The windows of the mess hall rattled as a Lancaster bomber rumbled along the landing strip outside, smoke trailing from a damaged engine, the last to return from the previous night’s run over Germany. Behind the serving hatch, Wilf Turner crossed himself and offered up a silent prayer for the ones who wouldn’t come back.
“What have you got for me today, Turner?” Flight Lieutenant Halliard asked, late to arrive as usual, expecting the kitchen staff still to be there ready to feed him.
“Spam today, sir.” Wilf deposited a fritter on the lieutenant’s plate, then reached for the mashed potato spoon.
“More bloody spam?” Halliard sighed. “I know there’s a war on, so it’s not going to be duck a l’orange every lunchtime, but can’t you get us a bit of variety? I ate better than this at Eaton, and we all know what that was like.”
Wilf most definitely didn’t, but he wasn’t going to highlight the reasons someone like Halliard looked down on him.
“I’m doing my best sir,” he said, shifting to take the weight off his club foot. It sometimes hurt to spend this long standing at the hatch, but if he couldn’t be up in the air, he could at least help those who were.
“The worst part is, you probably are.” Halliard shook his head, took the plate, and walked away, leaving Wilf to glare after him.
Wilf was on the verge of closing the serving hatch when Flight Lieutenant Halliard swaggered in, still wearing his flight suit, grabbed a plate, and walked up with the usual smug look on his face.
“What have you got for me today, Turner?” he asked.
“Spam, sir,” Wilf said, reaching for the serving spoon.
“Again? Christ on a bike, Turner, I thought it was your job to feed us as well as you can.”
“I am, sir, but there are limits.”
“Limits to your intelligence.”
Some of the other airmen looked around to see what the fuss was about. They watched with amusement as Halliard pulled a face of pantomime disgust, while Wilf crumpled in on himself in embarrassment.
“What have you made?” Halliard continued. “It looks like someone ran over the commander’s dog and shovelled it onto a plate.”
That got laughter. Wilf’s cheeks burned with shame. He’d worked hard on the meal. He knew it wasn’t brilliant, but he didn’t have brilliant resources.
“It’s a spam hash, sir,” he said. “It’s made with—”
“At this point, I honestly don’t care. No idea why I expected better from a sallow-faced shirker who spends the war in the kitchen, not out there fighting the good fight.”
Wilf felt like an artillery shell was clogging his throat. Everyone was watching, but he wasn’t meant to answer back to officers, and he didn’t even know where he would start. How dare Halliard talk to him like this? If he could have done, he would have been up there with the rest of them. Hell, he would rather have been shot down over Germany than be stuck here all this time.
“My foot,” he mumbled.
Halliard rolled his eyes. “Keep your excuses to yourself. And next time I’m here, there had better not be any bloody spam.”
A movement in the doorway of the mess hall made Wilf reach under the counter. Then he saw that it was one of the senior engineers, not Halliard, so he took the lid off his pan and scooped up a ladle full of stew.
“Beef!” the engineer exclaimed as he caught the stew’s scent. “Turner, you’re a legend.”
“Thank you, sir.”
Wilf put the lid back on the pot, glanced at his hidden plate of spam, and grinned. Everyone else was so happy with their meals, but wait until Halliard turned up. This time Wilf had been practising what he would say. “Sorry sir, we’ve run out of stew.” Or perhaps “there was some, but you came too late.” Most importantly “here’s what we’ve still got: spam.” Oh yes, he was looking forward to it.
He glanced out the window. The last plane had got back half an hour ago. Halliard really was taking his time.
“Something the matter, Turner?” the engineer asked.
“Just wondering where Flight Lieutenant Halliard has got to, sir. He’s usually the last one here.”
“You haven’t heard?” The engineer shook his head. “Halliard’s plane took a direct hit over Kiel, went down in flames.”
Wilf took a step back onto his club foot. Stew dripped from his ladle onto the floor.
“Sorry, Turner, was he a friend of yours?”
“No, sir,” Wilf said. “I just…”
I just hated him, he wanted to say. I just needed the fight.
“I understand. It’s always tough when we lose a crew.”
The engineer nodded and walked away.
Wilf put the ladle down. The spam stared accusingly at him, a sordid and pointless pile of pink meat.
Serving time was over. Wilf closed the shutters. He picked up a bowl, and was about to fill it with stew, but then the other plate caught his eye. He picked it up and reached for a fork.
“Spam today,” he muttered to himself.
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