Sunday, 20 December 2009


Nor of our choosing. Yet is was beautiful and deceptively peaceful that Christmas eve. For a brief moment the moon was peaceful and alone in the night sky. It softly and kindly illuminated the blanket of snow that hugged the barbed wire and the guard towers as we few survivors of aerial battles, some as long as five years ago, remembered distant homes and better times.

Suddenly the quiet night was shattered by the foreboding wail of sirens, soon followed by the ugly sounds of exploding flak and bombs as Bomber Command and the Luftwaffe were taking, and losing, young lives and killing or maiming hundreds in their homes while engulfing us in a sickening revulsion against the human species that worshipped the same God yet saw fit to continue the slaughter even on his birthday.

We all wanted to be home with the war a receding memory, yet there was little or no animosity towards the Luftwaffe flak gunners or fighters who were up there killing our comrades while defending their homeland. We were all victims of man’s insanity. In a way we pitied them. We all wanted to believe they were fighting a losing battle. And they had it so much worse than we. We, in Bomber Command, were excused further operations on the completion of 60, a fond hope when the life expectancy was only five, but they had to go on until they found “the Hero’s Death”.

There are so many examples, but a few will have to suffice.

Helmut Lent, in his Messerschmitt 110 destroyed 110 of our bombers over several years before he foundthe Hero’s Death in October 1944. Heinz-Wolfgang Schnaufer fought 164 night battles in an Me 110, destroyed 121 of our bombers, survived the war, only to be killed in a car accident. These two men killed some 1,500 of us.

Men, boys really, like these caused us grievous losses, like the night of 30/31 Mar 1944 when, on a Nürnberg raid, they destroyed 94 of 705 bombers, with 658 of 4,935 aircrew. The Me 110 was one of the few aircraft that served for all of the 6-year war. Some 6,000 were built.

In the end we prevailed, at enormous cost to us and even greater cost to them, but what did we learn? This Christmas our highly-flawed species remains at war.

For me, it all seemed so sad when in 1956 I met, and became friends with, the German who shot me down in 1943. I felt that both of us were flanked by the ghosts of comrades.

Thursday, 17 December 2009


It Seems to Me - That this part of America - the 50 states that call themselves “The United States” is actually in great disarray and in considerable trouble. It has a brave new president charged with rebuilding yet they expect him to do it, leaving in place fractured foundations while ignoring the root causes of the current rot.

It is not that this country lacks its fair share of world thinkers. At this moment I have 33 recently-purchased, in-depth books ranging through topics economic, environmental, historical, military, political, religious, and social. Only 6 of these 33 books are by foreign authors due, in large measure, to a reluctance to import foreign-published books thus robbing us of the wisdom of so many others.

If anyone out there is listening - or interested - here are some personal views:

ECONOMICS: This country has a $14.3 trillion economy built, it is said, by rugged (often heartless) individualism and capitalism. Like all addictions, Wealth craves more wealth so we endure the dictatorship of the wealthy. Now, 10% of families hog 50% of the income - always grounds for bloody revolution. There is a debt and a deficit growing rapidly . Now $12 trillion, increasing $1 million a minute. The 2009 deficit was $1.5 trillion, and the interest paid $359 billion. Solutions? The hated IRS must become more hated until we return to a pay-as-you-go economy. Allied with this must be drastic reductions in wasteful expenditures such as political fund raising that robs us of a democracy by confining us to the whims of the wealthy. Years of sound-bite electioneering implies we are a bunch of ignorant slobs easily influenced by repeated half truths or lies. Brave and concerned individuals, willing to endure the thankless (but remunerative) chore of governing, are grossly hampered by the paramount need to raise vast sums to squander on propaganda. Much cheaper and rewarding would be limited federal grants to candidates for media publicity. One good TV debate, for instance, is more revealing than thousands of sound bites that benefit only the media. We can expect good government only when we relieve politicians of the fund-raising burden. Ever since coinage was invented by the Lydians (Turkey) 2,620 years ago (or was It the Chinese 2,900 years ago?) it has been misused for dominance. Something is horribly wrong when we require $50,000 a year for the life style we got for $5,000 only 50 years ago.

HEALTH CARE: What a farce! Politicians and the Military get good taxpayer-financed care, so too often forget about the rest of us who must examine the small print of numerous for-profit insurance companies that add over 20% to costs. Also adding to costs are outrageous malpractice payments, expensive procedures for the terminally ill that add only a few days of painful existence, billions of dollars in fraudulent claims that lack an efficient policing system, and too many vested interests that spend $millions fighting change.

ENVIRONMENT: Those enjoying a cozy life style, short-lived as it might be, continue to erect obstacles to remedial actions that could save us from catastrophe. For at least the past 30 years there have been increasing warnings of impending disasters yet, even as they occur, reluctance to change remains. Polar and mountain ice and snow disappears, water sheds are dying, greenhouse gases are increasing as are droughts, fires, beetle infestations of forests, while ocean levels have risen 1.5 inches. Yet many plead human innocence.

MILITARY: Ever since Sumerian times we have known that force begets force. As too many humans remain savages, defensive forces that make aggression too costly are still required, but there is no need for our current super power with almost a dozen carrier groups, squadrons of supersonic jets, fleets of submarines, and thousands of nuclear warheads, not to mention close to a thousand military bases. As we have gone beyond the $1.20 a day pay this has become somewhat expensive and has created more generals than we can count or need. If we insist on expanding our military presence in other countries then we must bring back the draft with no exceptions that limit the sacrifice to the less affluent - and we must increase taxes to pay as we go.

ANNOYING RESTRICTIVE REGULATIONS: Annoying Restrictive Regulations: Yet, until all learn that each is a tiny element in a crowded world and has responsibilities to the whole, we need benevolent, firm, and enforced rules. Police remain needed as well as additional police to police the police and more to police the police who police the police.

EDUCATION: Education: Humans are remarkably alike, all with pliable brains and billions of neurons firing aimlessly until educated. This country is no different to countless groups over the ages who have evolved styles of living and then attempt to convince others of their superiority by warfare or proselytizing, but much more common and effective has been one group developing a useful technique and surrounding groups recognizing it as such and adopting it resulting in it diffusing around the world. Sadly, millions of superior minds have evolved only to lock themselves away in monasteries or universities, fearing they cannot prevail against those who wield the sword.

FANATICISM: We all exist, for a brief moment of time, in a violent, fearful universe, armed with feeble and inadequate intelligence. We all need something to cling to be it a spouse, family, flag, religion, or cause. We all know that we are all doomed to exit this world alone, so too many can be led to believe they can serve a useful purpose by fanatic allegiance to a cause, even to sacrificing one’s life to it. The first step in educating any human is to ensure that he or she has, or can acquire, the means to produce a living free of hunger, cold, preventable diseases, oppression, or subjugation. Only then can we direct mind sets for the benefit of all.

DOMESTIC ENEMIES: With 5% of the world’s human but 25% of its prison population (affluence also breeds crooks), Al Qaida and the Taliban seem minor irritants. Scam and con artists, drug addicts, drunk drivers, hate groups, thieves, rapists, corrupt executives in the economic and political fields, all cause us excessive grief.

Anyone brave enough to lead us out of this mess deserves our backing, co-operation, and gratitude.

Thursday, 19 November 2009


Like the flag above politics and a symbol of Commonwealth unity

When Europeans conquered America, the Monarchs of Britain, France, The Netherlands, Portugal, and Spain were the acknowledged rulers. Of these the ones with the least power were the British who were subject to Parliament. This monarchy still flourishes in every continent.

Canada has now been blessed with 65 Governor Generals, 16 French, one of whom was Canadian-born, 39 British, and 10 Canadian including 3 women. Practically all of these have been dedicated public servants who have contributed greatly to the welfare of the country and were chosen because of proven service.

Like all governments, monarchies include duds, especially hereditary ones as we humans do not breed or develop consistently well. Even the good ones are not always appreciated. Of our first 4 Georges by far the best was George III who took a genuine and unselfish interest in the colonies, an interest that interfered with a minority and their vested interests so a civil war ensued in 13 of Britain’s 29 American colonies, a war that resulted in Canada becoming a bi-cultural country, with a change of monarchies. Out of his own pocket, George III financed the re-settlement of thousand of United Empire Loyalists in Canada and the West Indies.
Our current Royals officiate at some 4,000 functions annually, relieving the prime minister of this heavy chore and allowing him or her much more time to attend to affairs of state. For $1.28 each we get a capable, hard-working monarch. For 25 cents more we get a governor general - and Charles and Camilla are thrown in for another 6 cents. Much cheaper than our senate that costs each of us $2.45 annually.

Charles, a Canadian citizen, is much more accomplished than his press has acknowledged. He was considered eccentric and laughed at when he was one of the first to warn us on global warming, to venture into large–scale organic farming, and to criticize modern glass-and-steel architecture that were eyesores and robbed us of the charm of older buildings. He is a paratrooper, has flown fighter jets and helicopters, and has commanded a minesweeper. His 20 charitable organizations raise $260 million annually for health, environmental, and educational causes world wide. He is an author of children’s books, and a water-colour artist. Those who have met and talked with him are impressed with his wide-ranging knowledge and interests. He has made major improvements in relations with the non-Christian world. Camilla may be new to Canada but her ancestry has deep Canadian roots. Her long and interrupted romance with Charles is now flourishing and she has, like most wives, contributed greatly to her husband’s stature. Both were admired on their November 12-day tour of Canada.

There are those who, like rebellious children divorcing their parents, call our founding nations “foreign counties”. There are enough divisions in this world without creating more. For simplicity we lump scores of founding associations under the term “First Nations” . This makes France the second and the United Kingdom and Ireland the third. All deserve a special place in our hearts as well as gratitude for the blood and treasure they have sacrificed on our behalf. These bonds should never be broken.


My appreciation of this couple commenced when in Ottawa in 1982, Mikhail took a liking to Alexander Yakovlev who had been a thorn in the side of the Politburo and had been sent off as the 1973-83 ambassador to Canada to get him out of Moscow. When Mikhail became the leader of the USSR in 1985 he selected Alexander for key positions that were to include freeing the media, exposing the dark side of the Stalin era, rehabilitating political prisoners and generally infuriating hard liners. Part of Mikhail and Raisa’s charm were their strong interests in world publications and philosophies. Lasting impressions have been made by Mikhail’s remarks, such as:
“Communism is man exploiting man - Capitalism is the reverse,”
“We must view the world with eyes open, bypassing personal interests.”

Mikhail and Ronald Reagan disliked each other on their first meeting. Mikhail described Ronald as locked in the Past and Ronald thought Mikhail a Bolshevik. Mikhail, believing the Cold War could result in nuclear annihilation, pressed on and was the spark plug for the nuclear disarmament agreement with the US.

In March 1985 he told the Warsaw Pact: “You are responsible for your policies and we will not interfere.” Mar 89 saw the first democratic election in Russia. Some 35 Communists were defeated but over 80% were re-elected. In June 89 Gorby met with West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and Erick Hornecker in East Germany but both insisted on gradual reunification. Gorbchev saw that most Germans wanted it now and he sided with them. 300,000 elite USSR troops were in East Germany, yet change began there. When in October 1989 he was back in E. Germany, groups from 28 regions urged him to stay. The dam burst and the walls came tumbling down.

In an interview in Moscow, 23 Sep 09, with Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of the Nation Magazine and herhusband, Stephen F. Cohen, Gorbachev argued that The US is wrong in believing it won the Cold War. Perestroika did it. Then, the US, believing it won, decided it did not need to change as the USSR had capitulated and was now history. Yeltsin became a US vassal. The US decided it did not need Russia whose industries fell into disrepair. Russian plans for a new Europe disappeared. NATO started to take over the world. Higher oil prices saved Russia. When Russia needed aid it got none. Now US needs Russian help in Afghanistan. He added:
“Russia needed its perestroika, the US now needs its own perestroika.”

Monday, 12 October 2009

I try, but cannot stem the tears, so some may drip onto this page. The crimes humanity heaps upon itself are just too much. Memories never leave me, but are sadder as yet another Armistice Day rolls by with no world peace. I grew up among too many badly-wounded veterans of that unnecessary war that was to end all wars so that all that came afterwards must have been only skirmishes. I have been part of two of these ‘skirmishes’. Korea, for me, was relatively painless. My 426 Squadron completed 600 round trips between Dorval, Quebec, and Japan and Korea without loss except for my hearing due to those raw Merlin engines on the otherwise-efficient Canadair North Stars. WWII was different. Much different.

My WWII experience was limited to 2 years in the infantry and artillery militia in Canada, 8 months of training at 4 RCAF bases in Canada, 6 months at 3 RAF Bomber Command training bases in the UK, and 7 months at 2 UK operational bases, topped off by 800 days as a POW in 5 locations in Germany. See accompanying Bomber Command statistics.

Squadrons were not good places to make friends, the turnover being too rapid with life expectancy averaging 5 operations. The prior training schools saw us divided into groups of 70 for the first and last and 35 for the other 5. Here, lasting friendships were forged. Surmounting the odds, I managed to survive 7 months on 419 Squadron, making many lasting friends, but losing far too many. Then, being locked up with from 2 to 11 thousand men in POW camps I made many more as POW casualties were light and mainly from friendly fire that exceeded the 50 friends executed by the SS after the Great Escape. Today, I can recall the names of a mere 125 friends who perished. Room permits me to select only eleven:

06 June 1942: JACOB EPP, 25, of Manitou, Manitoba. Soon after arriving in Bournemouth, Jim and I met two lovely girls from Southampton and made dates for that evening. That afternoon I was finishing a game of chess with him when Owen Smith came by asking us to join him for tea in Bobby’s by the sea front. I went but Jim elected to stay. As we were enjoying tea and cakes, 3 Me109s raced by our large window to drop bombs on hotels requisitioned for Canadian aircrew. Owen and I left on the run only to help dig out 3 dead Canadians from the ruins of the Anglo-Swiss Hotel including Jim Epp. Owen substituted for Jim on the Southampton date, starting our belief that war allowed no time to mourn.

02 Oct 42: ARTHUR MORLIDGE, 20, of Lloydminster, Saskatchewan, was my first friend to die after I joined 419 Sqn in Croft, Yorkshire. He occupied the room across from me in a cold tin Nissen hut. Before leaving to bomb Krefeld, he beckoned me over, pointing to a letter he had written to his parents, saying, “If I fail to return, would you post that letter for me?” In the morning I awoke to the noise of the Padre cleaning out his room. I slipped over to grab the letter and mail it off base avoiding censors. In 10 days only two of us were alive in a hut that had held 12 officers. New faces soon filled the empty rooms.

15 Oct 42: LESLIE SCOURFIELD, 21, of London, Ont. Our two crews of 7 RCAF, 2 RAF, and 1 RAAF were all close friends. On boarding our Wellingtons to attack Cologne, Leslie seemed agitated so I tried to calm him. He said, “George, I have the strangest feeling. I know I will get over there but that I will not come back.” His entire crew perished.

22 Jan 43: KEN JOHNS, 23, of Montreal posted to 487 NZ Ventura Sqn doing daylight raids on France and Belgium. I had met his lovely wife, Beatrice, on the train to Halifax and, in the UK, I marvelled at the long letters he would write and receive daily and how much in love they were. When our paths parted his letters to me revealed a fear that his life would be short as Venturas were easy prey for the Luftwaffe. Shot up one day they had to ditch in the North Sea. Ken made it to the dingy, then left it to rescue his drowning pilot, dragging him and lifting him into the dingy, only to drown himself from sheer exhaustion. The pilot survived. Ken’s son was born the day he died.

12 Mar 43: GORDON CORY, 20, of Vancouver, a true gentleman whose boyish charm and wit we so enjoyed, ended up on 424 Wellington Squadron. He spent one of his leaves visiting me and I was shocked at how he had aged, convinced he was not long for this world. I managed to cheer him only a little. Days later he perished over Holland.

23 Mar 43: OWEN SMITH, 23, of Elmvale, Ontario, was my first RCAF best friend. When we were posted to Quebec my French was better than his but his blond hair and good looks had the girls by-passing me to flock around him. He ended up on Mark V Blenheims (Bisleys) and ordered to the Middle East. Returning in a Liberator from delivering a Bisley he was shot down, and is now at the bottom of the Bay of Biscay along with the other 19 in the aircraft. I felt guilty at being alive and happily married when we visited his parents after the war as he was their greatly-missed only child.

27/28 Mar 43: CHARLES “PAT” PORTER, 23, of Manson Creek, BC, my pilot on Wellingtons and Halifaxes and best man at our wedding, was the only one who had a chance to get out of our blazing and plunging Halifax through the hatch above his head as our two escape hatches were jammed by cannon fire. He sacrificed his young life to remain at the controls to keep the aircraft airborne long enough to permit us to cut our way out with an axe. All six of us survived but, today, I am the only one still breathing. I remain in contact with Pat’s brother, John, a WWII fighter pilot, now on Vancouver Island.

14 July 43: DENZELL WOLFE, 25, Regina, ROY MORRISON, 23, Vancouver, and GEORGE McGLADREY, 21, Chemainus, BC, all with DFCs, killed attacking Aachen with 405 Sqn - 2nd tour. Denzell, a most considerate and likable 419 and OTU commander used every excuse to get us days off. He would say: “Scram, get lost. I don’t want to see your ugly faces around here for 3 days.” Roy and George had been two of my good 419 friends, joining Denzell for their second tours.

30 Mar 44: GEORGE McGILL, 25, of Toronto. George and I had attended the same elementary school in Toronto. The next time we met we were in adjacent rooms in Stalag Luft III. That fateful night, 24 Mar 44, I embraced him, wishing him good luck, as he departed for the tunnel to be one of the 76 chosen to get out. His ashes came back to us as he was one of the 50 executed by the SS. For many years I corresponded with his widow.

Pardon my tears as many more long-dead friends flash by.

These statistics are meant to be read with the article “World War II Memories”

The 15 RCAF Bomber Squadrons in 6 Group, Yorkshire and Durham:
405, 408, 415. 419. 420, 424, 425, 426, 427, 428, 429, 431, 432, 433, 434

Other Bomber Command Squadrons:
UK 100, Australia 8, Poland 4, Free French 3, NZ 2, Rhodesia 1, Czech 1, Netherlands 1

Bomber Command fought the longest, continuous battle of WWII, suffering 73,741 casualties (59% of its air crews), and lost 12,317 aircraft. Average life expectancy was 5 operations. Of those shot down, only 17% survived to total 9,838. More Canadians flew with RAF, RAAF, and RNZAF Squadrons than with RCAF. 9,919 RCAF were killed in Bomber Command. Of the 7,000 US citizens who flew with the RAF/RCAF, 763 were killed. USAAF 8th AF lost 4,145 aircraft and 12% of its crews. Bomber Command sacrifices were exceeded only by the Kriegsmarine U-Boat fleet that lost 75% of its crews (30,000 of its 40,000 sailors). Our pre-occupation with these losses ignores those of the Soviets, Chinese, Japanese and others.

REFLECTION: These losses, while grievous to the families involved, still left most of the world free of the devastation suffered by Europe and eastern Asia. Too many grew wealthy from the sufferings of others so remained ignorant of the horrors of war. Rebuilding has been truly astounding. Aid from countries that escaped homeland damage was helpful and appreciated but overblown. Most of the reconstruction arose slowly over many years from acute sufferings and sheer hard work of the locals, leaving them with a strong reluctance to engage in further military adventures. Those who escaped all this can never fully appreciate the limits of military power, the underlying resentment of the oppressed and under-privileged, the feeling of utter hopelessness, or the ever-present threat of bloody revolt. We can be grateful to our numerous-but-too-few philanthropists, to Amnesty International, Doctors Without Borders, Greenpeace, Peace Corps, loans to women to start small businesses, and the like. The task is immense and root causes too often overlooked.

Monday, 7 September 2009


The death in Germany in May 2009 of Karl Tubbessing prompts me to re-tell the story of my friend, Brian Walley, with whom I still correspond.

On the night of 09/10 November 1941, Brian was on his 5th operation with 51 RAF Squadron, piloting a Whitley, one of 350 bombers headed for Berlin. The crew consisted of 3 RAF and 2 RCAF. The weather was atrocious and, near Kiel, they were hit by flak, so bombed Kiel, and turned for a long glide home but severe icing forced them below the cloud base at 1500 feet. They lightened the plane by throwing out all they could. They did contact base and locked the radio key. One hundred miles from land they pancaked on the crest of a wave, slid down the trough, crashed through the next wave and came to a stop. The aircraft disintegrated leaving Brian trapped with much of the wreckage wrapped around his legs. He managed to break free and was pulled into the dingy already reached by the other four, but then had difficulty severing the dingy's umbilical cord that was attached to the rapidly-sinking aircraft. Soon, with stomachs full of ice-cold salt water, they all brought up.

Dawn brought 20-foot-high grey, ugly waves, one of which flung all of them into the sea and only 3 made it back to the dinghy. Sgts Carpenter, RAF, and Chambers, RCAF, of Rouleau, Saskatchewan, drowned. The wave had swept the dingy clean and they had to rely on lung power to work the pump. The next night the navigator, Dave Simpson, RCAF, of Edmonton, froze to death. The next afternoon the other pilot died, leaving Brian all alone. Just before dark, after they had drifted 100 miles to the Frisian Islands, the crew of a Heinkel 59 seaplane saw the dingy, and plucked Brian out of the sea. Five German doctors patched him up and the Squadron commander, Karl Born, commiserated with him, trying to soothe him with “For you the war is over.” (Fur sie, der krieg ist aus)

After 3½ years of POW life, Brian returned to farming in Wales, then spent a few years back in the RAF, before emigrating to the Perth area of Australia. Still wanting to thank those who saved him, Brian used contacts to find Karl Tubbessing, the Norderney Search & Rescue navigator who still remembered him and who invited Brian, and his wife, Mair, to spend a couple of weeks with them at Idar-Oberstein in 1995. They then met Karl Born, who was in a wheel chair, and two ex members of the Air-Sea Rescue Squadron, Fritz Becket and Werner Schultz and their wives. They remarked that, of all the people they had saved, only Brian had returned to thank them. Squadron Leader Dickerson and Flying Officer Simpson had been buried with full military honours.

Joan and I joined Brian and Mair in the 5-day POW reunions in Southampton in 1991 and in London in 1995. Over the years Brian has been quite active in the Western Australia branch of the Royal Air Forces ex-POW Association. As its last president he had the sad task this year of closing the branch as so few members are now left.

Saturday, 5 September 2009


Over the years I have reviewed over 50 books for our 971 Wing Newsletter. Since some have had a deep impression on me, perhaps I should include a few in this blog site. I will start with:

By Bruce Rosenblum and Fred Kuttner, Oxford U. Press, 2006, 217 pages
Presented in language that you and I can understand, this book, a monumental shift in understanding our world, should be compulsory reading. The first 50 pages are devoted to reminding us of the many changing human mind sets from Aristotle through Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, the Inquisition, Newton, Einstein, Bohr, Planck, Schrödinger, Compton, Broglie, Bell, and many others to emphasize that there has been a skeleton in the closet that Quantum scientists have hid for a hundred years.

Quantum mechanics has never had a prediction proven wrong. A third of our economy depends on it (Lasers, MRIs, Transistors, and so on). It works, but nobody knows why so physicists have been told to “just shut up and calculate”.

We have learned that, at the microscopic level, wave functions can be everywhere at once in every state to be condensed into reality by observation (consciousness). Paired particles affect each other regardless of distance. To date this has been proven to a distance of 100 kilometres. Any two objects that have ever interacted are forever entwined.

As none of us knows what Consciousness is, this is spooky. The macroscopic world, that works with Newtonian physics, appears real enough to us but, as it is made up of the microscopic, should not the same apply? In the book, frequent reference is made to Schrödinger’s cat, of the macroscopic world, that may be both alive and dead until observed to allow it to collapse into one of those states. It was the subject of a life-long friendly debate between Harald Bohr and Albert Einstein. Einstein would argue he preferred to believe the moon was there even when he did not look.

I can be sure of my free will but I cannot be sure that you are not in a superposition state to be condensed to reality only when I observe you. The authors go to great length, perhaps too much, to show how observation dictates reality, but they do advise which chapters can be skipped by those anxious for the summation. As John Bell (Belfast, deceased) predicted: “The new way of seeing things will involve an imaginative leap that will astound us.”

Francis Crick tells us: “ You, your joys and sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity, and your free will are no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules.”

Consciousness and Quantum Enigma are not just two mysteries, they are the two mysteries. Only a conscious observation can collapse a wave function. Only a conscious observer can make a conscious observation.

Our universe is made up of 70% dark energy, 25% dark matter, and 5% of what we can see. There is speculation that dark energy = Consciousness. At the instant of the Big Bang this universe had to be so finely tuned against odds of 10 with 123 zeros after it to create a world permitting life that it can be argued that Consciousness created the Big Bang some 15 billion years after it happened! Ridiculous? Of course, but can you explain Consciousness and why we are here? At the moment I cannot. Neither can the authors of this book, but they give us well-presented food for deep thought.

But really, what is so novel about creating people and places? Young children do it continually. So do we in dreams.

Saturday, 15 August 2009


Many of you out there rest serene in your knowledge of life’s mysteries, and of the blessings that await you when you serve out your stint here, so it pains me that I am so ignorant. Quantum physicists tell me it has been proven that, in the microscopic world, any two particles that have ever interacted are forever entwined no matter how far they have drifted apart. But, our macroscopic world is made up of the microscopic so are we all one? That might explain the nagging fear I have had for much of my life, especially when I was dropping bombs, that what I do to others I do to myself.

With frequent cell replacement except, perhaps, for the cerebral cortex, why can I remember back through so many of Me to age 4? Decades of research allow me to name 136 of my ancestors back to 1570, but I only remember 5 of them even though parts of all 136, and many more, have made Me what I am. I do not remember volunteering, so why was I drafted to join this human species? Also drafted, with staggered reporting dates, were the hundreds of trillions of quarks, atoms, molecules, and the like, born in the furnaces of suns, and forced to submit to a strict DNA code to fashion for a brief segment of Time, the edifice for what I call Me? And it took about 4 years of building this edifice before I knew Me was Me. But, where in this immense conglomeration does the essence of Me reside? Why am I so clumsy learning to use these neural pathways? Now, when I feel that Me is a working unit, why does Decay insert its ugly presence? Why do I not know whom I really am and why? If I am immortal, what is my format - pleasant or unpleasant? Why, when I look in a mirror, do I refuse to admit that the apparition staring back at me is really me. Is there any Free Will in all this? Has the limited knowledge I have acquired helped at all?

Trillions of trillions of other molecules had to assemble to make the rest of my world. Some of these assemblages I like very much and are spread among many species. Some, especially humans, I find revolting because of their cruelties to others. All, however, are condemned to a brief existence - unless, of course, we have the concept of Time all wrong.

Gaia, a delightful hypothesis evolved in the 1960s to argue that our world is a living entity that continually reacts against adversities to protect life. I found comfort in that. Alas, digging deeper, I learn that Life is, strangely, very anti-life. For starters, consider our own species. Factors, including greed, a sense of glory, sex, and over-population have resulted in humans killing other humans, along with huge quantities of other life forms, and making survivors suffer terribly. In the 20th century alone, some 190 million humans were killed by other humans. Yet, group violence goes back only 7,000 years, most humans abhor violence, and 74 peaceful cultures existed for long periods. Nature, composed of similar atoms, appears completely indifferent to living things, even though it often suffers from them.

For billions of years this planet has had a chemical imbalance, enhanced by volcanic activity, that promotes life but heartlessly discards species. Our planet, some 4 billion years ago (bya) was sterile and will return to that state in another billion years. Life here commenced 3.8 bya and has less than a billion years left. Life had a mere 100 million years before microbes became so numerous that they nearly destroyed all life with the methane they blindly belched.

Then, about 2.5 bya, photosynthesis evolved permitting plants to convert CO2 into sugars. But, over 200 million years, well-meaning-but-ignorant plants sucked up so much CO2 that the earth was plunged into a deep freeze where even the oceans froze for 100 million years. Recovery was gradual but 700 mya the same mistake was repeated. Once more it was a slow recovery but 360 mya the process started all over again, giving us a 50-million-year ice age. Ignorant Life continued on a very treacherous road. Plants, in absorbing CO2, gave off Oxygen that was deadly to most living things at the time. Had it not been for microbes evolving to tolerate oxygen we would not be here.

Since animals evolved 560 mya, there have been five major and a dozen minor mass extinctions. A few have been caused by non-life culprits such as asteroids and volcanoes but the majority were due to life itself such as blooms of bacteria giving off poisonous H2S. These bacteria thrive during periods of stagnant seas due to global warming.

Not to be outdone by bacteria, humans entered the equation some time ago by multiplying to the extent that their combined interference with vital balances are causing a growing list of mass exterminations. Intelligence still lacking.

Fortunately, if it is not already too late, some humans have evolved an understanding of causes and of the overall picture. They have given us plenty of explanations and warnings which, to date, the majority of humans, happy with their bloated life styles, have either ignored or passed on to the next generation.

While humans, by taking actions, could prolong a life-tolerant environment, Nature is moving relentlessly against us. Our sun has increased 30% in brightness over 4.5 billion years and this will continue, thus accelerating the weathering of silicates removing ever more CO2 so that, 500 million years from now, photosynthesis will be impossible, curtailing the production of oxygen. The loss of plants will increase CO2 so much so that our surface temperature will exceed the boiling point of water. Life, it appears, like so many of us, is now in its old age. In spite of aches and pains, Life is still considered precious by those of us who long to understand and prolong it. Giant strides have been, and are being made, but at a pace too slow for my generation to benefit. A sense of humour does help in mitigating qualms

So, what is left for us? We have observed, in various animal, insect, and plant species, tolerance, and even compassion, for other life forms as well as for members of the same species. Should not Tolerance and Compassion be our companions? So many, like Siddharta Gautama, have tried to enlighten us. We should listen to such thinkers as well as to those Quantum physicists who suggest human consciousness can dictate reality. They do not have all the answers. Maybe we can help. Any suggestions on how to channel my consciousness for a better world? We are all in this together.

Sunday, 12 July 2009


My decades-long interest in the Haida struggle to preserve these 150 islands (10,180 sqkm) from gold seekers and loggers has been enhanced by my niece, Lisa, and her husband taking up residence there, building and renting cottages, and advertising their activities on the web site

These islands escaped the last glaciation and are known as the Galapagos of the North. The Haida, Vikings of the Pacific, sailed and rowed from there as far south as Oregon (see the back of the Canadian $20 bill). Haida Gwaii was home to some 10,000 Haida in dozens of villages. We say that Haida have been there for 12,000 years, but the Haida know that long before that, Wise, but Mischievous, Raven cracked open a large clam shell from which the Haida emerged to give rise to the human species.

The first European to visit was Spain’s Juan Pérez in 1774, followed by James Cook in 1778, and George Dixon who surveyed the islands in 1787, naming them after his ship that was named for the wife of George III. In 1853 the islands became a colony of Britain who gave them to British Columbia in 1863. The two main islands are Graham (north) and Moresby (south).

European diseases, such as small pox, typhoid, measles, and syphilis crashed the Haida population to 350 by 1900. The current mixed population is 5,000, about half Haida. Initially the Haida discouraged White greed by capturing and sinking their vessels and holding the crews for ransom that had to be paid in blankets. Since the gold rush days of 1851 it has been a continual struggle against loggers of the unique rain forest, half of which has now been clear cut, causing erosion, aggravated by the importation of deer that eat all new sprouts. With the help of environmentalists the Haida succeeded in 1988 in having the federal government dedicate the lower half of Moresby Island to Gwaii Haanas National Park (1,470 sqkm). In 2006 Anthony Island and the historic, but abandoned, village of Ninstints with its totems was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site (one of 15 in Canada). The other large protected area in Haida Gwaii is the 180,000-acre (726 sqkm) Naikoon Provincial Park on the NE corner of Graham Island. Three smaller areas total 112 sqkm.

Lisa’s cottages are 16 km east of Masset (population 965), just inside Naikoon Park on the coast. A roving, free spirit, Lisa, at age 19, flew from Toronto to London to work in a pub to earn enough to tour the UK and western Europe, then worked in Switzerland to finance eastern Europe tours, then it was a kibbutz in Israel before touring SE Asia and living in Australia. She returned to Port Hope, Ontario, worked in her Dad's appliance and furniture store, took university courses in Toronto, then drove to Vancouver for work and more courses, including slipping down to Seattle to add another degree to her collection. She married a kindred soul, Rich, and they have been building, renting, and selling homes in Prince Rupert and the Charlottes. Some 20 years ago it was Rich who led scientists to the site where they could prove Haida Gwaii had escaped the last glaciation.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Often a strong bond of friendship grows between former enemies. Each realizes the other was caught up in the least noble of human activities through no fault of his own - and each knows only too well the horrors of war. It is so with Rod and Otti and Joan and me. We entertained their family in our home in Centralia and we spent a delightful week in their home in Fürstenfeldbruck, Bavaria, in August 1987. Otti had lost family members to our bombs in Hamburg, a city I had bombed.

I first met Rod in 1957 when, as a major in the new Luftwaffe, he led the first group of 300 German cadets to London and Centralia, Ontario, to commence pilot training. Later I was to find among this group one who, as a high school student in March 1943, was manning the flak battery that initiated the train of events that led to the destruction of my Halifax and 800 days of internment. We also became friends.

As a Squadron Leader in charge of the ground courses for the cadets, I seized the opportunity to greet all new arrivals, Canadian and European, and to integrate them as NATO trainees, believing that the political aspects would eventually outweigh the military. From the start I found Rod to be a conscientious, hard-working, and likable officer. I recognized in him a man with immense air experience that he had to hide. The military was not popular in post-war Germany and uniforms were restricted to military bases. In Canada there was residual resentment towards rebuilding the German military and, although he genuinely believed the right side won the war, Rod had to tread cautiously. For him there were no reunions or war stories that the rest of us enjoyed. It has taken me years to gradually piece together Rod’s amazing, varied, and most dangerous career to come up with this very brief summary:

Roderich Cescotti was born in Bad Herrenalb, SW Germany, 4 May1919. He joined the Luftwaffe in 1937, earning his wings and commission in 1939. He was sent to Norway, after the invasion, to fly bombers against the Rolls Royce plant near Glasgow, shipping off Scotland, and Murmansk convoys. The climax of the Battle of Britain, 15 September 1940, was the date of Rod’s 12th raid on England. Near London, a Spitfire put 30 holes in his Heinkel 111. Staggering home to his Belgian base, he crash-landed. Göring was making a surprise visit , and all personnel had to assemble quickly, including bruised and battered Rod. Göring’s scowl at seeing this unkempt officer in the ranks turned to smiles when his queries revealed Rod’s career. He summoned his aide, the Chief of Luftwaffe Personnel, and pinned an iron cross on Rod’s flying jacket.

Rod was again wounded in 1941 by naval flak while attacking shipping, but he went on to fly Dornier 217s and Focke Wulf 200s, and he survived an amazing 129 bombing operations over Britain, the Russian front including Stalingrad, Tunisia, Italy, and southern France. In January 1944 he crash-landed his Heinkel 177 bomber to save his crew, but dislocated his shoulder when thrown out of his harness. It required a 12-cm pin, and still bothers him. We of the Royal Air Forces could retire from combat after 60 operations. Only death or capture could retire Luftwaffe crews.

In October 1944 Rod was based at Celle, NE of Hannover, after Kampfgeschwader 100 with its He177s and Dornier 217s, equipped with remote-controlled glide and buzz bombs and armour-piercing anti-shipping bombs, had been disbanded because German priorities were now shifting to home defence and Major Aufhammer, Kommodore of Jagdgeschwader 301, (JG 301), flying FW190s and Me109s, needed a wing technical officer responsible for 278 fighters, and chose Rod. Aufhammer, a former bomber pilot, had destroyed, with his bomber formation, the USAAF plan to use Soviet bases for “shuttle bombing” by knocking out 42 B-17s, 15 P-51s and Soviet aircraft on the ground at Poltawa.

New wings were being formed to combat Allied air attacks and Rod discovered it was easier to get new FW190s than experienced pilots as most were now dead. Pilots were being posted in with very little flying experience so casualties were high. One day in bad weather a decorated commander of the neighbouring JG 300 refused to scramble his young pilots against an incoming Berlin raid. Göring ordered the entire station to assemble. He called them cowards and tore the Knight’s Cross from the neck of the commander, then demoted him. In protest all the pilots in wings 300 and 301 would not wear their medals for the rest of the war. The life expectancy of pilots and their FW190s was 10 flying hours. Fuel was another major problem. It was now taking a week to refuel all aircraft after a major attack. Units of JG301 were based at Welzow from where they buzzed my POW camp in Sagan. We inferred the pilots were young and inexperienced as one barely survived when he hit the top of a tree on the compound perimeter. We imagined the questions that awaited his return to base.

Rod also flew the Tank, named for Kurt Tank, the FW190 designer. This high-altitude fighter was designed to combat the B-29. In April 1945 Rod took command, in the rank of Hauptmann (captain), of II./JG 301 with its 4 squadrons, but knowing the war was about over he sought to safeguard the lives of his air and ground crews. His last operational flight was on 25 April 1945 against Soviet artillery bombing Berlin. He then took his men on a hazardous trek to a safe area to await the inevitable surrender. During the war, Rod had sustained flak damage to his personal aircraft on 14 occasions.

Rod, on 8 June 45, feeling that death was no longer imminent, married Otti Hemmerling who had worked in the Operations Section of JG 301. They were to have two sons and one daughter. One son now lives in Brussels, the other in Moscow with his Russian wife. The daughter lives in Munich.

On 1 July the British disbanded JG 301, moving its personnel to POW camps. As a POW, Rod worked on the now-RAF bases of Münster-Handorf and Gütersloh, and as an interpreter. He then attended language college and became an export executive for a steel company. In 1952 he joined the new Luftwaffe in the Air Planning Group where he remained until going to Canada in 1957. In 1959 he went to Luftwaffe Training Command, then spent 5 years as commanding officer of a tactical reconnaissance wing in Schleswig-Holstein flying RF-84Fs and RF-104Gs. He then attended the NATO Staff College in Paris. From 1965 to 1969 he served in Washington and Brussels. In 1969 he was promoted to Brigadier General and appointed Air Attaché in London. In 1973 he went to Lisbon as Chief of the German Military Mission. In 1974 he assumed command of Allied Sector Two at Uedem. In 1975 he was promoted to Major General to be Chief of Staff at TWOATAF, and, in 1977, he was appointed Commander, Allied Air Forces Baltic Approaches in Denmark. He retired in 1980, after 4,000 flying hours and qualifying on 34 different types of aircraft.

Never idle, Rod went on to publish a 312-page, illustrated book on Luftwaffe bomber and reconnaissance aircraft as well as several editions of a German-English aeronautical dictionary. I am the proud possessor of copies of all.

We continue to correspond.


Friday, 15 May 2009

Those Incredible Poles


On 1 September 1939, WLADYSLAW GNYS was a 28-year-old lieutenant with 121 Sqn at Balice, west of Krakow. Hearing bombing on Krakow, he and his CO, Captain Medwecki, took off in their PZL P.11 high gull-wing, fixed-undercarriage, fighters. Stukas shot down Medwecki, but Gnys evaded, climbed to 2,000 metres, saw 2 Dornier Do-17E bombers, and shot down both. They crashed near Zurada, the first Allied victories of the war. Polish fighters shot down 25 Luftwaffe aircraft that day (Flak and fighters destroyed 228 German and 4 Soviet aircraft in the 30-day war). Gyns escaped Poland and flew with the RAF. In 1948 he emigrated to Canada, settling in Beamsville, Ontario. In 1999 he was awarded The Order of Poland (Poland’s highest award) at the Polish Embassy. He died of pneumonia at age 89 in March 2000.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Canadians, who are justifiably incensed at UK and US historians and commentators ignoring massive and vital Canadian contributions, are themselves guilty of forgetting vital contributions of other nationals. The Poles are a prime example. We went to war in September 1939 to help Poland. We failed. It was not until 1989 that Poland was again independent. Immense Polish sacrifices helped us, but not Poland. In a country suddenly torn asunder by German and Soviet invaders, who left little time or room for escape, what the Poles accomplished is nothing short of astounding.

First we owe them Enigma which was originally developed in the UK for business. The Germans saw its potential, bought it, and improved it. Later a German clerk smuggled out a copy which he tried to sell to France and Britain. They declined, so he turned to the Poles who bought it. Two weeks before the invasion the Poles had British intelligence study it in Poland. It still took the unsung geniuses at Bletchley Park years to decode it. When they did, it shortened the war by two years, and saved countless lives.

Some 75,000 Poles managed to slip out of the narrowing corridor through Romania and Greece to Beirut and thence to France. When France fell only 19,000, including 5,000 airmen, made it to Britain.

To destroy the Polish elite the Soviets massacred 25,000 officers at Katyn and Winitza. Many thousands more were held in prisoner-of-war camps under appalling conditions. Churchill persuaded Stalin to release them to him and they were shipped out via Odessa. Six million Poles, half of them Jews, were to be killed by Germans. Poles in the Soviet zone, known to be sympathetic to London, were eradicated.

The refugee Polish Army, of 250,000 men, then fought with Commonwealth units in Iran, North Africa and Italy, their taking of Monte Cassino being just one of their accomplishments. In Normandy the 1st Canadian Army had 4 divisions, one of which was Polish. The WAAF included 1,436 Polish women. The British Post Office allowed the Poles to design their own stamps, depicting Polish ground and air forces.

In the air the Poles flew Tiger Moths, Miles Masters and Magisters, Austers, Battles, Defiants, Hurricanes, Spitfires, Warwicks, Beaufighters, Lysanders, Wellingtons, Halifaxes, Lancasters, Mosquitoes, Mitchells, Tomahawks, Thunderbolts, Mustangs, Dakotas, and Liberators. They had the world’s 5th largest air force. Squadrons included 10 fighter, 4 heavy bomber, 1 balloon, and 1 army co-op (Italy). Ground crews were mainly Polish. Poles flew Halifaxes from Britain and Dakotas from Italy into Poland on supply and espionage operations. Their 14-hour Halifax flights (57 of them) needed long winter nights.

In the Battle of Britain, 144 Polish pilots (the largest non-British contingent) shot down 203 Luftwaffe aircraft for a loss of 29 Polish pilots. 303 (PAF) Squadron, flying Hurricanes, had 126 kills, the highest score of all RAF squadrons. In the first 1,000-bomber raid, 101 of the aircraft were Polish. Polish bomber squadrons flew 11,706 operations, dropped 13,205 tons of bombs, and laid 1,502 mines. Off the Spanish coast a Polish Wellington of Coastal Command was attacked by 4 JU88s. For 59 minutes the pilot, Emil Ladro, outmanoeuvred the JU88s until they all ran out of ammunition, saluted the Wellington, and flew off.

The Poles, who handled bombers like fighters, suffered heavy losses and hundreds were taken prisoner. Hitler decreed that such Europeans be shot because they had no right to carry on the fight as their countries had surrendered. Göring, who still had a vestige of WWI gallantry left, lied to Hitler that these men were now British citizens as Churchill would not allow them to fly British aircraft until they became British citizens. Hitler bought it, saving thousands of lives. I had 200 of these Poles with me in the North Compound in Sagan, Silesia. Five of them were shot and cremated for taking part in the Great Escape.

Only a few of the 19,500 still in the Polish Air Force (PAF) in 1945 returned to Soviet-controlled Poland and they were badly treated. In September 1992, after independence, the Polish Air Force standard was returned to Poland from the U.K., and 800 PAF/RAF veterans attended the ceremonies.

Friday, 1 May 2009


English, some argue, is today’s world language. It dominates the commercial, the political, and the computer world. But, what and whose English are we talking about? English may be a precious vehicle for communication, but who is guarding it? Can it survive the barbarians who continue to assault it?

Homo sapiens cannot boast about his ability, or willingness, to communicate with his neighbours. The Tower-of-Babel curse remains an insidious part of our being. There is something cozy and aloof in formulating a language that only the chosen few can understand. Even children love to manipulate the spoken word so that only their small group can interpret the code. Tribes and countries do try to standardize language within their own boundaries, but associations create their own slang to exclude others. A bizarre sense of superiority is felt by lawyers, doctors, the military, sports enthusiasts, and others when they use their linguistic codes to the consternation of outsiders.

The creation of many thousands of languages for one species on one small globe could be excused during periods of low mobility and when rivers, oceans, and mountain ranges separated us. Such obstacles have been overcome if only for brief periods of time. For a few hundred years people could travel from Hadrian’s Wall to Asia Minor with one language and one currency. Roman might and organizational ability brought Latin to all of Europe and much of North Africa. The Church then carried it around the world. We let that blessing evaporate. The destruction of Roman power led to the resurgence of local languages. There were pockets of resistance, but even the Catholic Church succumbed in the 20th century by replacing Latin in its Mass with the vernacular, thus losing a sense of oneness among Catholics.

Our world needs one standardized means of communication. Latin, once so popular and compulsory, with Greek optional, when I went to school, have gone except in the roots of many of our modern words. The French remain nostalgic for the status they once held as having the world’s language of politics. Quebec takes strong measures to safeguard French and exclude English. Esperanto was a great hope for a universal language we could all accept, but that, too, has given way to the steady march of English. Even India, when granted independence, chose English as rivalries among their language groups could not tolerate one of their languages becoming the dominant one. When Indonesia became independent it selected what it considered the best from other languages to create a distinct Indonesian dialect. We, who were born into an English-speaking environment cannot feel smug about our good fortune because, like all languages that went before it, English is doomed unless we guard it.

This computer (using Word Perfect) actually asks me what English I want to use: Canadian, UK, or US. The rot is well established. It is ominous when people argue that language is an evolving medium and that we should keep up with the times - but whose times and in what places? If others have the right to change words, spellings, pronunciations, and meaning then we all do and a world language is a hopeless goal. Incidentally, I choose UK English because that is where it all started. When the United Kingdom, a union of about ten million people, by accident and design, acquired control over twenty five per cent of the globe they brought to many millions their language which was a mixture of Gaelic, Latin, Greek, Anglo-Saxon, Norwegian, Danish, and Norman-French. When its colonies grew and prospered the world-influence of English grew, but each colony or dominion added its own flavour. With its huge and dominant media the United States led the parade to diversify.

Spelling and Pronunciation: The British may be their own worst enemies. England is pronounced Inglun, Britain is Briten, Warwickshire is Wariksheer, Gloucestershire is Gloster. They use, and spoil, good French names such as beauchamp which they call beechum. They have enriched the language by adopting words from other languages, but often spoil them, like karky for khaki. Then there is the long list of mispronunciations which have grown over the years like knife, sword, mountain, and genuine.

The United Kingdom, with its long history, has retained numerous dialects from Cockney to Geordie and some Welsh, Scots, and Irish are unintelligible to someone steeped in BBC English.

Multiply this by colonial abuse of words. Who has not had difficulty interpreting Waltzing Matilda? We may understand “After we get some tucker we will pick up a few sheilas.” and we might even guess at the meaning of “G’Dye”, but are Australians so insecure that they must retreat into an isolationist language? The United States has been flagrant in developing its own language out of English and tries to force it on the rest of the world. First they dropped the ‘u’ in words like honour, then the second ‘l’ in words like travelling. Some publisher who wanted to save time and space shortened words and the new spellings took over. They are also afraid of French words. Cheque becomes check, centre becomes center, and Pierre becomes Peer. The latest trend is to admit they do not know the difference between adverbs and adjectives so they drop the ‘ly’. Many were never able to distinguish good from well, who from whom, shall from will, or between from among, so why bother? It is frightening how many pronunciations have changed in the U.S. and seeped into other countries since my high school days:

bin for been agen for again missal for missile hostil for hostile
agil for agile aging for ageing viril for virile mobil for mobile
changen for changing Merilin for Maryland Noofunlan for Newfoundland ta for to
When they talk of “missal” defence I wonder why they are afraid of prayer books. Hostel is somewhere to sleep. Hostile means something quite different. What is so difficult in pronouncing words the way the are spelled? Arkansas, Spokane, and solder helped in persuading our educators to drop phonetic teaching in favour of sight recognition of words. This has been a disaster. We have a generation of people who cannot spell, even incorrectly.

The United Nations adopted English as the universal language for air traffic control. This has led to many misunderstandings when pilots on international flights try to raise control centres by using phonetic pronunciations. We have no right to demand the use of English when we refuse to standardize its use.

Abbreviations: Some say this is a natural trend towards simplifying a language, but does “MP” mean Member of Parliament or Military Police? Does the postal code “MI” belong to Missouri, Mississippi, Michigan, or Minnesota? Does “CO” mean Commanding Officer or company? Does “USA” mean United States of America or Union of South Africa? Thoughtful authors give the meaning with the first use.

How many of these commonly-used abbreviations can you explain: Spad, Lanc, Flak, UNICEF, MSDOS, ROM, RAM, Eg, Viz, etc, VC, VD, CAA, RAAF, DcinC, ECG, PhD, SEATO, MB, MG, GDP, TGIF, BCE, CC or CB, UNMOGIP, PNG, AU, DOA, DUI, CU, ATC. And this is just a small sample.
Changed Meanings: Wartime slang is a prime example with its explicit new sexual meanings for innocent common words, like screw and suck. Unfortunately, these two words, with altered meanings, have become part of the language in place of “taken advantage of” and “highly undesirable”. The original meanings remain but are now shared, making the language less precise, and somewhat vulgar. Other wartime expressions, like “pukka gen” (accurate information) have faded. The word “Cool” originally referring to temperature now encompasses “good”, “fine”, “acceptable”. The word “wog” once meant “Wily Oriental Gentleman”. “Wop” meant strong, robust, handsome, and was a compliment to Italians. The word “gay” described a buoyant spirit and many girls were named Gay. Now we have permitted homosexuals to take and monopolize the word to the extent that many Gays have changed their names to Elizabeth which is yet to be corrupted. Considerable shame is shared by writers, speakers, and publications who blatantly misuse this word, apparently to appease the homosexual community, or to save seven letters on the printed page. The same is true with the misuse of Lesbian, an inhabitant of Lesbos.
The use of words can be misleading or insulting. Too many say “England” when they mean the United Kingdom, thus insulting the Northern Irish, Scots, and Welsh. America has a score of countries but one of them is arrogant enough to use it to describe only one, unable to find a polite, unique name for itself. It is obvious that the French have never forgiven Julius Caesar for conquering their Gaul when they insist on Nouvelle Ecosse instead of the Latin, Nova Scotia.

Some languages use additives to letters to clarify pronunciation. These are awkward and a nuisance. Cannot vowel and consonant combinations serve the same purpose as á, â, ä, à, ç, è, ñ, ü, ğ, ė, ŗ, and others? The letter ‘c’ is pronounced ‘s’ or ‘k’, so is surplus and could be used as a vowel. The Germans spell Kanada correctly.

Spelling and speaking this sentence give us two distinct languages:
Could enough agile swords protect the eight charming women on the mountain from genuine hostile missiles?
Kud enuf agil sords protek thu ate charmen wimin on thu mountin frum genuin hostel missals?

Survival: The entire world uses English, so all need to contribute to standardizing at least a core portion of the language for universal use so that spelling dictates pronunciation. And, let us not have the same word meaning different things. We could also be honest. We dread to admit we use toilets so we call them washrooms, restrooms, loos, johns, or WCs. (In WWII the Germans called them Winston Churchills) The media and educators must conform. Either that or lose universal use and let some other, more disciplined, language take over. Computer language, with its penchant for brevity and abbreviations, is, in its present form, not the answer.

English and German take two years longer than Italian or French to learn. Finnish words are pronounced phonetically. Should we adopt Finnish? The US came very close to adopting German after 1776
Numerals? This scribe still prefers 0123456789 and objects to the German one and seven which can be confused with a seven and four. The computer zero can be mistaken for an eight.

This lazy scribe, who wants English as a world language, will keep using UK spellings and phonetic pronunciations. He will accept changes only if approved by the entire English-speaking community and endorsed by the United Nations. I do not mean to excuse the superior-than-thou attitude of Anglo-Saxons in declining, as unnecessary, the learning of other languages. Diversity adds lustre to life, but who can learn 2,000 languages? To communicate with our fellow humans we desperately need one language that is shared by all. You may have as many others as you wish.

Monday, 27 April 2009


(Written in 2003 on the loss of 7 astronauts)

     (This has great emotional value for me.  It was found on the internet in 2013 by Joanie Kennedy of Calgary for whom Flight Sergeant Bill Murphy was a great uncle.  I am now corresponding with members of an extended family of 32 from Calgary to Toronto, who never knew how Bill had met his death.
     As of 12 November 2018 there have been 861 call-ups, many of them recently from Carp, Ontario, home of Don Watson.
     David, my Ottawa nephew, who is a lawyer, world traveller, adviser to governments on actions that curb smoking, philanthropist, and avid cyclist, who cycles thousands of kilometres on back country roads, pausing in favourite cafés, advised Carp of the blog.)

                                                                     * * * * * * *
    Today, we have the luxury of mourning the loss of seven brave astronauts and eulogizing them. Permit me to take you back to the days when each squadron would lose 7or 14 or 21 or 28 on a nightly basis so there was no time to mourn or to eulogize. Young men, with great potential and promise, would vanish from the crew lists and be forgotten except for family and a few friends. Let me pick at random one of these crews and bring them back for a moment of remembrance and thanks.
    The weather on 9 January 1943 was foul, too foul for high level bombing. The cold was piercing and it was raining heavily this Saturday night, yet 419 RCAF Squadron, based at Middleton St. George, near Darlington, Durham, was ordered to load up five Halifaxes each with two 1500-pound mines and send them off to mine German shipping lanes off Spiekeroog in the eastern Frisian Islands. To avoid breaking up on impact these mines had to be dropped below 500 feet and at a speed just above stalling. They had to be deposited exactly where the Royal Navy wanted them which, as we had no precise navigational aids, meant flying at low level over defended islands that were continually changing their shapes with the tides, finding a positive pinpoint, then doing a timed run out to the dropping point. This was an occupation much more hazardous than high-level bombing. As we had just converted from Wellingtons to Halifaxes, each crew had two new members, a flight engineer and a mid-upper gunner who averaged about 10 hour in the air when they met their baptism of fire.
    It was only three nights since my wedding and I had better plans. However, my pilot, Pat Porter, keen and prompt as ever, pushed us to marshal our Halifax, “K” Kitty, first in line. The crew behind us, in “O” Orange, was made up of: WO2 Frank Barker, pilot, age 22 of Carbon, Alberta, Sgt Bill Cameron, air gunner, age 20, also of Carbon, F/Sgt Harvey Dunn, navigator, 21, of Fordwich, Ontario, F/Sgt Vincent Hugli, bomb aimer, 26, of Georgetown, Ontario, F/Sgt Bill Murphy, air gunner, 20, of Ardenville, Alberta, WO2 Don Watson, wireless air gunner, 21, of Carp, Ontario, and Bob Sackville-Green of the RAF, engineer. We had raced with them to be first in line, a mere game among friends, but with fatal consequences.
    The cloud deck, with dangerous icing, was at 1,000 feet, the waves were high, and we had to remain between the two all the way across the threatening North Sea. I alternated from the front turret to the bomb aimer’s position trying to spot the numerous flak ships in the inky darkness, and to keep Pat from flying into the sea as our altimeters were untrustworthy. Continued rain added to our problems and decreased visibility. Shadows on the sea looked like islands. Flak from flak ships missed us by millimetres. We stooged over the islands, greeted by more flak. Luckily, I made a good pinpoint and we flew out on a timed run to deposit our mines amid intermittent flak. As we turned for home, we surprised two flak ships as we flew between them at mast-top level. Their streams of fire were just above us and we were soon out of range. But, there was a terrific explosion behind us and we feared that one of our five had met its doom. Back at base, it was still cold and raining, but I was so grateful to be alive that I actually enjoyed getting thoroughly soaked cycling the mile home to Joan and a warm bed.
    “O” Orange failed to return.
    Much later we learned that Dunn and Hugli washed ashore on Spiekeroog, were buried locally, and later moved to the military cemetery in Oldenburg, Germany. Watson’s body floated 900 kilometres around the coast of Denmark and into the Skagerrak to wash ashore near Grebbtad, Sweden. He is buried in Gamlestaden. Barker, Cameron, Murphy, and Sackville-Green were never found. The cold and indifferent North Sea owns them.
    We had no time to mourn; there were more mining and bombing trips to make with more losses. New crews continued to be posted in to take the places of those we lost and had to be trained on squadron techniques.. The adjutant prepared the usual form letters to the next-of-kin and the CO signed them.
    So, please say a prayer and take a moment to think of these seven, the futures they sacrificed, and the emptiness forced upon their families. But, remember, we did not allow this loss, nor the loss of all the 73,741 Bomber Command casualties, to deter us from fighting a rare war we knew had to be fought. Neither should we let the loss of astronauts deter us from our role in space.
     PER ARDUA AD ASTRA! (Through Adversity to the Stars)

                                                                                                                                      Ye Olde Scribe                    



and, as my ancestry is 75% Irish, I am free to both praise and criticize the Irish, and they deserve great gobs of both. The Irish gene mixture is Scythian, Egyptian, Spanish, Celtic, Scandinavian, Norman, and Anglo-Saxon, so it is misleading to generalize.

Allow me first a little praise to, and selfish reminiscence of, my own family. My Mother, Alice McGirr, had an immense repertoire of Irish songs and a beautiful singing voice, the memory of which can still lull me to pleasant dreams. Her writing skills cleverly concealed information from Canadian, British, and German censors to keep me well informed while I was in the UK and in POW camps in WWII. My grandmother, Maude Brodie, taught me that “we will never know how much we have to know in order to know how little we know”. Her table was never empty of tasty morsels that had grandchildren and their friends inventing all sorts of excuses to visit her after school. When my uncle, Carl, a great story teller, cut off his finger tip accidentally, Maude rushed to the shed, grabbed a handful of cobwebs, replaced the finger, wrapped it in cobwebs, and it healed! On 2 occasions she brushed aside doctors who had given up hope and priests who were administering the last rites to return to health dying children. My aunt, Mames, was renowned in Toronto for her care of the sick and needy. My uncle, Norm, lost a leg in WWI, but remained full of energy, humour, and the ability to attract numerous women. My grandfather, Ned McGirr, taught me when to ignore the rule book. He was one of Northern Ontario’s best railroaders. When his supervisor was wasting precious time following the rules, Ned threw his lantern at him, got the call boys to round up rescue crews, and sped to the scene of a bad wreck north of North Bay where his generalship saved lives. Demoted for insubordination, he was later reinstated for results. Perpetuating Irish oral traditions, four of the above could recite with feeling numerous lengthy poems including my favourite - all 32 verses of Thomas Gray’s "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard", a poem that General Wolfe read again before the 1759 battle, remarking that he would much rather have been its author than the general to take Quebec. ("The paths of glory lead but to the grave.")

All this is fine from a family point of view, but what about the Irish nation? Ireland has never been united and they blame others, especially the English, when the basic truth is the Irish do not get along with themselves. With so many kings in Ireland, many Irish today can trace their ancestry back to a king. One of many tales from the battle of Moytura in 2000 BC: an Irish king was losing until his wife plunged into the battle, killed the enemy king, and won the day. They named the city of Enniskillen after her. The Irish were guilty of plundering Wales and England and returning with slaves including, in 401, Saint Patrick, who escaped after 6 years, only to return as a bishop, set up his see in Armagh, and convert the Irish to Christianity. Irish monks then went on to convert England and much of Europe. Instead of uniting against Viking incursions that started in 795, various Irish factions united at times with the Vikings against other Irish factions. When Brian Boru was making great strides in uniting Ireland, rivals joined the Vikings to defeat, then kill him, in 1014 near Dublin, a Viking stronghold. It was an Irish warlord, Dermot MacMurrough, who, in 1166, invited the English (actually the Normans) in to help him regain his crown as king of Leinster. Irish, such as Patrick Sarsfield and thousands of his followers, defeated in wars in Ireland fled to France in 1691 where they formed regiments that were of considerable help to the French in their European wars. Then, while criticizing Britain, the Irish built the British Empire. Sullivans alone provided 4 admirals for the Royal Navy. Irish clergy invented the traverse for Royal Navy guns and the use of limes to prevent scurvy. Irishmen fought on both sides during the American Revolution and the War of 1812. Generals Sir Guy Carleton and Richard Montgomery were born a few kilometres apart in county Donegal. Montgomery led the U.S. attack on Quebec City defended by Carleton (1775-76). Montgomery was killed and Carleton lectured the U.S. prisoners on the crime of molesting an honest man in his home. He then sent them all home with only sufficient weapons to safeguard against attacks from natives. Irish Fenians from the United States raided Irish settlers in Canada, 1865-1871. While beneficial in the rest of the world, British imperialism in Ireland was harsh although, during the potato famines, the British did more than others in providing help like importing large quantities of corn from North America. Early English settlers in Ireland became more Irish than the Irish and fought subsequent English settlers.

Ireland and England had the same population in 1700. Ireland had peat, England had coal and iron which permitted the Industrial Revolution. During the mass exodus in the 1840s, 17,000 Irish died en route, mainly of typhus. The U.S. enforced higher restrictions, so got the wealthier portion of the refugees. Canada got the disease-laden ships that killed many Canadians who tried to help in Quebec. Genealogy is made difficult because no records were necessary as the Irish were simply going from one part of the Empire to another.
The current problems in Northern Ireland have deep roots. The Celtic Scots lived in Ireland while the Celtic Picts, lived in Scotland, both escaping Roman rule. In the 400s quarrels in Ireland prompted a group from northeast Ireland to invade southwest Scotland in an area known as Dalriada, gradually expanding to give Scotland their name as well as the Scythian bagpipe they brought with them. Over a thousand years passed and the London government thought it a good idea to return many of them to plantations in Ireland as they were now Presbyterian Britons who could control the quarrelsome Catholic Irish.

The name the Irish prefer today, Éire, is Norse not Irish.

The Irish brought their quarrels with them to the New World. Every 12th of July the Orangemen would commemorate the 1690 Battle of the Boyne victory over the Catholics (King William III of Orange vs King James II). As their parade passed the Catholic church in my home town, Port Hope, the parish priest would toll the funeral bell. Humorous but sad. This practice did not fade out until after World War II.

Nevertheless, we forget all that to remember the wealth of Irish wit, literature, song, dance, humour, and pretty, vivacious colleens.


Wednesday, 22 April 2009

The bravest thing a person can do is to think. Knowing so little of what, where, when, how, and why we are, a wide variety of beliefs can be a good thing provided it sparks discussion and research and refrains from using such differences as an excuse to persecute. Diversity permits us to put ourselves in other peoples’ shoes if only briefly.

ANIMISM: This earliest religion is still embraced by 40% of the world’s people. Like all other religions it has been corrupted by dogma, bureaucracy, and self-aggrandizement. Basic animists are in tune with Nature. Every living thing has a spirit. So do many inanimate objects like streams, rock formations, clouds. In the morning you greet the spirit of the sun, of the forest, and of your canoe. You ask permission of the river spirit before launching your canoe, then, as you paddle along, you greet the spirits of rock formations, river bends, and so on. You ask forgiveness of the spirits of any animals you kill in order to survive. If you are an Inuit and kill a seal, you open its mouth to give it the treat of a drink of fresh water. Shamans, witch doctors, priests, and the like had to invent themselves to exploit these innate beliefs. Abuses led to animal and human sacrifices and the role of women from exaltation to exploitation.

ATHEISM: Disgust with religious differences and increasing doubts over their teachings are causing a marked increase in the number of world atheists. A leading guru, Richard Dawkins of Oxford University, is quite eloquent in arguing there is no god, no heaven, no hell, only science. To this scribe, Atheism is a dead end, unlike

AGNOSTICISM whose motto is “I do not know and you do not know either.”, has embraced many great thinkers. In this universe our lilliputian minds can grasp only a minute portion of reality, so an open mind is essential. Science belongs here, not with Atheists.

PAGANISM: I did know of the Druids, a few Witch Associations, and one Pagan magazine when I thought, for the sake of this article, I should do a little more research. After one full day of research I am amazed to be able to list 70 Pagan publications in Australia, Canada, England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and the United States. I have yet to explore the rest of the world. There are far more Pagans about than I had realized.

BUDDHISM: A contemporary of Zoroaster and the Hebrew prophets 2,500 years ago, Siddartha Gautama gave 84,000 sermons dwelling on the paths to Enlightenment. Two major divisions developed: Mahayana and Theravada plus various sects as Buddhism spread from India to Tibet, Persia, China, and Japan. Worldwide there are 164 different Buddhists sects. It died out in India but left its mark on Hinduism. Another great teacher, Vardhamana Mahavira, developed Jainism but it did not spread beyond India. Both embraced karma, reincarnation, and Nirvana (eventual escape from reincarnations) and both opposed the caste system, introduced by Aryan invaders, blood sacrifices, and the importance of priests. The Canadian magazine, with the greatest circulation in the United States, is Shambhala Sun, a Halifax voice of Buddhist wisdom.

CHRISTIANITY: There are 3,400 distinct Christian Associations, each one of which is the correct version, the others are all flawed. The majority of these are small congregations independent of any of the major sub-divisions. Adherents have run the gamut from bigotry and persecution to performing great acts of kindness. Very complex.

JUDAISM: For a small territorial religion, Judaism has enjoyed, through Christianity and Islam, immense world influence. The only religion tied to a specific piece of real estate, Israel, it still has deep divisions, the main ones being Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform. They range in groups that believe in peace, tolerance, justice, democracy, sustainable development, and care for the environment to those that see humanity divided by a clash of civilizations, competing for power, territory, and resources. Compromise is impossible so maximizing Jewish power is a supreme good wherever Jews settle. The largest concentration of Jews today is in the United States. There are 14 million Jews in today’s world while 3.5 billion follow religions directly influenced by Judaism.

ISLAM: While Christianity is in decline, Islam is enjoying a period of resurgence and is infiltrating Christian countries. It has 3 major branches: Sunni, Shi’a, and Sufi. Sunnis have 4 distinct schools of thought, Shi’as 6, Sufi 2. Then there are an additional 26 different schools, orders, movements, faiths, and what-have-you. Islam is not a centralized world threat as many fear but a widespread belief with many variants.

HINDUISM: Is, with a billion followers, a baffling array of spiritual traditions, with 4 main denominations: Saivism (at over 8,000 years the oldest of all religions after Animism), Shaktism, Smartism, and Vaishnavism. Within Saivism there are 6 main schools. Shaktism has 4, Smartism has 6, and Vaishnavism 5. All have more similarities than differences. All believe in karma, reincarnation, and in a Supreme Being who creates and destroys the universe in regular cycles - an early version of the Big Bang. Cremation is practiced to free the soul quickly to allow it to begin a new life.

ZOROASTRIANISM: An early monotheistic religion that grew and declined from 549 to 330 BC, it has many adherents in Persia (Iran) and India. It has survived many assaults that caused sects to develop. It did emerge healthy from long periods of Muslim occupation. A hereditary priesthood is causing a current decline. Life style changes in a modern world are today more threatening than past persecutions.

Considering all this, would you say it is a wee mite naive to expect any human association: family, team, town, or nation, to speak with a unified voice? Even in happy marriages, there are many differences of opinions. Our task is to embrace diversity, to outlaw the use of violence by any of these associations, to promote tolerance, to encourage discussions, and to value our own values with the flexibility to change them as our knowledge improves.

How World Decisions Are Made

Jim Cross of Victoria, BC, who earned a DFC in Bomber Command with 425 Squadron and who worked for the federal government after the war, sent this on receipt of our November newsletter:

“Your reference to the Aga Khan brought back memories of the 1972 expulsion by Idi Amin of Asians who had lived in Uganda for years, I was the acting Assistant Deputy Minister for Immigration, and chaired the inter-agency committee set up for the crisis. I felt that, if our vaunted policy of non-discrimination was to be followed, we had to do something about the refugees. We obtained the OK of the minister. The Aga Khan came to offer his support. We entertained him at a luncheon which took place during that famous USSR-Canada hockey series which some of us were watching in the anteroom prior to going into the dining room. Alan McGill, a friend of mine from External Affairs, wondered how we could keep current with the game. I told him that I would ask the steward to keep me posted and that I would relay the score by hand signal, the left for the Soviets and the right for Canada. His Highness was part way through his speech when the steward told me that it was a 2-2 tie. Up went both my hands. The Aga Khan caught this and said "Then you agree with me Mr. Cross?"

I like to say that at that point we agreed to take 6,000 refugees from Uganda. They turned out to be among the best qualified immigrants we ever had. 25 years later the Aga Khan sponsored a reunion in Ottawa. Many of the attending Ugandans were now successful lawyers, doctors, and businessmen. I choked up when two of their daughters sang “O Canada" in both official languages.”

Heaven, Purgatory, Hell


Investigators have discovered a weird universe containing a weird planet on which there are weird creatures. It appears to be a strange laboratory that doubles as a huge prison, but we are just in our initial stages of investigation. It is an unique place, hidden in a relatively quiet zone of a violent universe on a tiny ball that is part solid, part liquid, and covered in a gas of many components. This tiny ball circles a nuclear furnace that showers it with a relentless stream of dangerous particles from which it is partially shielded.

Originally it was seeded with unique acids that learned on their own to replicate and to produce the most bizarre forms, all from one common ancestor. These structures are everywhere on the planet and in a bewildering variety of shapes. We are not sure yet why or how it is done but, at a very early stage in the growth of these forms, spirits are injected, even into the flawed ones, to grow with them and to serve out sentences. Some for a brief reward, others for chastisement, but most for sheer torture. It seems that economy is served by having all of these conditions on the one ball. Provision is made for the condemned to find ways of changing their lot during their tenure. But, no instruction are provided. It is all trial and error. A cruel sense of humour hid means of sustenance here and there, but these had to be found, understood, and modified.

All spirits condemned to this prison are stripped of any past memory and are saddled with receptors for pain and pleasure but, again, no instructions are allowed, so they experiment. An even stranger burden is the need to ingest other life forms in order to extract the energy required to perpetuate this existence which they deem desirable only because knowledge of any other existence is denied. To a certain extent inmates can learn from forebears and from each other. This often eases their existence.

Gradually these beings learned that co-operation was beneficial yet tempered by the cruel necessity to eat and the fact that scarce resources could be monopolized by the strongest and most ruthless. Members of the apparent dominant species keep getting together to build only to destroy, then to rebuild. It is a meaningless cycle, full of hardships.

From afar it presents a fascinating spectacle. An endless stream of spirits are forced into it and they interact in such diverse ways. All must endure pain in varying degrees and pleasurable sensations are rationed and temporary. All sentences are soon terminated and by a wide variety of means, many accompanied by intense and extended pain. Millions of those sentenced to this jail are goaded into terminating each other, but replacements are more than adequate to continue the show. In fact, all of these creatures have the ability, and an insatiable desire, to manufacture new frames in their own image for yet more spirits. None of these spirits is ever given a fixed sentence. They can be terminated early or late, rapidly or slowly, peacefully or violently.

Actually, there is much to admire about many of these spirits. With primitive means they are trying so hard to understand where, when, why, and how. They do make progress but, alas, they have such a long way yet to go. Under such circumstances their only recourse to retain a sense of humour, recognizing the joke is on them while they wonder if all of these spirits are actually only one with a multitude of expressions concealing the ironic twist that what they appear to be doing to others they are simply doing to themselves. Perhaps, that is why so many care for others.

This jail, or laboratory, is but a passing phenomenon. It will end in spectacular violence. Peace and quiet will not ensue. For a long time Violence is scheduled to reign supreme, but will eventually die itself only to be reborn in new violence. It is definitely not a stage for the purpose-oriented, or for those who desire tranquility.

Applying a large enough magnifier, the whole scene is nothing but an immense conglomeration of endless vibrations, each in itself quite innocent, and subject to temperature. Most of these vibrations have been harnessed by Nature who controls this universe, but these fascinating and clever spirits are learning to control an increasing number for themselves. Nature appears quite ruthless, uncaring, and indifferent, yet it tolerates those who adapt to its whims.

We will continue to monitor this phenomenon to determine if it serves any purpose, but really, can all that violence be in any way desirable? Yet, somehow, these poor, imprisoned mortals attract our interest.

Pax Vobiscum!