28: OUR MOULD OF FORM
Such weather I may still enjoy, but slowly the park is fading from my mind. Partly it may be because the nights are not so warm that I can pleasantly pace the way by the river: partly because my feet are too tired at the end of the day any more to bear me musing up and down. So I squat on my bed in the hut answering the fellows if they speak to me or trying to sleep early: for my broken nights give me a craving for longer oblivion. But mostly the park fades because the square is taking strong possession of our minds: - that square of tarmac on which the Air Force is going to re-shape our clay. A sharp ordeal. We study and pity the others enduring it.
Just for twelve weeks, we say: and beyond is the warm thought of our sheltering trades, after we are posted to some ordinary station: a return to the natures that were ours before enlistment. Yet we deceive ourselves, so colouring the future: for the lessons here are biting deep, and we shall never be the old selves again. Does it not rather frighten the R.A.F. to remake so many men after its desire?
Bodily we are being built to drill-book pattern: spiritually we are being moulded nearly as fast. We are very unlike the loose civvies who drifted through the gate before Sergeant Sheepshanks two months back. The boastful ones have sunk down out of hearing, and the slow ones are haggard with being chased and chewed up (to arse-paper, as we say) by authority's angry mouth. Our sincerities save us not at all from humiliation and punishment. Therefore the high-spirited mope often; and break out against the sealed pattern, sometimes.
This Royal Air Force is not antique and leisurely and storied like an army. We can feel the impulsion of a sure, urging giant behind the scurrying instructors. Squad is today the junior unit of the service. There are twenty thousand airmen better than us between it and Trenchard, the pinnacle and our exemplar: but the awe of him surely encompasses us. The driving energy is his, and he drives furiously. We are content, imagining that he knows his road. The Jew said that God made man after his own image an improbable ambition in a creator. Trenchard has designed the image he thinks most fitted to be an airman; and we submit our nature to his will, trustingly. If Trenchard's name be spoken aloud in the hut, every eye swivels round upon the speaker, and there is a stillness, till someone says, 'Well, what of Trenchard?' and forthwith he must provide something grandiose to fit the legend. 'I reckon he's a man's man,' said James, in laughing admiration, one day, after several fellows had been swapping yarns of Trenchard's short way with Commanding Officers, our superb tyrants. China, the iconoclast, revolted. 'And I reckon,' he said, 'that Trenchard's shit smells much the same as mine.' The others cried him down.
The word Trenchard spells out confidence in the R.A.F. and we would not lose it by hearing him decried. We think of him as immense, not by what he says, for he is as near as can be inarticulate: his words barely enough to make men think they divine his drift: - and not by what he writes, for he makes the least use of what must be the world's worst handwriting:- but just by what he is. He knows; and by virtue of this pole-star of knowledge he steers through all the ingenuity and cleverness and hesitations of the little men who help or hinder him.
Trenchard invented the touchstone by which the Air Council try all their works. 'Will this, or will this not, promote the conquest of the air?' We wish, sometimes, the Air Council would temper wisdom to their innocent sheep. For instance, they have just decreed that the black parts of bayonets be henceforward burnished. That gives each man about twenty hours' work a year. Twenty hours is two-and-a-half days for we work eight hours on average and find time, by hook or crook, in official hours for all such Air Council luxuries. Rack their brains as they will, the irks cannot connect polished bayonets with flying efficiency. The fault is on us. Yet how can this brightness dangling at our left hips as we go to church be worth half a week, five thousand pounds a year, to Trenchard? If it were Stiffy now! The Guards polish their bayonets. But what a mess the Guards 'd make of our job.