Several personal distractions during the Russian course - Tony Cunnane's Autobiography

A Yorkshire Aviator's Autobiography
Tony Cunnane
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Several personal distractions during the Russian course

No sooner had I told everyone that I had glandular fever than there was yet another distraction. I had to consult the same lady Medical Officer again, this time with a suspicious lump in my right groin that had been bothering me for a couple of weeks after I had discovered it whilst having a shower. The MO diagnosed that lump as a hernia, large enough to require urgent repair in her opinion, so once again she referred me to the RAF Hospital at Nocton Hall near Lincoln. The consultant at Nocton Hall decided that there was also a lesser hernia on the other side. He decided that an immediate operation was required to fix both, but he was not prepared to do the operation until my glandular fever symptoms subsided. In mid-June, as I was about to be wheeled off to the Operating Theatre at Nocton Hall, the Ward Sister came to me, clutching her clip board and said sternly: “Squadron Leader Cunnane, what is your operation for?” Because the pre-med injection was starting to take effect, I thought this might be a test to see if I was compos mentis.

“You know what I’m in for, Sister – a BIH – bilateral inguinal hernia repair,” I said, repeating the consultant’s description of what he was going to do.

“Then tell me why you’ve signed for a vasectomy when you recently got engaged to be married?” said the Sister, triumphantly waving her clip board in my face. She turned to the grinning RAF sergeant in the adjacent bed: “I don’t know why you’re laughing, sergeant. You’ve signed for a double hernia operation when you’re in for a vasectomy!”

After I came round in the recovery room, the very first thing I did was check under the bedclothes that the correct operation had been carried out. When the surgeon who had carried out my operation came on his rounds, he was accompanied by two grinning flight lieutenants who looked to me like teenagers. The surgeon told me that those two “had done a side each to give them both some practice". I need not have worried about their skill because the repairs they had made lasted until 2005 when repeat surgery was needed on one side – although the NHS made me wait for nine months for that.

One day during my recuperation from the hernia operation, Veronica finally got around to telling me about the flying accident in which her first husband had died. Suddenly, like a bolt from the blue, I realised why she had wanted to find me. I had been one of the senior members of the five-man court-martial convened to try the captain of the aircraft that had crashed and killed her husband. The aircraft captain had been charged with mishandling an in-flight emergency and thereby causing the total loss of the aircraft and the death of several members of his crew and some civilians on the ground. We, the Court, acquitted the captain of the charge for reasons that even now, over 40-years later, I cannot reveal because they are legally privileged – as all court-martial decisions are.

A few days later Veronica told me, when we were in bed together, that she had been ‘talking’ to her late husband. He wanted me to know, Veronica said, that he forgave me for being a member of the Court Martial that had acquitted his captain of any wrong, and he approved of me – and my wedding to his widow! Veronica went on to admit to me, for the very first time, that she had known at least a full year before our first meeting on the blind date at the North Luffenham party, of the connection between me and her late husband and she had been wondering how to engineer a meeting with me. I found that extremely disturbing. I told Veronica that I did not believe in messages from the dead and asked her never to do it again. But she did, quite deliberately, on several more occasions and finally on the very day that her little boy, whom I adored, called me “Daddy” for the very first time. There was no way I could live with a dead husband watching over me and approving or disapproving of my every action for the rest of my life. For the little boy’s benefit, I knew that the break had to be immediate and irrevocable. I left her bed, and her house, immediately in the middle of the night, and never returned.

Once they learned that the wedding was off, and my reasons for calling it off, my colleagues on the Russian Course finally admitted, rather sheepishly, that even before being invited to that blind date party in the Officers Mess, Veronica had known I had been a member of that particular court-martial and that was why she was very keen to meet me – but they had never got around to telling me, because Veronica wanted it to be a surprise when we met. So, it had been a blind date only for one of us! Veronica, they then told me, believed that the decision to acquit the captain had been a travesty of justice. She had, apparently, persistently and vehemently harangued her late-husband’s squadron and station commanders, and even the Ministry of Defence, about the injustice she believed had been done to her husband and the others killed in the crash. Veronica had even, they told me, lobbied the media to try and discover the names of the five officers who had officiated at the court martial of the captain of the aircraft that had crashed. That information is never routinely released to the public. However, Veronica had, through unofficial RAF sources, eventually succeeded in tracing me to the Russian Language School at North Luffenham but, to this day, I cannot imagine what her real motive was in wanting to meet me – let alone marry me!

My fellow students finally told me that they had anguished for weeks over whether to tell me that Veronica had been searching for me for a long time, but in the end, once the wedding was announced, they had decided not to. I must admit that in their position I would probably have done the same: you interfere in a friend’s love life at your peril! I have no idea what happened to Veronica, but I think of that little boy every single day and I still have all the happy photographs I took of him.
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