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the weekend before that, able for the first time to hear what the chaps were saying about me!


But for the moment, to go back to those final days south of the equator, there I was on the train to Durban, wondering how soon I would be again seaborne and on the way back to Blighty.


There was one other small triumph to enjoy as I said goodbye to Gwelo and Thornhill. Whilst I was logging those 1,100 hours of Harvard flying my annual Assessments had been consistently ‘Above Average’. My logbook was handed in for my Assessment to be entered on leaving 22 SFTS and, when I had it returned, there was Group Captain Clare-Hunt’s signature below the line which read: Assessment of Ability: As A Pilot… EXCEPTIONAL


* * * * * T


he rail journey south was the last chance to look at the Rhodesian bundu, with its scrub-like terrain and stunted trees of which fed the herds of elephants I had loved to see from a thousand feet up. Then came the desert- like plains of Bechuanaland after we crossed the Limpopo and travelled down to Mafeking and Johannesburg, followed by the descent of the Drakensburg on that serpentine track and so into Durban. My destination there proved to be a tented camp on the outskirts of the city, a transit camp where those to be repatriated to the UK were housed whilst they awaited sea transport. It was a miserable interlude, for there was little to do and it was impossible to leave the camp for more than an hour or two at a time. New arrivals were given a talk – almost a talking to – by a Squadron Leader on the staff there who informed us that transport back home was difficult. It was the height of the War in Burma and the Far East, with every troopship coming from that direction already crammed with sick and wounded and others returning from experiences far worse than anything any of us had ever suffered. It was unlikely, we learned, that we would manage to find a quick release from our present discomforts unless we were prepared to put up with more, for so crowded were the troopships that each one passing through Durban would only be able to take a small handful of types like us, and accommodation would consist of whatever corner was left in an already over-crowded vessel.


‘You will,’ said our Squadron Leader friend, with apparent relish, ‘be likely to have to occupy the corners of the lower decks where there is least ventilation, where everyone has been sick, and where you will be lucky to find a hammock. But if you don’t accept that and if you want to stay around here until something better offers, just let me know! I can put up with your company for as long as you want!’ All around me chose to take the risk of no hammock in the furthest corner


85


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