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Second Officer Petrova Fossil, Air Transport Auxiliary

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Petrova Fossil landed her plane, taxied along the bumpy airstrip and drew to a stop.  She switched the engine off, and, satisfied another plane had been successfully delivered, jumped down.

She saluted the airman who was already directing the mechanics to ready the plane for its next flight and said, “Second Officer Fossil, sir.”

“Fossil, yes.  There are orders waiting for you at the command post.”  He pointed to a hut situated at a little distance from the airstrip.

Petrova saluted again and set off for the building.  Once inside, she found her orders pinned to a noticeboard.  She unpinned them and took them back outside to read.  It was starting to get dark, and the light was slightly better outside than inside the hut.  The orders said simply she was to fly three officers back to her base the next day, departing 07:00.

That meant she would be expected to stay over.  She decided her best course of action would be to head for the mess hall, from where she might be able to find directions to a bed for the night.

She set off in the most likely direction.  As she walked along, a girl in WAAF uniform waved and came over to join her.

“You look lost,” said the girl.

“I’m looking for a billet for the night,” Petrova replied.  “I’ve just flown in and need to fly out again first thing tomorrow.”

“We can find you a bed in our hut,” the girl said.  “You’ll have to share though.”

“That’s okay.  I’m sure I can manage.  It’ll be better than sleeping on the floor.”

“Oh, I don’t mean share a bed.  Just a room.  We’re a bit cramped, and they’ve pushed extra beds into the rooms, but we haven’t got to the stage yet of two to a bed.  We’ll find someone who’s on the night shift, and you can borrow their bed.”

“That will do me perfectly, thank you.”

“Do you want to eat first?  Only I’m starving.”

“That sounds like an excellent idea.”

“This way.  I’m Mavis, by the way.”

“I’m Petrova.”

Mavis led the way into the mess hall, and, once they had queued up and been served with bangers and mash, they took their trays over to a table where Mavis introduced Petrova to the other girls who were sitting there.

“We’re going to the pictures tonight,” one of the girls said.  “Do you want to come with us?”

“I think I’d rather have a quiet evening if you don’t mind,” Petrova replied.

“Of course.”  The girl smiled.  “I bet flying is really tiring.”

“It can be.”  Petrova smiled back.  “Which film are you going to see?”

The Dark Pool.  It’s got Pauline Fossil in, and she’s my favourite actress.  I’d love to be her, setting out bravely on an adventure and being swept off my feet by a dark and handsome stranger.”  She sighed.

“You haven’t a hope, Annie,” Mavis said.  “I doubt doing Group Captain Bennett’s filing constitutes an adventure unless you’re expecting Wing Commander Evans to sweep you off your feet.”

“He’s married.  And he’s got the most adorable children.  He showed me a picture of them yesterday,” Annie replied.

Petrova smiled.  “Would you mind if I changed my mind and came with you?” she asked.

“Of course not,” Mavis said.  “We’ll go and find you a bed, and then it’ll be time to catch the bus.  Oh, do you have everything you need?”

“Yes, thank you.  I carry essentials in my bag, I never know where I’ll end up, so it pays to be prepared.”

Mavis led the way to the hut the WAAF used, and, after a bit of discussion, a bed was found for Petrova.  She put down her bag, ran a hairbrush through her hair and joined Mavis in the walk to the bus stop.  There they found a group who were chattering and laughing, looking forward to an evening’s entertainment which would take their minds off their work for a few hours. 

Once on the bus, Petrova closed her eyes to think.  She’d already seen The Dark Pool, having gone with Posy when it had first come out.  When Posy had returned to London, they had made a pact to see Pauline’s new films together, just the two of them, as soon as possible after they opened.  It didn’t mean they wouldn’t go again with friends, but there was something special about watching a film of Pauline’s, and sitting next to each other, which brought them closer together.  And the following day Petrova would write to Pauline to give her both their thoughts on the film.  Posy would give Petrova a card to include on which she would scrawl a line of appreciation.

Petrova knew Posy had seen The Dark Pool again with some friends.  She had met up with Posy for tea at a Lyons Corner House and been told about Posy’s current admirers and all they managed to get up to.  It would be easy to think Posy was air-headed, but Petrova knew her well enough to see the seriousness underneath.  And who could blame Posy and her admirers for having fun when many of them were airmen who knew they might not return after their next sortie?  Indeed, from the way Posy had mentioned a Duncan and then quickly changed the subject, Petrova suspected he had already been killed.

Petrova’s thoughts were interrupted by Mavis who said, “We’re here!”

They hopped off the bus and crossed the road to the cinema, joining the queue to buy a ticket for the film.  Once in their seats, they settled back to watch the newsreel showing pictures of the King and Queen visiting parts of London which had suffered bomb damage.  After which there was a short B film and then the main feature, which was greeted with a loud cheer.

Petrova watched the film but let her mind wander.  She knew the plot, which was similar in many ways to some of Pauline’s other films, but simply seeing her sister on the screen reminded her of another time when life didn’t seem to be on quite such a knife edge.  When Pauline wrote to Petrova, she always expressed her admiration and pride at Petrova’s contribution to the war effort, but Petrova knew that Pauline in her own way was playing her part.  For many of the girls watching in the cinema, and in many other cinemas, Pauline was giving them a chance to escape for a couple of hours from the pressure they were all living under, which had to be a good thing.

It was funny, Petrova thought, all three of the Fossil girls were playing their own part.  Hers, certainly, was important, but Pauline made a difference to many, who like Annie, could indulge in a dream for a while.  Even Posy, who was running dance classes for evacuees and others, was playing her part.  She’d told Petrova when they’d last met about one harassed mother who had collected her daughter after a class and said, “Thank you, miss, that’s the first time she’s smiled all week.”  It wasn’t what any of them had expected when they started out in the world, but one thing life had always taught the Fossil girls was things were rarely as you expected.

The film came to an end.  Petrova stood with the others as the National Anthem was played, and then they hurried to the bus.  She would be glad to fall into bed and get some sleep so she would be ready for whatever the next day threw at her.