Monday, 27 April 2009

DEATH BY SEVENS

DEATH BY SEVENS
(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 16 July 2018 there have been 812 call-ups, many of them recently from Carp, 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 caf├ęs, 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

georgesweanor@comcast.net                              www.yeoldescribe.com



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2 comments:

  1. Thanks for the story! one of the fallen in WW2 that you spoke of was a relative I never got to meet. Thanks for remembering.

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  2. Thank you for posting this. Bill Murphy was my uncle , though he died long before I was born. I had heard that he went missing while laying mines in the North Sea but that is all we knew. It is amazing to learn these details more than 70 years after the fact.By the way, one of Bill Murphy's brothers was killed in France shortly after D Day.
    It has been a pleasure as well to get to know you through your blog today. You are such a good writer and thinker. Thank you as well for your service in WW 2. Cheers, Ken Hill

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