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Chapter no 9 – ‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌First Encounter with a Bandit‌

Going Solo

So this was Greece. And what a different place from the hot and sandy Egypt I had left behind me some five hours before. Over here it was springtime and the sky a milky-blue and the air just pleasantly warm. A gentle breeze was blowing in from the sea beyond Piraeus and when I turned my head and looked inland I saw only a couple of miles away a range of massive craggy mountains as bare as bones. The aerodrome I had landed on was no more than a grassy field and wild flowers were blossoming blue and yellow and red in their millions all around me.

The two airmen who had helped to lift my cramped body out of the cockpit of the Hurricane had been most sympathetic. I leant against the wing of the plane and waited for the cramp to go out of my legs.

‘A bit scrunched up in there, were you?’ one of the airmen said. ‘A bit,’ I said. ‘Yes.’

‘You oughtn’t to be flyin’ fighters a chap of your height,’ he said. ‘What you want is a ruddy great bomber where you can stretch your legs out.’

‘Yes,’ I said. ‘You’re right.’

This airman was a Corporal. He had taken my parachute out of the cockpit and now he brought it over and placed it on the ground beside me. He stayed with me and it was clear that he wanted to do some more talking. ‘I don’t see the point of it,’ he went on. ‘You bring a brand-new kite, an absolutely spanking brand-new kite straight from the factory and you bring it all the way from ruddy Egypt to this godforsaken place and what’s goin’ to ’appen to it?’

‘What?’ I said.

‘It’s come even further than from Egypt!’ he cried. ‘It’s come all the way from England, that’s where it’s come from! It’s come all the way from England to Egypt and then all the way across the Med to this soddin’ country and all for what? What’s goin’ to ’appen to it?’

‘What is going to happen to it?’ I asked him. I was a bit taken aback by this sudden outburst.

‘I’ll tell you what’s goin’ to ’appen to it,’ the Corporal said, working

himself up. ‘Crash bang wallop! Shot down in flames! Explodin’ in the air! Ground-strafed by the One-O-Nines right ’ere where we’re standin’ this very moment! Why, this kite won’t last one week in this place! None of ’em do!’

‘Don’t say that,’ I told him.

‘I ’as to say it,’ he said, ‘because it’s the truth.’

‘But why such prophecies of doom?’ I asked him. ‘Who is going to do this to us?’

‘The Krauts, of course!’ he cried. ‘Krauts is pourin’ in ’ere like ruddy ants! They’ve got one thousand planes just the other side of those mountains there and what’ve we got?’

‘All right then,’ I said. ‘What have we got?’ I was interested to find out. ‘It’s pitiful what we’ve got,’ the Corporal said.

‘Tell me,’ I said.

‘What we’ve got is exactly what you can see on this ruddy field!’ he said. ‘Fourteen ’urricanes! No it isn’t. It’s gone up to fifteen now you’ve brought this one out!’

I refused to believe him. Surely it wasn’t possible that fifteen Hurricanes were all we had left in the whole of Greece.

‘Are you absolutely sure of this?’ I asked him, aghast.

‘Am I lyin’?’ he said, turning to the second airman. ‘Please tell this officer whether I am lyin’ or whether it’s the truth.’

‘It’s the gospel truth,’ the second airman said. ‘What about bombers?’ I said.

‘There’s about four clapped-out Blenheims over there at Menidi,’ the Corporal said, ‘and that’s the lot. Four Blenheims and fifteen ’urricanes is the entire ruddy RAF in the ’ole of Greece.’

‘Good Lord,’ I said.

‘Give it another week,’ he went on, ‘and every one of us’ll be pushed into the sea and swimmin’ for ’ome!’

‘I hope you’re wrong.’

‘There’s five ’undred Kraut fighters and five ’undred Kraut bombers just around the corner,’ he went on, ‘and what’ve we got to put up against them? We’ve got a miserable fifteen ’urricanes and I’m mighty glad I’m not the one that’s flyin’ ’em! If you’d ’ad any sense at all, matey, you’d’ve stayed right where you were back in old Egypt.’

I could see he was nervous and I couldn’t blame him. The ground-crew in a squadron, the fitters and riggers, were virtually non-combatants. They were never meant to be in the front line and because of that they were unarmed and had never been taught how to fight or defend themselves. In a situation like this, it was easier to be a pilot than one of the ground-crew. The chances of

survival might be a good deal slimmer for the pilot, but he had a splendid weapon to fight with.

The Corporal, as I could tell by the grease on his hands, was a fitter. His job was to look after the big Rolls-Royce Merlin engines in the Hurricanes and there was little doubt that he loved them dearly. ‘This is a brand-new kite,’ he said, laying a greasy hand on the metal wing and stroking it gently. ‘It’s took somebody thousands of hours to build it. And now those silly sods behind their desks back in Cairo ’ave sent it out ’ere where it ain’t goin’ to last two minutes.’

‘Where’s the Ops Room?’ I asked him.

He pointed to a small wooden hut on the other side of the landing field.

Alongside the hut there was a cluster of about thirty tents. I slung my parachute over my shoulder and started to make my way across the field to the hut.

 

 

To some extent I was aware of the military mess I had flown in to. I knew that a small British Expeditionary Force, backed up by an equally small air force, had been sent to Greece from Egypt a few months earlier to hold back the Italian invaders, and so long as it was only the Italians they were up against, they had been able to cope. But once the Germans decided to take over, the situation immediately became hopeless. The problem confronting the British now was how to extricate their army from Greece before all the troops were either killed or captured. It was Dunkirk all over again. But it was not receiving the publicity that Dunkirk had received because it was a military bloomer that was best covered up. I guessed that everything the Corporal had just told me was more or less true, but curiously enough none of it worried me in the slightest. I was young enough and starry-eyed enough to look upon this

Grecian escapade as nothing more than a grand adventure. The thought that I might never get out of the country alive didn’t occur to me. It should have done, and looking back on it now I am surprised that it didn’t. Had I paused for a moment and calculated the odds against survival, I would have found that they were about fifty to one and that’s enough to give anyone the shakes.

I pushed open the door of the Ops Room hut and went in. There were three men in there, the Squadron-Leader himself and a Flight-Lieutenant and a wireless-operator Sergeant with ear-phones on. I had never met any of them before. Officially, I had been a member of 80 Squadron for more than six months, but up until now I had not succeeded in getting anywhere near it. The last time I had tried, I had finished up on a bonfire in the Western Desert. The Squadron-Leader had a black moustache and a Distinguished Flying Cross ribbon on his chest. He also had a frowning worried look on his face. ‘Oh, hello,’ he said. ‘We’ve been expecting you for some time.’

‘I’m sorry I’m late,’ I said.

‘Six months late,’ he said. ‘You can find yourself a bunk in one of the tents.

You’ll start flying tomorrow like the rest of them.’

I could see that the man was preoccupied and wished to get rid of me, but I hesitated. It was quite a shock to be dismissed as casually as this. It had been a truly great struggle for me to get back on my feet and join the squadron at last, and I had expected at least a brief ‘I’m glad you made it,’ or ‘I hope you’re feeling better.’ But this, as I suddenly realized, was a different ball game altogether. This was a place where pilots were disappearing like flies.

What difference did an extra one make when you only had fourteen? None whatsoever. What the Squadron-Leader wanted was a hundred extra planes and pilots, not one.

I went out of the Ops Rooms hut still carrying my parachute over my shoulder. In the other hand I carried a brown paper-bag that contained all the belongings I had been able to bring with me, a toothbrush, a half-finished tube of toothpaste, a razor, a tube of shaving soap, a spare khaki shirt, a blue cardigan, a pair of pyjamas, my Log Book and my beloved camera. Ever since I was fourteen I had been an enthusiastic photographer, starting in 1930 with an old double-extension plate camera and doing my own developing and enlarging. Now I had a Zeiss Super Ikonta with an f 6.3 Tessar lens.

Out in the Middle East, both in Egypt and in Greece, unless it was winter we dressed in nothing but a khaki shirt and khaki shorts and stockings, and even when we flew we seldom bothered to put on a sweater. The paper-bag I was now carrying, as well as the Log Book and the camera, had been tucked under my legs on the flight over and there had been no room for anything else.

I was to share a tent with another pilot and when I ducked my head low and went in, my companion was sitting on his camp-bed and threading a piece of string into one of his shoes because the shoe-lace had broken. He had a long but friendly face and he introduced himself as David Coke, pronounced Cook. I learnt much later that David Coke came from a very noble family, and today, had he not been killed in his Hurricane later on, he would have been none other than the Earl of Leicester owning one of the most enormous and beautiful stately homes in England, although anyone acting less like a future Earl I have never met. He was warm-hearted and brave and generous, and over the next few weeks we were to become close friends. I sat down on my own camp-bed and began to ask him a few questions.

‘Are things out here really as dicey as I’ve been told?’ I asked him. ‘It’s absolutely hopeless,’ he said, ‘but we’re plugging on. The German

fighters will be within range of us any moment now, and then we’ll be outnumbered by about fifty to one. If they don’t get us in the air, they’ll wipe us out on the ground.’

 

 

‘Look,’ I said, ‘I have never been in action in my life. I haven’t the foggiest idea what to do if I meet one of them.’

David Coke stared at me as though he were seeing a ghost. He could hardly have looked more startled if I had suddenly announced that I had never been up in an aeroplane before. ‘You don’t mean to say’, he gasped, ‘that you’ve come out to this place of all places with absolutely no experience whatsoever!’

‘I’m afraid so,’ I said. ‘But I expect they’ll put me to fly with one of the old hands who’ll show me the ropes.’

‘You’re going to be unlucky,’ he said. ‘Out here we go up in ones. It hasn’t

occurred to them that it’s better to fly in pairs. I’m afraid you’ll be all on your own right from the start. But seriously, have you never even been in a squadron before in your life?’

‘Never,’ I said.

‘Does the CO know this?’ he asked me.

‘I don’t expect he’s stopped to think about it,’ I said. ‘He simply told me I’d start flying tomorrow like all the others.’

‘But where on earth have you come from then?’ he asked. ‘They’d never send a totally inexperienced pilot to a place like this.’

I told him briefly what had been happening to me over the last six months. ‘Oh Christ!’ he said. ‘What a place to start! How many hours do you have

on Hurricanes?’

‘About seven,’ I said.

‘Oh, my God!’ he cried. ‘That means you hardly know how to fly the thing!’

‘I don’t really,’ I said. ‘I can do take-offs and landings but I’ve never exactly tried throwing it around in the air.’

He sat there still not quite able to believe what I was saying. ‘Have you been here long?’ I asked him.

‘Not very,’ he said. ‘I was in the Battle of Britain before I came here. That was bad enough, but it was peanuts compared to this crazy place. We have no radar here at all and precious little RT. You can only talk to the ground when you are sitting right on top of the aerodrome. And you can’t talk to each other at all when you’re in the air. There is virtually no communication. The Greeks are our radar. We have a Greek peasant sitting on the top of every mountain for miles around, and when he spots a bunch of German planes he calls up the Ops Room here on a field telephone. That’s our radar.’

‘Does it work?’

‘Now and again it does,’ he said. ‘But most of our spotters don’t know a Messerschmitt from a baby-carriage.’ He had managed to thread the string through all the eyes in his shoe and now he started to put the shoe back on his foot.

‘Have the Germans really got a thousand planes in Greece?’ I asked him. ‘It seems likely,’ he said. ‘Yes, I think they have. You see, Greece is only a

beginning for them. After they’ve taken Greece, they intend to push on south and take Crete as well. I’m sure of that.’

We sat on our camp-beds thinking about the future. I could see that it was going to be a pretty hairy one.

Then David Coke said, ‘As you don’t seem to know anything at all, I’d better try to help you. What would you like to know?’

‘Well, first of all,’ I said, ‘what do I do when I meet a One-O-Nine?’ ‘You try to get on his tail,’ he said. ‘You try to turn in a tighter circle than

him. If you let him get on to your tail, you’ve had it. A Messerschmitt has cannon in its wings. We’ve only got bullets, and they aren’t even incendiaries. They’re just ordinary bullets. The Hun has cannon-shells that explode when they hit you. Our bullets just make little holes in the fuselage. So you’ve got to hit him smack in the engine to bring him down. He can hit you anywhere at all and the cannon-shell will explode and blow you up.’

I tried to digest what he was saying.

‘One other thing,’ he said, ‘never, absolutely never, take your eyes off your rear-view mirror for more than a few seconds. They come up behind you and they come very fast.’

‘I’ll try to remember that,’ I said. ‘What do I do if I meet a bomber? What’s the best way to attack him?’

‘The bombers you will meet will be mostly Ju 88s,’ he said. ‘The Ju 88 is a very good aircraft. It is just about as fast as you are and it’s got a rear-gunner and a front-gunner. The gunners on a Ju 88 use incendiary tracer bullets and they aim their guns like they’re aiming a hosepipe. They can see where their bullets are going all the time and that makes them pretty deadly. So if you are attacking a Ju 88 from astern, make quite sure you get well below him so the rear-gunner can’t hit you. But you won’t shoot him down that way. You have to go for one of his engines. And when you are doing that, remember to allow plenty of deflection. Aim well in front of him. Get the nose of his engine on the outer ring of your reflector sight.’

I hardly knew what he was talking about, but I nodded and said, ‘Right. I’ll try to do that.’

‘Oh my God,’ he said. ‘I can’t teach you how to shoot down Germans in one easy lesson. I just wish I could take you up with me tomorrow so I could look after you a bit.’

‘Can’t you?’ I said eagerly. ‘We could ask the CO.’

‘Not a hope,’ he said. ‘We always go up singly. Except when we do a sweep, then we all go up together in formation.’

He paused and ran his fingers through his pale-brown hair. ‘The trouble here’, he said, ‘is that the CO doesn’t talk much to his pilots. He doesn’t even fly with them. He must have flown once because he’s got a DFC, but I’ve never seen him get into a Hurricane. In the Battle of Britain the Squadron- Leader always flew with his squadron. And he gave lots of advice and help to his new pilots. In England you always went up in pairs and a new boy always went up with an experienced man. And in the Battle of Britain we had radar and we had RT that jolly well worked. We could talk to the ground and we

could talk to each other all the time in the air. But not here. The big thing to remember here is that you are totally on your own. No one is going to help you, not even the CO. In the Battle of Britain’, he added, ‘the new boys were very carefully looked after.’

‘Has flying finished for the day?’ I asked him.

‘Yes,’ he said. ‘It’ll be getting dark soon. In fact it’s about time for supper.

I’ll take you along.’

The officers’ mess was a tent large enough to contain two long trestle tables, one with food on it and the other where we sat down to eat. The food was tinned beef stew and lumps of bread, and there were bottles of Greek retsina wine to go with it. The Greeks have a trick of disguising a poor quality wine by adding pine resin to it, the idea being that the taste of the resin is not quite so appalling as the taste of the wine. We drank retsina because that was all there was. The other pilots in the squadron, all experienced young men who had nearly been killed many times, treated me just as casually as the Squadron-Leader had. Formalities did not exist in this place. Pilots came and pilots went. The others hardly noticed my presence. No real friendships existed. The way David Coke had treated me was exceptional, but then he was an exceptional person. I realized that nobody else was about to take a beginner like me under his wing. Each man was wrapped up in a cocoon of his own problems, and the sheer effort of trying to stay alive and at the same time doing your duty was concentrating the minds of everyone around me.

They were all very quiet. There was no larking about. There were just a few

muttered remarks about the pilots who had not come back that day. Nothing else.

There was a notice-board nailed to one of the tent poles in the mess and on it was pinned a single typed sheet with the names of the pilots who were to go on patrol the next morning as well as the times of their take-offs. I learnt from David Coke that a patrol meant stooging around directly above the airfield and waiting for the ground controller to call you up and direct you to a precise area where German planes had been spotted by one of the Greek comedians on top of his mountain. The take-off time against my name was 10 a.m.

When I woke up the next morning, all I could think about was my ten o’clock take-off time and the fact that I would almost certainly be meeting the Luftwaffe in some form or another and entirely on my own for the first time. Such thoughts as these tend to loosen the bowels and I asked David Coke where I could find the latrines. He told me roughly where they were and I wandered off to find them.

I had been in some fairly primitive lavatories in East Africa, but the 80 Squadron latrines at Elevsis beat the lot. A wide trench six feet deep and

sixteen feet long had been dug in the ground. Down the whole length of this trench a round pole had been suspended about four feet above the ground, and I watched in horror as an airman who had got there before me lowered his trousers and attempted to sit on the pole. The trench was so wide that he could hardly reach the pole with his hands. But when he did, he had to turn around and do a sort of backwards leap in the hope of his bottom landing squarely on the pole. Having managed this, but only just, he had to grip the pole with both hands to keep his balance. He lost his balance and over he went backwards into the awful pit. I pulled him out and he hurried away I know not where to try to wash himself. I refused to risk it. I wandered away and found a place behind an olive tree where the wild flowers grew all around me.

At exactly ten o’clock I was strapped into my Hurricane ready for take-off.

Several others had gone off singly before me during the past half-hour and had disappeared into the blue Grecian sky. I took off and climbed to 5,000 feet and started circling above the flying field while somebody in the Ops Room tried to contact me on his amazingly inefficient apparatus. My code- name was Blue Four.

Through a storm of static a far-away voice kept saying in my ear-phones, ‘Blue Four, can you hear me? Can you hear me?’ And I kept replying, ‘Yes, but only just.’

‘Await orders,’ the faint voice said. ‘Listen out.’

I cruised around admiring the blue sea to the south and the great mountains to the north, and I was just beginning to think to myself that this was a very nice way to fight a war when the static erupted again and the voice said, ‘Blue Four, are you receiving me?’

‘Yes,’ I said, ‘but speak louder please.’

‘Bandits over shipping at Khalkis,’ the voice said. ‘Vector 035 forty miles angels eight.’

‘Received,’ I said. ‘I’m on my way.’

The translation of this simple message, which even I could understand, told me that if I set a course on my compass of thirty-five degrees and flew for a distance of forty miles, I would then, with a bit of luck, intercept the enemy at 8,000 feet, where he was trying to sink ships off a place called Khalkis, wherever that might be.

I set my course and opened the throttle and hoped I was doing everything right. I checked my ground speed and calculated that it would take me between ten and eleven minutes to travel forty miles to this place called Khalkis. I cleared the top of the mountain range with 500 feet to spare, and as I went over it I saw a single solitary goat, brown and white, wandering on the bare rock. ‘Hello goat,’ I said aloud into my oxygen mask, ‘I’ll bet you don’t

know the Germans are going to have you for supper before you’re very much older.’

To which, as I realized as soon as I’d said it, the goat might very well have answered, ‘And the same to you, my boy. You’re no better off than I am.’

Then I saw below me in the distance a kind of waterway or fjord and a little cluster of houses on the shore. Khalkis, I thought. It must be Khalkis. There was one large cargo ship in the waterway and as I was looking at it I saw an enormous fountain of spray erupting high in the air close to the ship. I had never seen a bomb exploding in the water before, but I had seen plenty of photographs of it happening. I looked up into the sky above the ship, but I could see nothing there. I kept staring. I figured that if a bomb had been dropped, someone must be up there dropping it. Two more mighty cascades of water leapt up around the ship. Then suddenly I spotted the bombers. I saw the small black dots wheeling and circling in the sky high above the ship. It gave me quite a shock. It was my first-ever sight of the enemy from my own plane. Quickly I turned the brass ring of my firing-button from ‘safe’ to ‘fire’. I switched on my reflector-sight and a pale red circle of light with two crossbars appeared suspended in the air in front of my face. I headed straight for the little dots.

Half a minute later, the dots had resolved themselves into black twin-

engine bombers. They were Ju 88s. I counted six of them. I glanced above and around them but I could see no fighters protecting them. I remember being absolutely cool and unafraid. My one wish was to do my job properly and not to make a hash of it.

There are three men in a Ju 88, which gives it three pairs of eyes. So six Ju 88s have no less than eighteen pairs of eyes scanning the sky. Had I been more experienced, I would have realized this much earlier on and before going any closer I would have swung round so that the sun was behind me. I would also have climbed very fast to get well above them before attacking. I did neither of these things. I simply went straight for them at the same height as they were and with the strong Grecian sun right in my own eyes.

They spotted me while I was still half a mile away and suddenly all six bombers banked away steeply and dived straight for a great mass of mountains behind Khalkis.

I had been warned never to push my throttle ‘through the gate’ except in a real emergency. Going ‘through the gate’ meant that the big Rolls-Royce engine would produce absolute maximum revs, and three minutes was the limit of time it could tolerate such stress. OK, I thought, this is an emergency. I rammed the throttle right ‘through the gate’. The engine roared and the Hurricane leapt forward. I began to catch up fast on the bombers. They had

now gone into a line-abreast formation which, as I was soon to discover, allowed all six of their rear-gunners to fire at me simultaneously.

The mountains behind Khalkis are wild and black and very rugged and the Germans went right in among them flying well below the summits. I followed, and sometimes we flew so close to the cliffs I could see the startled vultures taking off as we roared past. I was still gaining on them, and when I was about 200 yards behind them, all six rear-gunners in the Ju 88s began shooting at me. As David Coke had warned, they were using tracer and out of each one of the six rear turrets came a brilliant shaft of orange-red flame. Six different shafts of bright orange-red came arcing towards me from six different turrets. They were like very thin streams of coloured water from six different hosepipes. I found them fascinating to watch. The deadly orange-red streams seemed to start out quite slowly from the turrets and I could see them bending in the air as they came towards me and then suddenly they were flashing past my cockpit like fireworks.

I was just beginning to realize that I had got myself into the worst possible

position for an attacking fighter to be in when suddenly the passage between the mountains on either side narrowed and the Ju 88s were forced to go into line astern. This meant that only the last one in the line could shoot at me.

That was better. Now there was only a single stream of orange-red bullets coming towards me. David Coke had said, ‘Go for one of his engines.’ I went a little closer and by jiggling my plane this way and that I managed to get the starboard engine of the bomber into my reflector-sight. I aimed a bit ahead of the engine and pressed the button. The Hurricane gave a small shudder as the eight Brownings in the wings all opened up together, and a second later I saw a huge piece of his metal engine-cowling the size of a dinner-tray go flying up into the air. Good heavens, I thought, I’ve hit him! I’ve actually hit him! Then black smoke came pouring out of his engine and very slowly, almost in slow motion, the bomber winged over to starboard and began to lose height. I throttled back. He was well below me now. I could see him clearly by squinting down out of my cockpit. He wasn’t diving and he wasn’t spinning either. He was turning slowly over and over like a leaf, the black smoke pouring out from the starboard engine. Then I saw one … two … three people jump out of the fuselage and go tumbling earthwards with legs and arms outstretched in grotesque attitudes, and a moment later one … two … three parachutes billowed open and began floating gently down between the cliffs towards the narrow valley below.

I watched spellbound. I couldn’t believe that I had actually shot down a

German bomber. But I was immensely relieved to see the parachutes.

I opened the throttle again and began to climb up above the mountains. The

five remaining Ju 88s had disappeared. I looked around me and all I could see were craggy peaks in every direction. I set a course due south and fifteen minutes later I was landing at Elevsis. I parked my Hurricane and clambered out. I had been away for exactly one hour. It seemed like ten minutes. I walked slowly all the way round my Hurricane looking for damage.

Miraculously the fuselage seemed to be completely unscathed. The only mark those six rear-gunners had been able to make on a sitting-duck like me was a single neat round hole in one of the blades of my wooden propeller. I shouldered my parachute and walked across to the Ops Rooms hut. I was feeling pretty good.

As before, the Squadron-Leader was in the hut and so was the wireless- operator Sergeant with the ear-phones on his head. The Squadron-Leader looked up at me and frowned. ‘How did you get on?’ he asked.

‘I got one Ju 88,’ I said, trying to keep the pride and satisfaction out of my voice.

‘Are you sure?’ he asked. ‘Did you see it hit the ground?’

‘No,’ I said. ‘But I saw the crew jump out and open their parachutes.’ ‘OK,’ he said. ‘That sounds definite enough.’

‘I’m afraid there’s a bullet hole in my prop,’ I said.

‘Oh well,’ he said. ‘You’d better tell the rigger to patch it up as best he can.’

That was the end of our interview. I expected more, a pat on the back or a ‘Jolly good show’ and a smile, but as I’ve said before, he had many things on his mind including Pilot Officer Holman who had gone out thirty minutes before me and hadn’t come back. He wasn’t going to come back.

David Coke had also been flying that morning and I found him sitting on his camp-bed doing nothing. I told him about my trip.

‘Never do that again,’ he said. ‘Never sit on the tails of six Ju 88s and expect to get away with it because next time you won’t.’

‘What happened to you?’ I asked him.

‘I got one One-O-Nine,’ he said. He said it as calmly as if he were telling me he’d caught a fish in the river across the road. ‘It’s going to be very dangerous out there from now on,’ he added. ‘The One-O-Nines and the One- One-O’s are swarming like wasps. You’d better be very careful next time.’

‘I’ll try,’ I said. ‘I’ll do my best.’

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