On an Air Force Enlistee

In August, 1922, Mr. John H. Ross went to London and applied to become an enlistee in the British Royal Air Force. That was an odd time to join the military in one sense. The Great War (World War 1) had been over for 4 years. Most military services were cutting back both in terms of costs and personnel. Since the war ended, most world governments believed that another such conflict was not only unlikely but also could not be conceived of. You see, neither Hitler nor Mussolini had quite made their way into the international consciousness, and, besides, the League of Nations would stop any such conflict, surely.

Yet, here was this somewhat middle-aged gentleman approaching the RAF and offering his services. He had papers proving who he was, and the recruiting officer looked over them carefully. He knew that several pilots from the war had returned home after the war, grew bored, and had been itching to return to service. Sometimes these men would use false identities to re-enlist, pretending to be completely new recruits. The officer was named W.E. Johns, and he later became a fairly famous author of crime novels. At this time, however, his job was to ferret out who was a legitimate recruit and who wasn’t. In this case, the man insisted he had no flying experience whatsoever. He admitted to having served in the war, but he said his job was as a lower-level supply staff person.

Officer Johns got the feeling from this John Ross that here was a man who, while sincere, was hiding something. Maybe it was the fact that Johns had experience in knowing the little “tells” recruits had when they lied about their past. Maybe it was something in the way this man carried himself, his presence, that made Johns feel that all wasn’t on the up-and-up. Johns thanked the man for his willingness to be a part of the service, but he told Ross that he believed his paperwork was fake and declined to take him into the service that day. “Ross isn’t your real name, is it?” Johns asked. Ross shook his head “no” and thanked the officer. As he left, Johns figured that was the last he would see of the man.

Surprisingly, a little while later, Mr. John Ross reappeared, this time with an RAF messenger in tow. Ross said nothing, but the messenger handed Officer Johns a written note. It was from his superior officer. The note ordered Officer Johns to admit John H. Ross into the Royal Air Force based on the documents provided. Johns couldn’t understand it. His superiors had never overruled his decisions regarding recruits. What made this man–a man who admitted to using a fake name and fake documents–so special that he had to be allowed to join the RAF?

Johns followed the order and processed the enlistee’s paperwork. He informed Ross that he was now admitted to the air service. Ross smiled and thanked Officer Johns. As Ross turned to go, John’s curiosity got the best of him. “Who the hell are you, really?” he asked.

The man turned back towards Johns’ desk. “I’m nobody. Just want to serve my country,” he answered with a smile.

It wasn’t until February of the next year that Officer Johns realized that he had processed the enlistment of T.E. Lawrence, known to the world as Lawrence of Arabia.


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