contain any military details at all. At first though, I didn't have to worry much about what I wrote in that area. I figured it wasn't exactly top secret how many push-ups I could do, or how I was progressing in learning who I had to salute.
But it was in the personal area that I had to be careful with my letters to Terrence. It wouldn't do for the authorities to begin to suspect our relationship was more than friendship. It wasn't as though we had ever said much to each other when we were alone together that wasn't fit for others to hear. There was the occasional mention of how 'special' our friendship was, but that was it. I didn't expand on that because I knew that to me it was even more different and I preferred to keep that from Terrence. I was pretty sure he knew already but kept quiet about it because if it wasn't spoken he could pretend it wasn't there. While we had frequent sexual encounters, we didn't talk about it, we just did it.
So when I wrote about how much I missed him, my letters had a stiff heartiness that was very unlike me. I also had to refrain from writing as often as I wanted to. I waited until he had responded to a letter before writing again. That way, he set the pace and I didn't run the risk of those around him wondering why a 'friend' was writing to him so often. Fortunately, he set a fairly brisk pace. I usually heard back from him within a week of sending a letter.
Since I kept mostly to myself I didn't make any friends in basic training. There wasn't much point, in any case. We were all only together for a couple of months and then each man would be assigned to a different unit. It was once we were in our permanent assignments that the bonding should occur. And even then it was stressed that friendship with those in our section and troop wasn't necessary, but respect and trust was. Our lives would depend on each other so that was paramount.
In my case, if the Colonel's plans were correct, I would be staying at Pirbright, so whatever friends I might eventually make were probably close by, although on a different part of the base.
The first part of my training ended in late October. I was given leave for a weekend before returning for medic training. In his last letter Terrence informed me that his basic training was ending as well. He said he had 'big news' for me but wanted to tell me in person. He was going to be spending much of his leave traveling from Cranwell to Axbridge and back again, so we arranged that I would meet his train at Kings Cross.
I got home to Mayfair in time to have tea with my parents and grandparents. They all carried on about how grown-up I looked in my uniform. Personally, I thought I looked like a kid in a costume, but they were impressed. Mother seemed a bit sad though. I suppose she was beginning to realize that her baby had grown up.
I got to Kings Cross early and spent the time pacing. Terrence had been a tease, telling me he had big news and then not even giving me a hint. It had been preying on my mind ever since. By the time his train pulled in I was about to burst.
I was afraid his news had something to do with meeting a girl. That was crazy since the only women I'd seen on base were nurses and I hadn't ever been close enough to them to even talk to, so how would he have met a girl in basic training? But that had always been a concern. Now that we weren't in an all-boys school anymore and I wasn't always by his side, he was bound to start dating. And the men I'd been in training with were constantly talking about how so many women practically threw themselves at men in uniform.
Nearly everyone getting off the train was in an RAF uniform, so I was overwhelmed trying to identify Terrence. He was the one who found me, though, even disguised in my army uniform. I hadn't even seen him when I found myself lifted off the ground and spun around in a huge hug.
He set me down and held me at arm's length, looking me up and down.
"Damn, you look good, Woody! I haven't been able to picture you in uniform, it just didn't seem to suit you. But you look like a real soldier."
"You look good in anything, but the uniform adds years to you. You're not a lad anymore, you're really a man."
I was impressed by how good-looking he was, and a bit chagrined as well, thinking about all of the girls who would notice that.
"Well, a young man, at any rate. As are you."
"So what's your big news?"
"Let's take the underground to Paddington, then we can have some tea and talk. I don't want to miss my train to Somerset."
"You're going to make me wait even longer? This is torture."
"It's just a few minutes while we go between stations. On the way you can tell me about the army."
So that's what I did. I told him what few tales I had about training at Pirbright. When we got to Paddington he checked to make sure his next train was on schedule and then we went to a café for tea.
"So tell me your big news." I demanded before taking a sip of the hot, strong brew.
"I probably shouldn't have called it big news, although it is pretty exciting. The RAF brass, in all of their infinite wisdom, have decided I'd make a good pilot."
"A pilot?" I squeaked. "You're going to fly? Up in the sky?"
"That's where planes usually fly, Woody. They tested all of us thoroughly and have decided I have the eyesight, strength, dexterity and coordination to be a pilot."
"What about all the trouble you have with the clutch in Alice's Morris. Didn't you tell them about that?"
"That was only the first time I drove. Once I got used to it I didn't have a problem. Besides, I've been assured that Spitfires don't have clutches."
"Are you sure you can do it?"
He shrugged. "I really don't know. It sounds preposterous to me that I'd be able to do something like that. But I'd say half the lads who were chosen feel the same way."
"What about the other half?"
"Those are the ones who think they'll be the best ace since von Richthofen, the Red Baron. But I'm told they're often the ones who don't cut it."
"But it's so dangerous."
"I know, but they won't let me up until they're sure I know what I'm doing. And it's not as dangerous as it was in the early days of the Blitz. There aren't as many air attacks to defend against. I'm told that in the beginning when the Germans were still mainly making daylight raids it wasn't unusual for pilots to fly two or three sorties a day."
"But even if they aren't as frequent, dogfights can be deadly."
"You think I don't know that? Telling you has been a practice run for telling Mum. She's going to be livid and out for Uncle Geoff's hide. She feels it was his job to keep me safe."
"Well, I'm not feeling too kindly toward him right now either. He did all right by me so far, but he didn't keep us together and his arrangements have put you in danger."
"That's still a long way off. I could be a complete failure in flight school. I know your training wasn't exactly the same as mine, but one thing I'm sure you've learned is that the brass are never wrong - until they're wrong, that is. Then they change their minds and they're right again."
"Then let's hope they have a chance to be right a second time."
Terrence looked at the watch Dad had given him as a graduation present when we passed our tests. He'd given me an identical one.
"Time for me to go. Wish me luck with Mum, Woody."
"You know I always do. But if you only have a limited amount of luck I want it saved for your flying, not your confrontation with your mum."
As he got on the train we arranged to meet on Sunday and do the underground trip between stations together in reverse. It would be the only time we could spend together on our leaves.
I spent the whole weekend talking with my parents and grandparents. The weather was decent so we took long walks. It was so good to be in London where I could pretend things were back to normal.
Dad updated me on what he'd learned about the war. That was one of the things I missed most about being in the army. Soldiers were given information on a need-to-know basis and it was felt that most of us, especially new trainees, didn't need to know anything about what was going on in the world off our base.
But Dad told me about the continuing efforts to keep Malta supplied and the German advances in Russia. The initial blitzkrieg on the eastern front had slowed but things were still going in the Germans' favor. Dad also told me about the latest in northern Africa, although the places he named were all so foreign to me I couldn't make much sense out of it. The British had nearly driven the Italians out earlier in the year before going off to fight a losing battle in Greece. Then the Germans had arrived to help the Italians and stabilized the situation. Some place called Tobruk in Libya had been under siege by the Germans since June and that was continuing.
Sunday afternoon I met Terrence's train at Paddington. He didn't look as happy as he'd been on Friday.
"Mum is furious. At Uncle Geoffrey, at me, at Churchill, you name it. I tried to explain it to her the way I did to you, but she's convinced I'm going to die, and sooner rather than later. I just don't know what else to tell her."
"I hope you're not asking me for advice, because I'm pretty worried about you myself."
"I know, and don't think I'm taking all this lightly. But there's nothing for it but to take things as they come. Nothing is guaranteed in life. If that bomb in Finchley had hit the back of the house instead of the front, we both would have died along with Dad. And mum as well. So luck has something to do with it."
"Let's hope that was a sign that we both have good luck, then."
Terrence hugged me goodbye at Kings Cross and I took the underground to Waterloo, wishing not for the first time that the English had built one large railroad station for London instead of several smaller ones spread out all around the city. Coming from a family whose fortune was made in railroads it was natural for me to think that way.
Back in Pirbright I started my medic training. While Mother's classes had been one-day affairs covering basic first aid, this was far more involved. It wasn't medical school, but it was quite detailed. We began with intensive classes in anatomy and physiology. It was important, not just that we could treat a wound, but that we understand what the wound meant to the rest of the body. That would help us in triage, prioritizing the injured for treatment. One of the things they drummed into us was that many of the wounded were not going to make it no matter what we did, so it was important that we not spend too much time with them when we could actually be helping someone else. For those who were going to die, the only thing we could do was try to make them more comfortable. That often involved a shot of morphine.
I found it all fascinating. The more I learned the more I wanted to learn. I spent all of my free time studying- when I wasn't writing letters. That helped pass the time and took my mind off the fact that I was alone, missing my family and Terrence. And so I didn't make any real friends in the three months training went on. I got along all right with the others, but I justified my lack of effort in making friends to the fact that we weren't going to be stationed together after training anyway. I wasn't completely standoffish. I did attempt to get to know my instructors and others who were permanently attached to Pirbright.
Terrence's letters weren't encouraging. He passed every test he was given and it seemed he was well on his way to becoming a pilot. He even seemed to like it. I could feel his excitement come through in each letter as he told me about his experiences. He couldn't share details of his training, but I followed his exploits as he went up in large planes to get used to being in the air. I cringed as he told me that he'd been trained to jump from planes with a parachute, in case that was ever necessary. He claimed it was an exhilarating feeling. I found the idea of him falling through the air terrifying.
One Monday in early December my anatomy instructor had an odd look on his face when we arrived for our first class of the day. He kept staring at me as we all got settled into our seats.
"Before we get started with today's class, I have some news to share with you."
That was pretty unusual. Not only wasn't the army big on sharing news, our instructors almost never talked about anything in class other than the subject they were teaching.
"Yesterday morning the Japanese launched a massive surprise air attack on an American naval base in the Hawaiian islands. We don't have details of the damage yet, but it appears there was enormous loss of life as well as many, many ships and war materiel damaged or destroyed." He paused. "As horrible as the news is, though, it looks like we may finally have a new ally in the war."
My mind immediately went to a trip my family had taken to Hawaii when I was twelve. We'd taken a train cross-country and then sailed from Los Angeles. I'd been mostly impressed with the tropical climate, the beaches, palm trees and the exotic natives. But I did remember the huge naval base at Pearl Harbor. Dad had arranged for us to spend a day touring the base, even going aboard some of the ships.
I couldn't imagine how the Japanese had managed it. It had taken us days to sail from California and Japan was much further away. But our instructor had to know what he was talking about, so it looked like we were finally at war. And this time, we meant America.
I couldn't think of anything else the rest of the day. Men kept coming up to me as if just by being an American somehow I would have information. All I could do was tell them what I remembered of Hawaii from my one trip there.
The rest of the week we were given more news than the previous four months. The day after the attack, the United States declared war on Japan. A few days later Germany and Italy declared war on the U.S. and Congress reciprocated. America was finally at war. I thought of TR. He was going to graduate a year early in May, so he would also be at war once that happened.
I was disappointed I didn't get to see Terrence at Christmas. He was given a 48 hour leave so he went to Somerset to be with his mum and Alice. I only had 24 hours and that was on Christmas Eve, so I went home to Mayfair. It was good to be able to talk to Dad about Pearl Harbor and America's entry into the war. We'd exchanged a few letters but there was only so much one could say through the mail. We had an early evening holiday meal and then I was on the train back to the base. At six am Christmas Day I was at work in the base hospital, relieving some of the regular staff so they could go home to their families.
My medic training was completed in January and while all of the others in my class were scattered across the globe, I stayed on at Pirbright. My role in training new medics was much like that in assisting Mother in her courses. I was assigned to one of the instructors, a doctor, Major Hewitt. I played the role of an injured soldier and the major patched me up and then supervised while the trainees copied his moves. To be honest I somewhat enjoyed having all of those hands all over me.
My stint as a training dummy didn't take up much time, usually only a couple of hours in the morning, so I was also put to work in the base hospital overseeing a group of conscientious objectors who were working as orderlies. They were generally looked down on by the soldiers and I occasionally had to intercede when an injured soldier didn't want one of the 'cowards' near him. While I was usually able to handle situations like that I didn't feel I was at my best commanding others. My own commanding officer continually reminded me that being in charge of others was part of being a corporal.
Terence's training continued. He had his first solo flight early in the new year. I was glad he couldn't share too many details in his letters. The more I knew about what he was doing, the more concerned I was.
In early March I was pleased by a letter I received from him.
The powers that be have decided I know what I'm doing so they're turning me loose on the world. I've been assigned to RAF Biggin Hill, so I'll be much nearer you and your family. I know at first mention that sounds dangerous, but I'm told the air field is much quieter now than in the early days of the Blitz. Maybe we'll get to see each other now and then.
Biggin Hill was just to the southwest of London and had been one of the primary defenses of the city when the bombing started. As such it had been attacked by the Luftwaffe many times. Now that the bombing was a rarity rather than a nightly occurrence the base wasn't on the front lines. I felt better that Terrence would be closer to me but as long as he was in the air in a fighter plane I would be concerned for him.
Now that we were both out of training and into our day-to-day military operations a pattern developed. I was given a 48 hour leave once a month which I used to visit my family. Terrence had much more frequent leave but only for 24 hours. While there wasn't much fighting going on in the air, he and the other pilots were pretty much on alert 24 hours a day, so they were under a lot of stress. Terrence spent his leave visiting my family since it was too difficult to get to Somerset and back in 24 hours. On the rare occasions when he was given two days off he went to see his mother.
It wasn't until mid-April that our furloughs coincided and we finally got to see each other someplace other than a train station. I'd been home for a few hours when Terrence finally arrived. While I enjoyed catching up with my parents and grandparents I was on edge listening for Terrence's arrival. It had been nearly eight months since I'd seen him. I'd thought the two months apart during basic training had been bad, and then we'd only seen each other at the train stations. Now I was afraid we'd become strangers.
I jumped to my feet and made it to the front hall before he was even in the door. We both froze, staring at each other. The months since we'd seen each other had felt like an eternity. But looking at him, all that time melted away. Even in uniform, looking far more like a man than I could believe, he was the same Terrence I'd spent nearly every day with for two years.
After a long, immobile moment, he dropped his bag, crossed the hall and pulled me into a hug. I knew my family was probably standing right behind me but I didn't care. I hugged him back with all of my being. It felt so right to be back in his arms. He finally let go and greeted my parents and grandparents who had, as I'd guessed, entered the hall. He'd seen them many times on previous leaves over the past couple of months so it wasn't the long-lost reunion he and I were experiencing.
Mother suggested we take his bag upstairs and catch up before tea.
Once in our room he closed the door and took me in his arms again, this time rubbing his neck against mine.
"Come, let's lie down for a few minutes."
He took my hand and led me to the bed. He had me lie down on my side and he snuggled behind me with his arms around me, nibbling and kissing at the back of my neck. It felt so incredibly sexy, even fully dressed in our uniforms. I had been so afraid that in the time we'd been apart he would have moved on beyond what we had. But it was as if no time had passed at all. He was still my Terrence.
Finally, he had me turn around and face him.
"Now that I've caught up on how you feel, we can catch up in the way your mother meant."
We talked for over an hour, sharing every detail of our military lives, things we weren't sure we were allowed to put in our letters.
"You sound as if you're bored at Biggin Hill."
"Not exactly, but there isn't much to do. At first it was stressful, being on alert all the time. But after a while with no raids, it became rather humdrum. We were called up twice last month, both false alarms. I think the main reason they've sent me there is to get more flight experience."
"And then? Do you think you'll be stationed somewhere else?"
"Possibly. They have to keep some men to protect London, just in case, but I think they would rather use us where we'd do the most good. The air fields along the Channel see a lot more action. And other fighters act as escorts for bombers, although Spitfires don't really have the range for a lot of that."
"I hope you're one of the ones they leave behind at Biggin Hill, much as it might bore you. That sounds the safest."
"Yes, and it is still an important job. But, as we both know, our wishes don't mean much to the brass. They will use us as they see fit. What about you? Are you all settled in at Pirbright?"
"I suppose. I like both the teaching aspects and the work with the patients in the hospital."
"Have you made any friends?"
"Not friends, exactly. I get along well with Major Hewitt, but he's an officer so we can't really be friends. And I spend a lot of time with one of my conscientious objectors, John Ashwell."
"I don't know that I like that. Most of those conchies are just cowards."
"I think the authorities are pretty good at distinguishing between the cowards and slackers and those with actual principles. In John's case, he's a Quaker. Their religion doesn't believe in war as a means to resolve conflict. And while he opposes fighting, he's perfectly willing to serve in other capacities. We've had some very interesting conversations."
There was a knock at the door.
"Boys! Tea is ready."
"Be right down, Mother."
"Boys? In these uniforms? You'd think she'd find another term for us," Terrence said as we got out of bed.
We continued our 'catching up' over tea.
"Is your mother getting used to the idea of your flying?" Mother asked.
"I think she's counting the days until the end of the war, and hopes that will be soon."
"I'd hate to disappoint her, but I'm afraid this war is going to continue for quite some time." Dad said.
"I realize that, but Mum says now that America is in the war it shouldn't take long. She says you Yanks sat out the last war for three years, then once you joined in it was over in a year and a half. So that's what she's counting on."
"There are some big differences in the two wars. Last time it was pretty much a stalemate when we joined in, so our presence was able to tip the scales in the Allies' favor. This time the Germans have succeeded so well and conquered so much territory that it will take a while just to catch up to them. And not only isn't America prepared for war, we've got one in each ocean to fight." Dad didn't seem very optimistic.
"But we can do it, can't we, Dad?"
"I'm sure we can, Woody. If Russia and Britain can hold on just a little bit longer while the U.S. gets geared up, we can turn this around."
"Have you heard anything from TR about where he'll be assigned? In his last letter to me he was still waiting to hear. He's hoping to be sent over here, though." I was also keeping my fingers crossed that TR would end up in England.
"I haven't heard from him but I did get a letter from your grandmother the other day and I'm afraid TR is going to be disappointed. Your grandfather is pulling strings to try to get him assigned to Washington."
"But that's not where the war is."
"Exactly. Within two weeks of Pearl Harbor your grandfather had managed to get your cousin Tom a commission in the Navy and a desk job in Washington. He wants to do the same for TR, although TR will have earned his commission through ROTC."
"I thought Tom was being groomed to take over the family business."
"He is. He's been working there since he graduated from Harvard a couple of years ago. But Father thinks it will help business to have a couple of young Coopers in uniform rubbing elbows with the politicians in the capital."
"TR will hate that."
"Yes, I'm sure he will. And, unless Tom has changed a lot in the last couple of years, I'm sure he hates it, too."
That night, Terrence proved to me that nothing had changed between us by making love to me. While the physical act felt so good, it was so much more satisfying emotionally. Having him inside me, and knowing that is what he still wanted, meant more to me than any orgasm could have. Afterward, as I fell asleep in his arms, I knew that as long as we still felt this way, no matter what else happened to us, all would be right in our world.
With what father had said, I wasn't surprised when, a week later, I got a letter from TR.
I got my assignment today. I'm to be on the personal staff of a General Lee (not Robert E, I hope) who is in charge of supplies in Washington. Damn Grandfather for sticking his nose in! For three years I've been trained to lead in combat and now I'll spend the war behind a desk shuffling papers. I don't see any way out of it but you can be sure I'm going to try. That blasted old man!
I was happy that TR would be in a safe place during the war, but disappointed that he wouldn't be coming to England. There were only a few American military personnel in England so far, but whatever course the war took, I knew Britain would be a staging point for the Allies. Soon there would be tens if not hundreds of thousands of Americans in Britain. I wished TR could be one of them.
To Be Continued