I've left a space there and started a new page to give you time to catch
your breath. At least, I assume your reaction will be the same as mine (and Ralph's),
i.e. utter incredulity. I mean, Bim's dead. We all were told he was dead. Well, you
were there, so you remember. He never was one to funk in the closet: blatant at the
base as at a party, as far as I can tell, and got away with it because he was a damned
good pilot, and they need damned good pilots. So we had his Squadron Leader, red in
the face but impeccable in his sense of duty, coming round to tell Bim's friends that
he wasn't coming back, had not baled out, etc. etc. etc. Only not so many etceteras
as should be, apparently. (You recall how fast he stammered it out and vanished.)
So what we didn't hear were the details: how they'd chased the Luftwaffe back
over the channel, and Bim was shot down near the French coast. Yes, the plane went in;
but, in truth, they were all so short on fuel that they couldn't exactly hang around. No
one actually saw a chute; so assumptions were made.
Reading between the lines of the letter that Ralph got, it's clear that Bim was
badly injured. I've no idea how long he spent in a German hospital. Eventually, he was
sent to a prisoner-of-war camp. No doubt the Red Cross notified
his family long ago; and I dare say they told any of his friends they knew about--which
would not include anyone whom we know, naturally.
Precisely why Bim decided to write to Ralph is something ... well, I think we both
can guess. It put the old chap in a bit of a quandary: should he write back? I mean,
on the one hand, he always respected Bim as "one of the few", as Churchill put it. On
the other hand, there's a type that puts Ralph's back up at the first sound of their
voice. (I'm afraid you got on his bad side that way.) Of course, Bim was never accustomed
to getting a negative reaction from anyone--being a pilot, for one thing; and being quite
a presentable figure in the sort of way that appeals to people. In fact, given Bunny,
who has the same sort of presence, one would think Bim would be just the sort whom Ralph
would get on with. On the other hand, Bim was always a "straight shooter", as the
Americans say (all irony intended), which no one can say of Bunny, who always shows his
worst after you get to know him.
Anyway, Ralph wanted to talk. Not so much to ask advice as to run through it
with someone who knows all sides of it, if only so that he could get it clear in his
own mind. You can see both sides as well as I can. That Bim is a P.o.W. is, of course,
a major point in favour of Ralph's writing back: any contact must be precious. On the
other hand, the war won't go on forever; and some day our chaps will get home safe and
sound. Whatever Ralph is doing then (assuming any of us survives that long), I think we
can both be certain what he won't be doing, at least as far as Bim is concerned.
I've no idea what's going to happen now. Except that he has two weeks leave, and
caught the train the same afternoon. And if that relieves your mind, so be it.
If you want to write Bim yourself (and I gather letters can get into Germany quite
freely through the Red Cross, though censored), I suggest you write Ralph for the
direction. You know where he'll be.
Meanwhile, life here is getting rather less fraught. As a port, Bridstow's a target and
always will be, at least until we reverse the tables on the Germans and take the war over
the Channel. However, the Luftwaffe is not as active as it was, which in turn means that
we get shorter nights and fewer casualties. Still, fewer isn't the same as none. We had
a nasty go just a couple of days ago. (Whether the censor will let any of that through,
I don't know. If you see black, you'll know the answer!) From one perspective, of course,
it's all good practice for the future. My future, anyway. From what you said in your letter,
it sounds as though you’ve gone into general practice, Army style. I wish you best with the sprains and flu.