Wednesday, 22 August 2012

The making of an unexpected warrior

Amazing the things that float to the surface when you move house.

Some years ago I started to make an album of photographs I inherited from my father. One of those projects I’ll go back to in the future, when I have more time. Because some day I’ll have more time. Won’t I? Surely I will.

Anyway, I was looking at some of the photos and was struck, as I have been so often, by those of his time in the Royal Air Force during the Second World War.

I’m suspicious of the term ‘gentleman’, which traditionally meant a nobleman, and therefore someone who didn't work for a living, i.e. an over-indulged parasite on society, so I’m never wholly comfortable when someone uses it of me (that terrible thing in business: ‘thank you, gentlemen, for attending this meeting’; if I’m at the meeting, it’s because I’m working, and therefore not a gentleman).

If I'm sure of anything, it
s that my father, whether or not he was a gentleman, was certainly a gentle man, one of the gentlest I've known. So the idea that he rained destruction down on people from the skies is a hard one to reconcile with the image I have on him. Seeing him in uniform is, indeed, the only way for me to believe it true at all.

He was no happier with the idea than I am. It was a great relief to him that he never took part in the great raids on cities, because was assigned to 101 Squadron which did special operations: often a single plane dropping supplies to resistance groups, or paratroops into occupied territory. But he did have to drop bombs a few times and, as he would say, it was odd to fly over a field full of men and look back to see it just a mass of craters with barely a living soul left.

And that all happened when he was in his early twenties. Imagine giving that level of killing power to some of the 22-year olds you know today.

Of course, the truth is that we do. And we send them off to Iraq or Afghanistan, to conflicts in which it’s far less easy to believe than in the great struggle against Hitler. And rather more often than we’re comfortable about, it goes wrong, with one of these young men running amok with his hugely dangerous weapon destroying a lot of people, often including himself.

Oh, well. Bad news. Perhaps it’s better not to think about it and just concentrate on a few amusing photos instead.

My favourite is the last. Propped up agains the wheel of a Stirling bomber. And smoking a pipe! At 22 or 23: who does that? Still, makes a good picture doesn’t it?


I understand basic training can be pretty exhausting

A motorbike? Never saw him on a motorbike in my life.
Works though, doesn't it? Especially with that smile.

I sing of arms and the man. And the pipe

1 comment:

silentsystem said...

Thank you for sharing