I haven't been able to keep the story of Blaise St John-Cottingham up to date due to work pressures, but I'll fix that next week. Here's a quick installment written on the road that should be read with your Sunday morning tea and toast.

After Christmas, the CO undertook to meet privately with each of his pilots, an entertainment he announced would be repeated from time to time. My first such audience with Major Paget-Graves came the morning after New Years whilst I was nursing a headache and he was disgustingly full of energy.

Paget-Graves was both lugubrious and birdlike in feature. He walked with a pronounced limp and used two sticks to get about, as hed crashed his machine and smashed himself up badly back in 1915. But this morning he was in a game mood.

So, Mr. St John-Cottingham, how do you think youre getting on here at Sixty? be began cryptically.

Well enough, sir, I replied. The COs face betrayed nothing of where this conversation was bound. Ive bagged two Huns, and if I could only get assigned a Type 17 Im sure I could add to that.

Aircraft assignments, for the moment, are up to the Flight Commanders. His hawkish eyes were studying me. Ive heard you are a bit of a loner. Do you know what the others call you?

This question gave me a chill. I had no idea and feigned nonchalance. Havent the foggiest, sir. And cant really say it matters much to me.

Im sure it doesnt, Cottingham. They call you the Neapolitan. This was certainly the worst nickname in history. It made no sense to me, and I said so.

From The Merchant of Venice of course, said Paget-Graves. That, apparently, should have meant something to me, but the blank look on my face gave me away. Shrewsbury School, right?

I nodded. I neglected to mention that the war had saved me from the shame of failing my university entrance exams.

Then you ought to know your Shakespeare. Portia to Nerissa. Shes describing her suitors, one of whom is a Neapolitan prince.

Prince? Then thats not so bad, I said hopefully.

Ah, but Portia explains that he doth talk of nothing but his horse. Thats you, Cottingham.

I looked about for a response and stammered something about having been in the cavalry, after all. But the CO folded his hands pensively and leaned over his desk. He fixed me with his stare as an etymologist pins an insect to a slab of cork.

Mr. St John-Cottingham, its time you realised that part of being an officer is that you must lead men. And one cannot lead men one cannot understand. Moreover, one does not want to lead men one has not come to respect. I intend to make you a leader.

This took me aback. I stood to inherit several very profitable mills, a fine estate with outstanding stables, and more than half a million pounds. Leadership was, in my view, a birthright. As for my fellow officers, they were an odd lot. Many were of snot-nosed schoolboys or Oxonians who read classics and quoted poetry, but couldnt row or ride worth a damn. The rest were a scruffy lot of colonials. The colonials were a great deal more fun in a binge, but scarcely people with whom I could identify or whom I'd want to call close chums.

Major Paget-Graves continued. Colonel Pretyman and General Higgins are contemplating a cricket tournament at Easter. Have you played?

It was a silly question. Id batted a century once for the first eleven at Shrewsbury. It was not my favourite sport, but I had a flair for it. I began to describe my accomplishments, but the major cut me off.

There will be an officers team from each squadron in the brigade. We likely wont begin to identify who will represent Sixty until mid-March. I have suggested that the tournament have a separate division for other ranks. One officer will be permitted on the OR teams, provided the officer captains the team. For this squadron, that officer will be you. Each such OR team may also have three NCOs.

I immediately began to complain how little I really knew about putting together a team, and I expressed doubts that we had eleven ORs who had even seen the game, much less played it, but the CO held up a hand.

Mr. St John-Cottingham, this is an exercise in leadership. And it is not a request but an order. You WILL select, train, and field the finest ORs team in the tournament. And you WILL win. I have personally wagered ten pounds with Colonel Pretyman that our ORs will take the cup.

Do you think that is wise, sir? I asked. After all

Major Paget-Graves interrupted me. It is your job to make it wise, Cottingham. Oh, and by the way, I told the Colonel that you had put up ten pounds as well.

I began to protest, but the CO just laughed.

I know you are good for it, Cottingham. Besides, the Wing Commander offered three-to-one odds. You stand to do rather well when we win, and it will be just about the time youll come up for home leave. Go see Sergeant-Major Aspinall. He knows all about it."


Major Evelyn Paget-Graves

Last edited by Raine; 01/15/17 02:36 AM.