First posted on Friday, 26 July, 2019. ❦ I recently purchased the latest chapter in the IL-2 Sturmovik series of flight simulators, Battle of Bodenplatte, and was pleased to discover that my story for a pilot biography is now in the video game.
The bits of text highlighted in yellow such as $[name] are called variables, and they are replaced by the name and birth date you choose for your pilot in the game.
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$[name] was born in a small fishing village on the English coast in the winter of $[birthdate]. Dad was blinded by shell fragments in France in 1914, and mom took care of the household and their grocery shop. There was very little money, so $[firstName] and his brother worked from a young age, taking turns helping in the shop during the cold months and selling ice cream and fish and chips by the beach when the weather was warm.
A shy, sensitive person, he spent his childhood by the water where he loved to look at gulls, suspended in the air, that would, now and again, swoop down to steal a chip or a cone. He went for long walks on the sands and through meadows of trees and shrubs bent toward land by the force of the wind from the sea.
He did not like school or groups of people, and was often reprimanded by teachers for daydreaming in class. One day, a large, powerful boy picked on him, and when he answered back, the big boy grabbed $[firstName]’s arm and twisted it in a terribly painful way while the pack of boys that always followed the big one laughed and cheered.
Moments later, when the big boy’s and the pack’s attention was elsewhere, $[firstName] approached, as calmly and nonchalantly as he could, and suddenly, without warning and with all his weight behind it, smashed a fist into the big boy’s face with a force that surprised him. When he eventually got up, the big boy did not hit him back, and despite continuously asking to fight him — $[firstName] would always refuse — would not attack, then or ever again.
After leaving school $[firstName] studied biology and natural history in the library while spending time at home helping as he had done before. During a visit, his brother, now a mechanic and student pilot, remarked how he often saw $[firstName] looking up while helping tend the garden, and not long after, on a warm, windy morning, asked him to come along and see the view from above — his first flight.
When the glider was released from the airplane towing it, $[firstName] remembers being amazed at first about the initial silence, followed by the sound of the wind, the ringing of cow bells, the words between people, the shutting of doors.
Then, looking up, and around, the movement of the ailerons, the banking of the wings, white and yellow clouds and glints of sunlight through moisture on the canopy, the beauty of the green landscape and, on the horizon, the blue distance of the sea.
From that day onward his love of flight would only grow, while newspapers, terrible sounds from the radio and the skies, and the increasing rationing of supplies, brought the war home.
In the warm months of $[startDate], $[startRank] $[lastName], then $[age] years old, received notice to report to $[startSquadronName]. He was going to fly across the water to fight over the continent.
As he walked through the garden, he stopped and touched a flower, feeling the gentle texture of the petals. He opened the small metal gate, stepped through, and closed it, with its little clanking sound.
He waved to the window where he could make out his mother’s face, dancing amid the reflections of the garden in the glass panes, his father by her side.
Tears blurred his vision, and as he moved, also him, from the point of view of his parents, behind the slowly melting pane.
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Though neither were pilots, the story is loosely based on my grandfather’s and father’s early life, as I can trace my love for the wind and things that fly to my visits to England as a boy.
My grandfather, Frank Griffee, was blinded by shell fragments in 1914 at La Bassée, France, and together with his wife, Ethel Griffee, helped bring up my father, Peter Griffee, and his brother, Alan Griffee, in England during the Second World War.
My uncle, Alan, also experienced war as a young man in North Africa and the Middle East in the late 1940’s , and later became a professional news photographer and co-founder of a photography agency.
During my time as an intern there I learned to use Photoshop and also flew in a glider for the first time — a thrilling birthday present from Alan and my aunt Beu.
Dad grew up in Bristol and Cornwall and sold ice cream on the beach when he was a boy. He loved nature, animals, and especially the sea.
One of the few times I remember dad crying was after he received a telephone call from England informing him that his father had died.
It makes me happy to have a little of dad live on in various digital worlds that I have enjoyed because of him since my childhood. It makes me glad that today, in most places in the world, we are fighting an invisible enemy, rather than ourselves.