mary lee settle (1918-2005)


LONDON – 1944

How do I capture a city and a time? It began in the back of a camouflaged RAF lorry that smelled of oil. I clung to the side as the driver swung the lorry fast around the curved Cotswold road from Bourton-on-the-Water to the railway station. All I had left of the uniform I had worn for ten months as an aircraft woman second class in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force of the RAF was the pair of issue shoes, heavy black masculine clodhoppers. I carried the suitcase I had kept hidden full of civilian clothes to wear on leave, a civilian ration book, some clothing coupons, and my discharge papers (my ticket). I was dressed in the suit I had worn to go into the WAAF at the recruiting station in Kingsway. That was the beginning of the time in London, and it ended, 18 months later, not in London, but at a dinner party in New York the evening after I came home from the war.

Why, after all this time, do I need to recall this? There is an old man, dreaming of Piccadilly in 1944, when he was young and drunk and a bomber pilot. A friend who brought back a hidden wound of one forever relived day has shot himself nearly 40 years later. I know that they, in their way, and I in mine, have no hope of ever being civilians completely.

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