Thursday, November 10, 2011

Bombs away!

photo courtesy of Richard Armitage Central Gallery
Remembrance Day (Nov. 11) has always had a special significance for me.  My father was a veteran of World War II in the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF).  It was something he never really talked about, as it is with most veterans.  The only war stories I ever heard were the more pleasant memories and those were usually told by old comrades who came to visit.

Talking Old Soldiers / Elton John

WWII Recruiting poster by Ted Harris
My Dad was a bomb aimer or as the Americans called it - a bombardier. It was after a visit from Uncle Charlie (who wasn't really my uncle but my Dad's closest friend in the airforce),  that I learned this piece of information.  As a youngster I was very curious about what Daddy did during the war and as children have very little notion of subtlety, I believe I posed the question, "Did you kill anyone in the war, Daddy?"  I remember he paused quite some time before he answered and when he did, he said words to the effect that  he aimed the bombs at factories, because that was what he was supposed to do.  I could tell that this was difficult for him to say, and seeing that he was so uncomfortable I never brought the subject up again.  But many years later, when I saw the movie "The Memphis Belle" I wanted to watch it with him, as I thought it did an amazing job of showing what it must have been like on a bombing run. In particular it showed the crucial role of the bomb aimer in ensuring the target was hit successfully.

The movie is based on the true story of the crew of the B-17 Bomber named Memphis Belle which was profiled by Life Magazine for being the first crew to complete their tour of duty safely after enduring 25 bombing runs.  The film tells the story of their last run, and in the following scene you will see Billy Zane as the bombardier who has just made the decision not to drop the bombs as the target is obscured by clouds.  Although low on fuel, the pilot (Matthew Modine) decides to take another run over the target.

Memphis Belle (1990)

Although the Royal Air Force and Royal Canadian Air Force crews flew Lancaster bombers, everything else about this movie seemed to be exactly as I might have imagined it (from the little I had heard or read).  I never did get to share that movie with my father, which is probably just as well, because even though there are lighter moments in the movie, the drama can get very intense. I thought it did a good job of showing some of the moral struggles in the split decisions that had to be made in the midst of battle.  I had heard of crews that been returning from bombing runs with their bombs still intact.  They had to drop their load over the Channel before returning to England or risk an explosive landing.

A wartime casualty resulting from this practice is rumoured to have been the famous American band leader Glen Miller, whose plane disappeared over the English Channel after leaving France on Dec. 15, 1944.  Here is a tribute to him which includes the beautiful song Moonlight Serenade.

In a modern war story Strike Back episode 1, based on Chris Ryan's book of the same title, John Porter, played by Richard Armitage, makes a moral decision to save the life of a young, would-be suicide bomber by defusing the bomb. It is a heroic act that is later thought to have dire consequences for his future career in the British army.  The story is artfully portrayed using the poet-turned songwriter Leonard Cohen's magnificent "Hallelujah", sung by Allison Crowe.

Hallelujah / by Bccmee


bccmee said...

Such a moving story about your dad. The lifelong friendship that resulted from his war experiences is very telling. Thanks for sharing a bit of family history.

Phylly3 said...

Thanks bccmee. Also thank you so much for your very powerful video!

Gratiana said...

Hi Phyllys,

Thanks for reminding us of the sacrifice of so many. My father was also a WWII veteran--of the Pacific. Though he was in the engineering unit building roads and didn't see combat--as far as he we know--he still carried shrapnel in his heel from when someone accidently dropped a land mine near him and a group of other soldiers. His last Veterans Day, I joined Dad at the nursing home's memorial service. We dressed his frail body in his suit that now hung over him. He was wheelchair bound at that point. But when we sang the national anthem and crossed our hearts for the flag, Dad struggled and did stand--with me behind him, holding him up. It was a moment I will not long forget.

And then to have Bccmee's lovely video is icing on the cake.

Thanks gals! Grati

Phylly3 said...

@Gratiana- You must have had such a close, loving relationship with your father. I envy that.
I never saw my Dad in uniform. Remembrance Day was always a very sombre occasion. I was very glad to see that there were some members of the Royal Canadian Legion (a veteran's association) dressed in uniform, at my father's funeral. That meant a lot to me.

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for sharing this with us. Your dad and all the service men and women sacrificed and risked so much for all of us (and many continue to do so now). It's hard to imagine what they went through. But movies like Memphis Belle help us imagine the courage, the fear, the sense of duty, they felt.

Phylly3 said...

@calexora - I agree. I still wonder what my Dad would have said about that movie. There are a lot of war movies and quite a few about the Air Force but I never saw such a well-acted, true-to-life story as that one before.

JaneGS said...

What an interesting post and how much we have in common! My dad was in the RAF in WWII and learned to fly in Canada, where he met my mom. Like your dad, mine didn't talk much about his experiences in the war, and my brother insists he was a bombadier while I distinctly remember him saying he flew transport planes, not bombers, and was happy he had that assignment.

I'll have to watch Memphis Belle. I don't know if my dad ever watched that movie, but he loved flying and flying movies. He sold his plane when he turned 80, but still has his models around him.

Also, I knew Glenn Miller's plane was lost but I didn't know that theory as to why. I thought the movie The Glenn Miller Story was just excellent, with Jimmie Stewart.

Here's to our dads!

Phylly3 said...

@JaneGS - Wow! That is really a coincidence. What year did your Dad sign up and where in Canada was his flight training? (You can send me a pm if you prefer!) Wouldn't it be neat if they trained together? You never know!