Saturday, 25 October 2014


When, on 22 October, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, a Canadian convert to radical Islam, apparently annoyed at Canada joining the aerial assault on the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, shot and killed Corporal Nathan Cirillo on guard at the National War Memorial in downtown Ottawa, then raced to cross the nearby lawn fronting Parliament to enter and kill as many politicians as possible, Canada had all the defences a modern nation should need.
     The Sergeant-at-Arms, Kevin Vickers,  responsible for security in the House of Commons, had his ceremonial mace dating back to 1642, and which could make a good club.  The Prime Minister and all those other ministers, who were conducting caucus meetings, had numerous spears that were serving as staffs for flags.
     Well, yes, in addition to background security staffs and RCMP and in deference to modern times, Kevin did have a pistol and even some ammunition, but all this was safely under lock and key in his office.  He thought it appropriate to retrieve this as Michael entered the building with a Winchester 30-30 firing widely, wounding a security guard and hunting for politicians especially the PM.
     Kevin entered the fray, shot and killed Michael, permitting a return to dignified calm.  Kevin is a retired RCMP veteran of 29 years service during which he never had to shoot anyone.  He was praised and hugged by the PM for preventing what could have been a massacre.   
     Nathan Cirillo, age 25, father of a 6-year-old son, and member of the Argylle and Sutherland Highlanders, was sent off in procession along the 401 Highway of Heroes to his home in Hamilton while a new memorial guard was posted.
     In Canada, the Mace. inherited from the UK, is used by the House of Commons, the Senate, and 21 universities.  In the House of Commons it is carried by the Sergeant-at-Arms who belongs to no political party and who leads the speaker into meetings.  It is a symbol, granted by the crown, of the authority to make and pass laws.
     Like too many residents who never visit local attractions because they are always there and can be visited tomorrow, we never visited Parliament while living in Ottawa, 1953-56, although we walked and drove by it many times.  I did join members of the Ottawa Stamp Club in monthly meetings in rooms not used in the evenings on Parliament Hill.  To gain admission by the night guard only two words, "Stamp Club" were needed.  After moving on to 4 other RCAF locations and then retirement we did return and visited Parliament several times.  As these were in the warmer months we mingled with numerous tourists on the green lawns of Parliament Hill, recognizing politicians as they strolled through, or conversed with, tourists.  It always was, as it should be, open and peaceful. 
      We did see the odd member of the local police or the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, but no open display of weapons unless you consider a horse a weapon.
     Canada's aversion to guns and meagre coverage by the world's media should not conceal the fact that Canada has punched well above its weight when necessary in world conflicts.  It played a major role in WWI with victories such as Vimy Ridge and its airmen were exceeded only by the Luftwaffe in the number of top aces.  In WWII its forces were the world's fourth largest.  On D-Day its army got the furthest inland and was the only one to achieve its objectives.  Post war its peacekeepers led the world.  It spent 13 years in Afghanistan.  It is highly qualified in peaceful nuclear pursuits but has never built a nuclear weapon.  Unfairly it is considered dull and unnewsworthy.
     Canada has weathered some 56 outside "Terror" attacks including 11 relating to Cuba, 6 to Sikhs and Khalistan, 3 to Armenian-Turkish quarrels, and 6 others going back to 1864 when John Wilkes Booth obtained from Confederate agents in Montreal $184,000 before he assassinated President Lincoln.  There was the 1868 Fenian-associated murder of Thomas D'Arcy McGee, a father of Confederation, the 1965 Croatian bombing of the Yugoslav embassy in Toronto, the 1984 retired US officer killing 3 and wounding 30 in Montreal to protest Pope John Paul's visit.  Then there have been Domestic Terrorism that include 1 each from Anarchist, Anti-Semitic, and Environmental groups, 8 Islamic, 11 Quebec Separatist, 2 Sons of Freedom, and 6 others for unknown reasons.
    So, Canada, do not allow these recent acts of "Terror" upset your calm and quiet behaviour.   Your relatively strict gun controls have limited your homicide rate per 100,000 to 1.6 compared to 4.7 for the USA and 21.5 for Mexico.
     Just two requests for now:  Limit your homegrown violence to hockey and continue to breed people like Kevin Vickers.



Tuesday, 21 October 2014

DOROTHY ROBSON, 1919 - 1943

      In February 1943, eighteen of us veteran bomb aimers arrived at RAF Station Manby, Lincolnshire,, for the month-long Bombing Leaders' Course #52.  We were composed of 11 from the UK, 2 each from Australia and Canada, and one each from Ireland, Norway, and Poland.
     What a surprise, and delight, to find  that one of our instructors was a beautiful young woman!  A few actually complained:  "What can a woman teach us about bombing?"  Among us was one DSO, 3 DFCs, and considerable experience.  But, with sparkling eyes, an easy wit, and a deep knowledge of physics and bomb sights, she soon convinced us that she was more than qualified.
     When I wrote to tell my friend, Vern White on 427 RCAF Squadron, also from Port Hope, Ontario, and also to become a POW, he replied that she had recently visited all squadrons in his area.  But, wherever she went, bomb aimers immediately became slow learners, forcing her to squeeze individually with them into the narrow confines of bomb aimer's compartments to explain the intricacies of the new Mark XIV bomb sight.  She well knew their motives but was a good sport in donating the extra time. 
     While the UK was a leader in accepting women in military roles it was easy to see the reluctance of employers and the waste of so much talent.  With female co-workers men spent too much time ogling them to the detriment of their work duties.  Unfairly, male preoccupations kept female ambitions quite restricted.
      Very rare for the times, Dorothy in 1940 earned a degree in physics from Leeds University.  She applied to the RAF but was rejected for being too short.  The Ministry of Aircraft Production then accepted her, posting her to Farnborough to top secret work on bomb sights.  She started visiting squadrons to interview bomb aimers on their return from operations to learn of their problems, then helped to design and produce the Mark XIV that was distributed throughout 1943 to squadrons where Dorothy became their most desired visitor.   
      On 03 November 1943 she was at RAF Station Holme on Spalding Moor, Yorkshire, installing a Mark XIV in a Halifax whose crew then took her on an air test as they were scheduled for operations against Dusseldorf that night..  Flying over the Yorkshire hills they became engulfed in fog and connected with a hill.  The crew consisted of 4 RAF, 2 RCAF, 1 RAAF, plus Dorothy.  Four were killed instantly, 3 severely wounded died later.  Dorothy died on 05 November, mourned by all in Bomber Command.  She requested that her ashes be spread by a Halifax over England.

Sunday, 19 October 2014


     It takes only a small news item to trigger an avalanche of thoughts, followed by more than enough words to fill yet another blog item.  This time it is a 2-line news bit in October 2014 that Germany was offering free university education, not only to its own citizens but to foreigners like us who pay more than we can afford in our home countries.  Obviously the German economy outshines ours.
     My emotions towards Germans, from disgust to admiration, will always be associated with my experiences, good and bad, especially those years I spent fighting them.
     We humans are a queer lot.  We enter this hostile world naked and helpless, dependent on others who preceded us to raise, nourish, and educate us.  Our world fluctuates between Heaven and Hell and remains a war and poverty zone for far too many.  We have a habit of cruelly destroying what others have built with great effort and ingenuity.  My varied experiences include:
     In the 1930s I was a school boy in Ontario, Canada, both in 2 large cities and a couple of small towns where I learned from scores of veterans of the Boer (South African) war and WWI.  I was also an ardent stamp collector with worldwide correspondents including German, found through UK magazines, so I did have a fair knowledge of world affairs, highly encouraged by my parents.  I knew that Germans, like many of the rest of us, behaved differently towards different people.  Their colonial record in black South West Africa was terrible while their rule in Polynesia (known as the Irishmen of the Pacific) was so good that it was adopted by the Australians and New Zealanders who took over these islands after WWI.  In Europe Germans tended to look up to those west of them and down on those to the east.   But, I could also tell you about the immense effort it took to defeat them in WWI.  Flying intrigued me so I knew the careers of the 45 world air aces with 35 or more victories, finding that 17 were German, 8 Canadian, 7 British, 5 French, 2 Irish, 2 Australian, 2 South African, 1 Belgian, and 1 Austro-Hungarian.  But the horrors of WWI made me very anti-war and I wrote school essays on the subject.
     I feared the rise of dictators and war parties in Italy, Japan, and especially Germany.  I did feel our guilt in paving the way for Hitler who was to become a curse on both us and the German people.  WWI reparations forced by the US then Britain and France totally ruined the German state, making Hitler appear at first to be a saviour.  I knew that, if these aggressors were to be stopped, it would be boys like me who would have to do it.
    The flow of events swept me into the RCAF stream of Observers (navigator, bomb aimer, gunner), ending up in Bomber Command.  I loved the mathematics and physics of astronomy, cartography, meteorology, and all the other components of flying.  I hated the task I was assigned:  suffering 59% casualties while killing some of the 600,000 civilians our bombs claimed.  Some argued we could only get at the guilty by eliminating the innocents in the way.  Wars are like that.
     Exposed to Luftwaffe raids in some 8 UK locations I was appalled at the destruction and the loss of lives that were to total 60,400 with many more wounded.  Yet the Luftwaffe launched only 29 raids large enough to include over 200 bombers that carried mainly incendiaries and bombs under 500-pound weight.  We (RAF, RCAF, RAAF, RNZAF, USAAF, plus Rhodesian, Polish, Czech, Free French, South African squadrons) dropped 3.4 million tons with bombs weighing up to 4,000 pounds each, at a cost to us of 100,000 young men, 125 of whom were cherished friends of mine.      The small portion of the massive destruction we caused that I saw while I was plodding westwards in February 1945 fleeing the Soviet advance made me ashamed of being a member of the human species.  On this "Long March" German farmers, preparing to flee themselves, offered us food and water as well as overnight shelter from the bitter cold.
     Not content with leaving Germany a pile of rubble with millions of bomb craters, the victorious Allies tore off 25% of Germany to compensate Poland for their lands the Soviets retained.  Forced evictions caused at least 3 millions deaths and years of misery.        Then there was wholesale looting of German industrial assets, joined by US, UK, and Soviet teams hunting down German brain power to enhance their post-war military, industrial, and space programs.   Millions of German POWs were used as forced labour including my POW guards who had been kind to us.  It was not until 1949-52 that Germany was to receive $1.4 billion in Western reconstruction loans, not gifts.  Then Germany had to endure the East-West split until 1990-91 when reunited and allowed to become fully sovereign.
     It was in 1955 that Germany was allowed to join NATO (to help with the Soviet threat) and I was to greet at an RCAF pilot training school in Ontario the first group of some 300 cadets of the new Luftwaffe and integrate them with Canadian and other NATO trainees.  What a surprise to discover that among this group was the high school flak gunner that inflicted sufficient damage on my Halifax to result in it being shot down.  We became friends and he left me with two large charcoal drawings of Bavarian pubs that still grace our recreation room.  These German cadets were led by Major (now B.Gen) Roderick Cescotti of immense war experience.  We became life-long friends and he and his wife Otti, whom we had entertained in Ontario, entertained us for a week in 1987 in their Bavarian home.  I have copies of five of his published books.
     The score of civilians, mostly women and teenagers, who captured me, 30 March 1943, after I was among the 17% who survived being shot down, were all curious and respectful as they marched me off to the police who were also respectful as I was taken to the Luftwaffe also true gentlemen.    Except for a few ugly encounters with Gestapo and SS sub-humans, all of the Germans I encountered during 800 days as a POW were humans of the better type.  They treated us respectfully when conditions were severe for all of us.  Our liberators were not so kind.  Our commandant, Oberst Lindeiner-Wildau, a WWI hero, had treated well all those assigned to his care including Soviets and Jews.   The Allies locked him up considering him a war criminal.  For 2 years he was unable to see or help his destitute wife who had been bombed out by us.  One of our likeable guards was shot when he stepped out of line among a group of POWs.  He was trying to offer his services as an interpreter.
     So, it is with great pleasure that I see Germany rising from what was to be forever an agricultural state to be the power house of Europe with a military that threatens no one while accepting blame, and making reparations for, the Holocaust - and without whining about the treatment it received or the lands stolen from it.

Friday, 10 October 2014


     Oxford attained full university status in 1163.  Shortly thereafter, an anonymous student penned these lines that were repeated well into the 1400s.  The poem became part of the anti-simony movement that fought the buying and selling of church and political positions and was named after Simon Marcus mentioned in the Bible as trying to buy privileges from Saint Peter.

The hand that holds the heavy purse 
Makes right of wrong, better of worse.
So, Penny binds all bargains fast,
Rough is smooth when he has passed.

Who but Penny settles wars?
He is the Prince of Counsellors.
Make room for Penny, ye who judge
With consciences elastic.
The Penny's law no man can budge
In courts ecclesiastical.

When the Penny's voice is heard 
The sense of right is sadly blurred.
The poor man seldom finds refuge
Whose one hope is his righteousness.
Whenever Money's power appears
The poor man finds himself in tears.  

The best of pleas is brushed aside
That has no cash to back it.
And lawful judgments are denied
By those who own the racket.

Friday, 3 October 2014


   In perusing the 2014 e-book update of my "It's All Pensionable Time", I re-read the talk Prince Philip gave us ex-POWs at the 13-17 May 1977 reunion held in Runnymede, RAF Station Odiham, and London.  Just as pertinent today, let me repeat it:
    "There is, of course, one very important lesson which legislators ought to learn from prisoner of war camps.  People will co-operate just so far in the interest of peace and quiet, but beyond a certain point all their latent talent for deception, skullduggery, evasion, craftiness, and dumb insolence begins to come into its own.  My impression is that almost every prisoner of war discovered in himself astounding and unsuspected gifts of sheer low-down cunning which even his doting mother, or his suspicious headmaster, never suspected.
   This sort of subversive defiance of authority is important enough in a foreign POW camp during a war, but the risk of being taken a prisoner is, after all, one of the hazards of war.  In peacetime and at home a sturdy independence becomes an absolutely vital guarantee of individual freedom against the encroaching power of the state.
   While there are probably only a few fanatics who would actively like to see greater state power and control,  it would be foolish to assume that there is more than a small minority consciously aware of the need to protect the liberty of the individual, not from deliberate oppression, but from a sort of creeping takeover by officials and other bodies.
   We hear all too frequently about the poor and the starving, but far too many people remain blissfully unaware that more than half the population of the world lives in fear of arbitrary arrest and imprisonment; that political concentration camps  or re-education centres are part of the normal structure of most of the nations of the world; that intimidation and discrimination can be practiced by their government agencies without any fear of exposure, and that justice has ceased to be a safeguard of the rights of individuals, and has become just another means of enforcing the will of governments. 
   These things do not happen suddenly and all at once.  One little thing leads to another, and by the time people wake up to what has happened it is too late to do much about it.  Whoever it was who first said that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance knew exactly what he was talking about.
   You were all deprived of your liberty, but were lucky enough to get it back again.  I hope you will all be more vigilant of the need to protect and defend the liberty of all your fellow men."