“FROM all these operations eleven of our aircraft, failed to return though one of the pilots was saved.” So the communiqué puts it to express official satisfaction with the flight. The reader is satisfied too. Hangars and runway were hit and planes “dispersed on the ground ” dest roved. “ Well and cheaply done,” we say to ourselves. Flying Officer X says “Well done” too, but questions the cheapness.
These twenty-one sketches are the common chronicle of boys on duty and off—men rather, almost touching old age at twenty-five. There is no word of sympathy or marring sentiment; only profound understanding. The stories, sparely told, bite into the memory like acid. We see these boys in the flak live miles over the target, tense as drawn wires, making their jocular comments on nothing when waiting becomes unbearable. We see them between raids, deadly bored with things that, two or three years ago, would have made up the total of life’s satisfactions. Drink and girls are trivial sport.. Death is an absorbing playmate and holds the attention from all else. With that feeling one other only can compete: that perfect oneness with your plane, riding with Destiny through infinite space.
There’s Something in the Air is a perfect book for a mood in times like these. The mood is too tense, too painful to last, but it is recurrent, and in it Bates, the artist, well-nigh touches perfection.