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51 4.Intelligence 1941–1942 Whatever vague and romantic ideas might have been floating through my mind at the thought of an Intelligence Commission (Blonde spies? Secret agents? My foreign languages used in some unexpectedly exciting way?), they quickly faded as I humped my kitbag into the spacious hall of yet another respectable Stockbroker Tudor suburban-rural house. The bedrooms were big enough to squeeze in four or five RAF beds (even embryo officers had to share), and the rug-skidding, parquet-floored drawing room offered standard armchairs and sofas upholstered in recognizably conservative floral prints. Here we assembled before and after meals, learning to behave like Officers and Gentlemen, after the crudities of Other Ranks life. It was a mixed-sex Officer Training fortnight, but the image was still of the Gentleman. What was now an improvised classroom (there was even a blackboard) had probably once been a fairly extensive library, and here we had the lectures deemed necessary to mould the Officer Type and give both men and women what, at the time, were thought to be the necessary rudiments of administration and leadership. “Ah, Ashbee. Let’s see now. You’re Code and Cypher?” “No, Sir, Intelligence, Sir.” “Intelligence? . . . Ah, well, er, there don’t seem to be any, er . . . Well, I’d just sit at the back and listen.” It turned out to be a very hot fortnight, and as the lectures about equipment or administration problems droned on, the open French windows gave tantalizing glimpses of the overgrown and neglected garden just made for truanting. “Ah, Ashbee, let’s see, was it, er . . . Catering?” “No, Sir, Intelligence, Sir.” “Intelligence, Ashbee? Oh, I don’t think . . . er.” 52 | The Officer Type? “I’ll just sit at the back Sir, shall I?” “Yes, yes, Ashbee, you do that.” So I sat at the back, twiddling my thumbs, thinking my own thoughts, and on one occasion being summoned to be measured for my officer’s uniform . The gentlemen’s tailor was obviously as yet unused to feminine bust measurements, let alone the problem of where to stop when going down a female leg to calculate correct skirt lengths. He simply could not make a lady kneel before him. The rule-of-thumb method used by WAAF Officers with female Other Ranks was that when kneeling, the hem should just touch the ground. My bedroom stable-companions were hardly kindred spirits, but one of them complained one morning of having been bitten during the night. “It couldn’t be fleas, could it?” she asked, aghast. I looked at the large blotched bites sympathetically, and with the expertise of my Jerusalem childhood, pronounced verdict: “That’s not fleas! That’s bugs!” “What do you mean . . . bugs?” “Bedbugs, of course!” There was a shriek of horror and the others gathered round. “Never met a bedbug before?” I asked, rather enjoying the shock value of my greater experience. “We’d better have a look in your bed.” (A gasp of embarrassment.) “They’re easy to catch, they don’t jump like fleas. On the other hand they usually come out only at night when the bed’s nicely warmed up.” (Another suppressed shriek.) I went through the bedclothes carefully, watched by my fascinated but ignorantly ladylike companions. “Ha! got ’im!” I exclaimed, pouncing on the small, dark, flat culprit. “Quick, a matchbox somebody . . . tip the matches out, quick!” “What are you going to do?” came in chorus. “Take it down and complain, of course. You’d better come too,” I turned to the bitten victim, “and show off your bites.” “Oh, I couldn’t!” the shocked response. “Up to you,” I said, shrugging, “But I don’t think it’s good enough. We didn’t bring bedbugs with us, wherever we may have come from recently. It is supposed to be officer training here!” Intelligence: 1941–1942 | 53 My cap on, to show a proper deference, and matchbox in hand, I went down to the WAAF Admin Officer’s holy of holies, knocked, and went in. Saluting smartly I lodged my complaint, to be met by a stony disbelief. “The bitten victim was too shy to come and display her bites, Ma’am,” I said, “though that is not essential, since I have caught and can show you the offender.” A second’s doubt—or panic?—flickered across the face of the Senior WAAF as I produced my matchbox. But I had forgotten the wiles of the enemy. A cake of wetted...


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