Inspiration

I was hoping over the last few days, as this day approached, to come up with something to say, but it still hasn’t come to me.

A friend suggested that perhaps I should write about the voices of history or the fact that on the doorstep of what is to be the sixty-ninth anniversary of the death of the crew of LL637, EQ-P, I have received more information which brings me another step closer to finding the final piece of the puzzle, the answer to their final moments. I tried writing about both today and it just didn’t gel.

With Norm, Larry, George, Bill, Bob, Jock, and Bud so vividly on my mind as always on such a day, I find myself looking at their photographs. I never tire of looking at these moments in time captured for eternity. Their lives were short but they made the most of every moment.

Perhaps that is the point, the boys are an inspiration. They inspire me to keep going when things are tough, to work hard, and to be a better person. They inspire me to make the most of every moment.

Background

Sixty-nine years ago, on the night of 15 March 1944, RAF Bomber Command detailed 863 bombers to bomb Stuttgart, Germany.

The bombers, typically manned by a seven man crew of young men between the ages of 19 and 30, headed out from their bases across England on a round trip that would take about seven hours.

Not all would return. This operation would see the loss of 37 bombers and around 260 men.

Attacked by German night-fighters or hit by flak, a few of these men would jump from their burning bombers and parachute to the ground, with help they would evade capture. Some, not so lucky, were found and taken as prisoners of war.

The vast majority simply never made it out of their aircraft. Some of those men disappeared as their aircraft exploded in the sky over Europe. The rest would be found dead, many of them badly burnt, among the wreckage of their Lancaster or Halifax bomber. This was the outcome for the boys of LL637, EQ-P.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Unique

Not unlike my internet connection bouncing on and off like a yo-yo, I couldn’t decide what to do for this week’s photo challenge, unique. I took photos of my hands and fingers with the idea of fingerprints. I have a rather amusing story about fingerprints and another that is rather emotional, but in the end I looked through photographs taken some time ago and this jumped out at me as the perfect example of unique.

Air Gunners

Most of you are probably wondering what is so unique about a museum display. This picture was taken within building 3 of the Yorkshire Air Museum which houses the Air Gunner’s display. I went to the Yorkshire Air Museum specifically to see this room as part of my research for my book. Many of you know my cousin, Bud, a tail gunner in a Lancaster bomber during WWII, died doing his job. “The room, believed to be the only one of its type in the world, is dedicated to the memory of the 20,000 Air Gunners who lost their lives in WWII.” (Yorkshire Air Museum Allied Air Forces Memorial Visitors Guide, pg 8). That makes it pretty unique!

The Curiousity of Research: Now You Know

I received an email from my editor on Remembrance day. Attached was the next section of manuscript edits. It felt right getting the edits on the day of days to remember. Sometimes it seems the boys keep pushing me on to finish.

For now the painting will go on hold so I can get this third section sorted. I think I am about half way through now. It is a hard section to edit though. I expect more than a few eyes would glaze over with the amount of information, so it it is time to painfully take out bits and pieces and smooth it out a little.

One thing that I have found curious in this whole process is the change from knowing little to knowing loads and how it has changed me forever. My editor often notes words that I need to add to my glossary or define within the text. In the beginning, I didn’t know many of the terms myself, but after so much research it seems odd now to think people don’t know what these words mean.

For example, if you were reading a book discussing the air force during WWII, would you know what was meant by dropping “window”? It is likely in the beginning of my research I didn’t know exactly what “window” was, but somehow my research has become so ingrained, it is like I have always known. It has become a part of my common vocabulary, a part of me. I actually struggle with the fact that others do not know what it means. It is curious to realise I have been assimilated…kind of like the Borg. That’s a bit scary really.

Anyway, for those of you now curious to know about “window”, this is what it looks like. Yes, that unassuming silvery foil stuff there that looks like stiff Christmas tinsel. By the way, this particular bit was dropped in Hilsenheim, France some time in 1944 or 1945.

For the more curious of you, here is a closer look.

Window was bundled strips of foil cut to the same wavelength as enemy radar. It was dropped from planes. The Axis relied on radar, with its electronic echoes, to locate the incoming bomber stream (hundreds of planes fully loaded with bombs and incendiaries headed for a target) and give warning and location details to Axis fighters to find them. Window created confusing, false electronic echoes, making it seem as though bombers were in one place when they were somewhere else instead.

So, now you know!

Now, I have to go edit!

A Love Poem for Remembrance Day

After noting several hits on my website looking for remembrance poems, I thought it appropriate to post this. The following poem was written, sometime around late 1943, by my cousin Robert “Bud” George Alfred Burt. He was a tail gunner in 408 Squadron. He sent the poem home to his girlfriend in Canada. He died March 15 1944.

This little poem, I just had to write;

To let you know that things are all right,

That my thoughts are of you, wherever I roam,

Whether it’s over Berlin, or over old Rome.

~

And though things look stormy, cloudy or bright,

My thoughts and my prayers are with you every night,

Though God has willed that we drift far apart,

I feel we are closer, both in spirit and heart.

~

The dark clouds are lifting, and things now look bright,

It, won’t be long now, till we have things right;

So here’s to the future, the past has gone by,

The future I’ve dreamed of for both you and I.

~

So chins up, old girl, things really look bright,

Though I know I shant be home, today or tonight;

But tomorrow is coming, and we’ll win the darn war,

Then we’ll pick up again, where we left off before.

~

Say hello to your mother, your family and mine,

Give them my regards and tell them I’m fine;

In closing, there’s yet one thing I’d like to do,

And that is to convey just how much I love you.

~

Well, dear, I’ll write “finish” to this poem or rhyme,

My eyes are complaining, it’s past my bed-time;

Hereafter I’ll stick to my turrets and my guns,

And leave things like this to poets and their sons.

~

So good night, my dear, pleasant dreams, pleasant rest,

And may I add, “Merry Christmas and all of the best”;

And I hope that, God has willed it to be,

To protect and to keep you safely for me.

                                                                 By Robert “Bud” George Alfred Burt

Remembrance Day: What I Remember

No matter where you go, each country has a form of remembrance for its war dead. Some are quiet gatherings while others are grand affairs. Invariably, there are people who stand in front of cenotaphs and wear poppies to pay their respects, there are people who object to such events as a glorification of war, and there are people who just don’t seem to grasp the relevance in today’s society.  In the hearts of most however, I’d like to think, none of them really want to see a war.

Yes, I wear a poppy, several in fact. I wear a pin and a medal too. I don’t see it as a glorification of war. I wear them as a symbol of respect and outward remembrance for the people who died protecting my freedom. Even when I don’t go to a Remembrance Day ceremony, I still wear the symbols of remembrance on my shirt, I will still stand silent for two minutes on the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month, each year. However, I believe this alone is not enough.

Remembrance is not merely about respect.  Remembering the facts of war is not really remembering either. There is little connection to the past for current generations.  Many people today would question what it is they are suppose to remember, considering most of the people who survived the war have passed on.  How are they to remember an event they were not part of? How are they to remember someone they never knew?

Remembering for me goes deeper than respect or facts.  What is often forgotten in remembrance is the very thing we should remember, the individual people who died. One needs to identify with the people we are asked to remember. The way to do that is to find out about them, not in general, but as individuals. When I remember, the thought of war is present, but it’s what’s lost in war, the people who died and their sacrifice that I think about.

Jock joined the air force before war broke out.  He fixed aircraft for several years, but in 1943, when more Engineers were needed for Lancaster bombers, he remustered as a Flight Engineer.  If he had continued to serve his country on the ground, it is likely he would have survived the war.

Larry was married and much older than the average recruit.  He didn’t have to join the war effort.  He applied anyway and was highly regarded in his field.

George too was much older than the average recruit.  Initially he was turned away from enlisting because he was married and starting a family. He didn’t have to join the war effort.  He became the proud father of two young children. A few years later, he reapplied. The air force needed more men.  They didn’t turn him down a second time.  He never got to see his children grow up.

Bud was young and knew he would be called up sooner or later.  Instead of waiting to be called up, he volunteered when he turned 18.  He died on his first op.

Bob joined air cadets in his teens, preparing to join the air force later on.  He too volunteered as soon as he was eligible.

William had finished his general education, but to join the air force he needed to complete his grade twelve.  He took correspondence courses and later moved closer to town so he could go to school and complete his education, just so he could volunteer to serve his country.

Initially, the air force turned Norman away due to health problems.  He reapplied later and despite having the same health issues he was considered fit to fly.

All of these men were determined to serve their country.  They each had a job to do, and they did it.

Together, they joined the many in the fight for freedom.  In the end, they sacrificed everything.

I will remember them.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Foreign

I live in a foreign country, so I could have taken almost any photo and called it foreign. Instead I decided to do something a little different. Remembrance Day quickly approaches. This post is my foreign experience of visiting the grave of my relative, Bud. He was a tail gunner in a Lancaster.

August 27, 2010

Dear Bud,

Well, I have finally made it to Hilsenheim.

I must say, I expected it to be warmer, but there is already a chill in the air. My dear cousin, it feels as though autumn approaches.

I’m a little nervous coming here. My French dictionary is a helpful companion, but I am unable to speak the language beyond single words and a few broken phrases.

Everything seems foreign to me here, except for the name of this place, Hilsenheim, long since etched into my mind from the first time I read it on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website.

You? No, you are no longer foreign to me now. I know you well, that mischievous personality, that quirky smile, I can almost hear your voice.

Not long now, cousin.

Much Love,

Your Cousin, LJ

 

 

August 28, 2010

Dear Bud,

I walked the Rue du Cimetiere this morning on my way to see you.

The gates were open when I arrived. I knew where you were.

The pebbled lane crunched under my feet as I walked along. The beauty there was foreign to me. The loving care was evident, each stone in living bloom.

The names too were all foreign to me, but seven. Seven stark white stones stood at attention in the far left corner.

You waited for me so patiently among them.

There were no words between us, but we needed none.

Much Love,

Your Cousin, LJ