I was raking some weeds together on Saturday afternoon. The air was still; silence reigned, apart from the occasional cooing of a wood pigeon.
Then, softly at first but quickly gathering in volume, the sound of an aircraft. And suddenly there it was, a Hawker Hurricane, breaking through the cloud cover near our little town and wheeling around to pass directly over our house, the unmistakable roar of its Rolls Royce Merlin engine bringing neighbours out into their gardens to watch as the plane swooped down to, I’d guess, no more than 500 feet and circled around, flying on edge so we could take in its full profile.
It’s ironic that those two great British killing machines, the Hurricane and the Spitfire, were inventions of such beauty. A necessary coming together of art and science, mothered by war, because only the right admixture of raw power, weaponry, curves and smooth lines could have delivered an effective antidote to the Nazi plague.
Yesterday the lasting impression on me was the sound of a meticulously-bred animal: a very, very loud purr, but one which by no means could be described as a noise.
Just imagine the combined volume of the screaming engines and rat-tat-tatting guns of British and German planes in the air over London and elsewhere across the country during the Battle of Britain. These were young men strapped tightly into their cockpits, fighting for their lives and our lives, the smell of engine oil in their nostrils, the thudding vibrations as they pressed the fire buttons to activate their cannons and the immense G forces as they manoeuvred their planes in spiralling trajectories around the sky, sometimes at many thousands of feet, sometimes low over cities, town and farms.
Just one plane brought our neighbours out into their gardens. When massed squadrons of RAF and Luftwaffe planes were contesting a particular zone of air space over Britain, the decibel level must have been absolutely immense. Here was a brief flashback to those momentous days.
The plane disappeared over the treetops as quickly as it had appeared. Peace returned.
I went back to my weeding, thanks to the skill and bravery of those Few brave young men back in the early 1940s.
Image credits: Arpingstone, own work, public domain