‘Worm’s-Eye View’ by John Sommerfield

This might not really qualify as a short story, though it’s the first in what’s called a collection of stories. It might better be called a reflection of Sommerfield’s experiences as an RAF enlisted mechanic in World War Two. 

It opens with the recollection of how he and his crewmates at a bomber base in the North would walk through a wood between their quarters and the airfield. 

Sometimes when we came under the shade of those trees and sniffed that elusive vegetable smell we were reminded of a different world, one having nothing to do with the way we lived now, nor belonging to the fantasies of civilian existence with which we tantalized ourselves.

As Sommerfield takes us from the cold and wet of England to the heat and monotony of an airfield in Egypt, he describes how essential these fantasies are to a soldier’s emotional survival—and yet, at the same time, understood to be fragile and unreliable:

Bemused by our own fantasies, warped by disillusionings, fooled and moralized at and lied to by authority, what chance had we of seeing and understanding what we were and what was happening to us?

He draws from the journal he kept throughout the war, noting how absurd were his attempts to assert any fact or opinion with confidence. “History, that scattered us about the world, hid its face from us.” In a quiet and unassuming way, ‘Worm’s-Eye View’ is a reflection on how fiction is both necessary and problematic for our existence.

Included in The Survivors, John Lehmann, 1947

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