It's strange to look at the past in the palm of a hand. How can a faded photograph conjure it up like a magician? How long ago was it now? Sixty? No, seventy years. So long ago, yet now suddenly it seems only yesterday in my mind. So much so it brings tears to my eyes.
Oh what a group we were, thrown together by war. All of us so different, yet the same. Wanting to help, to aid. Driven by some unseen force.
As I look at the women, left to right;
First, dear Beth, the eldest of all of us, yet the one who's joy and devotion kept us together. She came from the richest of families, but you never would have known it, she treated us all as equals. She would laugh when we called her, ‘The Mother.' You started flying as a pastime to cure your boredom in the valley of the rich. Until war came, then you were driven to help when you saw the destruction abroad.
Second, me, Jennifer. I look so young, so carefree, as if I was indestructible. The world lay at my feet waiting to be conquered. So cocksure, so arrogant. I grew up so fast then. I learnt what death really was, and I also discovered the trueness of love. I was nothing but a poor farmer's daughter. I found the love of flying in dusting the crops. Yet when the call to arms came, I knew where I had to be. It didn't matter I was just a girl.
The third in the picture brings new tears to my eyes. Sammy, my wonderful Samantha. So timid, yet the heart of the lion. She had more courage in her little finger than all of us put together. She was our heart, she was my heart. A doctor's daughter who was born to help others. Your love of flying came from your brother, he taught you so well. When he was killed, one of the first of the war, the light went out of your life, until you found us and you belonged again.
I look at the photograph again.
Fourth, Elizabeth, a cold fish with an aloofness that took me years to see through and when I did I discovered a friendship that would mean more to me than I knew through the years. You were our truth, our conscience. Your skill of flying came from within. Like all things you were the natural.
Last by not least, our chariot of the skies; Dixie Pride. Even now she glitters in the sun, standing out more than any of us. She was our way home.
So there we stand, we five. What were we? We were the WAFS; Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron. Later we became the Women Air force Service Pilots, or WASP. Our job to fly planes and equipment to wherever it was needed, including combat zones. That makes me smile, even now they deny we did. How the world has changed, I see now with pride that women are allowed to fly for their country. But still there is a veil of silence when it comes to those who die for it.
My eyes go back to Samantha, the reason I am looking into the past again.
We met in 1940 and flew together for four years and in that time we discovered love. How scared we were of being found out, the enemy didn't scare us as much. We would steal away on leave and disappear into our dreams. We didn't feel what we were doing was wrong, we had never felt so right. But our families and the world saw it so differently. So in secret, for seventy years we continued. To the world, we were spinster sisters. Few knew the truth of us, many held rumours and their bitter tongue would often cause us pain. Through the years we would face many tests of our love, but we always seemed to weather them and come out stronger together. Later, much later in our life, the new generation recognized us as partners, leading us out of our exile and we learned to love our new found family. I was the least forgiving of the past, but Samantha would always just smile at me and say.... “You hurt yourself more than you hurt others by being angry at them.” I would easily forgive a grievance aimed at me, but I could never forgive any attack that was made upon her.
My mind wanders, so many memories, so many tales to tell. I hear the rain falling outside, you always loved the rain.
As I look down to the photograph I see the droplets upon it, not of rain but of tears. I place the picture back into the box, the box you made me promise to open on this day and look into the beginnings of us. I don't want to close it, in doing so it's as if I'm closing our life together. But I know now why you wanted me to look, not to forget, but to remember, always.
I close it, holding it to me as if it were the treasure of the pharaohs. I turn my head as I hear my name called, smiling sadly at my grandniece as she comes to me and pushes my chair to the place where you now lie. I stop by your coffin. I place the box at your feet, you shall take our memories with you until I can join you again.
I smile, even at the age of ninety two you still look so beautiful. My hand passes across your cheek.
I stand, refusing aid from our family. Old legs stutter with my weight, but this I must do. I stand as tall as my body will allow and with tears falling like the rain, I raise my right arm and salute you, my own sweet comrade in arms and in life. Samantha.