Practically Perfect (G)

10 May 1941

Flt. Lt. Michael Banks

No. 141 Sqdn.

RAF Station, Wittering


Dearest Brother,

There is a moment’s peace as this evening’s shelling seems well and truly done, and I will take advantage of the dimmed lamp­light to put pen to paper and relate this most odd and utterly baffling coincidence, which I hope will bring a smile or, at the very least, a shake of the head. The hospital as you can well imagine is full up with new cases arriving from London like clockwork. They are not all lunatics or shell shock, for we are also taking on a light load of wounded. You should hear the stories these people have to tell of being asleep in their beds or being indisposed in the w.c., when there’s a shrieking whistle and then there’s no more roof or floor. Finding yourself broken and trouserless in a heap of mortar and brick must be a nasty shock indeed, and makes me glad I moved away from that sooty old town the moment my Perry and Gillian went off to the farm. (I miss them every day more, Michael, and cannot imagine August will ever come. I’ve enclosed two letters from them to their beloved uncle. They ask after you often. Perry wants to know if you’ve yanked Hitler’s whiskers yet.)

Two weeks ago a transport (really a dairy truck) arrived from London with a handful of patients inside, one of whom was an old gentleman in his early seventies, I’d wager. Rather stooped and toothless, but affable and conversant, speaking in a most pronounced Cockney inflection. Truthfully, I wasn’t sure to start just why exactly he had been brought to us. Though perhaps undernourished, he was fit enough for one his age. And he didn’t seem addled or disturbed in the least. At first. The only thing I saw to cause me any immediate concern for this gentleman was his predilection for extremely strong tea, which I was surprised to discover was heavily laced with a rancid label of Scotch (he’s definitely a lower-class gent of meager means). It wasn’t until his second night here that we all came to know just what demons haunted the man. It was possibly two o’clock in the morning when the screaming started. It was coming from his bunk and, well, it’s hard to describe, but these weren’t the cries of pain or fear or madness that we’re all accustomed to here at Fulbourne, these were body-wracking bellows of sadness. “Sobbing from the soul”, as Ms Thomas put it. That’s what made it all the more startling. Once awakened, our old gent seemed to be fine and quite ignorant of the streaks of tears still drying upon his cheeks. When pressed as to what possible night terrors might have shaken him (and all the rest of the ward) so, he seemed stuck for an answer and merely uttered a word. One ridiculous word that would ring familiar to, perhaps, only two other people in all Her Majesty’s realm. With a shrug, the man re­plied, “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”. Tell me you remember this word!

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