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 N├╝rnberg 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.

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