Sunday, 17 May 2015


The numbness at losing Joan via that lone exit from an existence we cannot understand has yet to wear off sufficiently for me to return to blogs that require thought and research, so I will submit, this time, to just repeating a page from my book that I infer many of you may not have read. Perhaps, a page when Life was also challenging from an ancient human fault we have yet to correct.  But I do need to explain the setting:
It was February 1945 and I had just arrived in Nürnberg after a long, cold, and hungry trek fleeing the Soviet advance from, we discovered, the relative bliss of Stalag Luft III in Sagan, Silesia, to where we could better understand the horrors our side was also contributing, increasing our shame at being members of the human species.
Allied Air Forces made numerous calls on Nürnberg, and we were in the outskirts of it, but we suffered less than those in the city.  Most raids were by RAF Mosquitoes that would come over singly or in groups, striking terror from dusk until dawn.  Several of their 2-ton ‘cookies’ exploded close to our compound, and I became accustomed to the blinding flash, then the heat and shock waves, followed by the suction that made our roofs and walls all but collapse.  These raids would wake us from sleep and, when over, cold and hunger teamed up with bites from bed bugs even though our building had no beds, no intact windows, but holes in the floor that let the rain run out from holes in the roof.  Our toilet for 130 men was a pail in the corners we cleaned out each morning. Our rations guaranteed no obesity: one ladle of soup made from dehydrated peas and scores of weavils for dinner, 4 slices of black bread and 2 potatoes for supper.  Water?  One tap for 260 men.
Short, sharp Mosquito raids were interspersed with calls from the ‘heavies’.  The first of these came a few nights after my arrival. Our sleep was being lulled by the wail of distant sirens when closer - more urgent - sirens summoned instant wakefulness.  I took the usual precaution of opening the closest windows to prevent concussion from shattering what remaining glass we had and hurling the pieces at us.  I then laid back on the floor, hoping the raid would by-pass us.  Soon, the drone of high-flying Merlin engines became perceptible and, as the throb grew inexorably in volume, they seemed to chant, over and over again, “You’ve had it, chum!  You’ve had it, chum!  You’ve had it, Chum!  Our nervousness increased with the aerial armada’s approach and, as we milled about in the dark, the pail in the corner never lacked for customers.  
It was a play unfolding.  Terrifying wails of the ‘Imminent Attack!’ sirens and the sharp cracks of hundreds of 88mm flak guns ushered in the next act with ear-splitting din: Someone shouted, “Markers are down!”  as red and green marker flares cascaded from the depths of the night sky.  There was no doubt now as to the ‘Target for Tonight’.  I watched fascinated as the markers seemed to be floating straight for my open mouth!
Two walls of flame erupted in front of us as the sounds of exploding bombs deafened us and the heat warmed us.  These bombs were much too close for us to rely on the safety of our frail hut.  Slit trenches had been dug outside but, strangely, the guards were ordered to shoot us if we left the huts during an air raid.  Only Jack Ball seemed to be unperturbed; he was still relaxing on the floor.  Bill, Harry, and I tried to joke about it, explaining that he was either too lazy to move or just scared stiffer than the rest of us. We asked Harry if we had under-rated British imperturbability. Harry replied that he did not know the difference between imperturbability and gross stupidity.
Kriegies (POWs) were convinced their buildings would collapse on top of them, so hundreds dove out the windows and raced for the slit trenches, and I was among them.  No shots from the guards - they were too occupied is seeking their own shelter.  
The scene before us was one of dreadful fascination.  It was a most beautiful maze of light that hid the stench of death.  Powerful searchlights made an ever-changing lattice, high up on which myriads of exploding flak shells blossomed in a variety of colours, then died.   Every few seconds a particularly large blossom would streak downwards followed by an orange trail as another bomber and its crew were written off.  At the base of this huge lattice work were countless tongues of flame, growing in size and numbers, their dance pausing frequently to merge with dull-red glows as 2-ton bombs exploded.  Two descending parachutes floated through a searchlight beam.  Someone shouted, “Another cut in rations - here come more kriegies!”
As the inferno raged on, the smell of burning reached and surrounded us.  Then a high-pitched scream, the likes of which I never want to hear again, tore at us, increasing in agony until it spoke for all the tortures of the ages.  We did not comprehend its meaning, but it was coming at us from all directions, blotting out the rest of the universe.
There was absolutely nothing left but our small slit trench, there was nowhere to run.  I crouched low, not knowing what to expect.      Immeasurably long seconds passed, then the tortured soul of a blazing Lancaster screamed overhead, barely missing our hut and, escaping its tormentors, plunged to its death in the trees just outside the wire.
We were all several shades whiter.  Most of us had escaped from aircraft in similar death plunges, but this was different.  We had heard the soul of a dying aircraft, crying out in terrified protest.
The Battle of Nürnberg was still raging, and we were discovering that slit trenches had one big disadvantage: hunks of jagged metal from exploding flak shells were raining down on us; one ugly piece buried itself in the earth beside me.  It could just as easily have made an unsightly hole in my head.  At least the roof in the hut could offer some protection.  Several kriegies raced for their huts while many of us stayed in the trenches.  The raid lasted no more than thirty minutes, but it seemed an eternity.  As the last bomber turned for home to showers, eggs, and warm beds, ugly black smoke welled up from the fires of Nürnberg to blot out the stars as though man, now ashamed of his deeds, was trying to hide them from the wrath of God.

Sunday, 3 May 2015


I must pause to give in to my emotions and, when no one is looking, to have several good cries.
Joan left this world, 29 April 2015, one week after finishing 96 tours around the Sun.  She left me while I was still on my honeymoon.   My life with her is described among the 360 pages of my book, “It’s All Pensionable Time - 25 Years in the Royal Canadian Air Force”,  so this is just a brief summary.
In July 1942 I was in Wellesbourne, England, on the final 2-month training course prior to joining Bomber Command.  On the few free nights we had my best friend, Pat Porter, and I would frequent the dance halls in nearby Leamington Spa, Warwickshire. One evening we joined a dance in the town hall that was raising funds to send food parcels to POWs via Switzerland.
     Pat and I were surveying all the girls before choosing the first one to ask for a dance.  Joan walked in with her girlfriend and I was smitten.  I nudged Pat, saying: “That’s for me!” 
     One date led to another and I was falling very much in love.  As a teenager Joan had taught herself how to design and make her own clothes so she stood out in any crowd in wartime Britain where rationed coupons were required to purchase clothing.  She worked for a company that made equipment for the Royal Navy.  Here she learned to be on time, but never early, for work as one morning her office was strafed by the Luftwaffe and she would have been killed had she been early.
     It was a sad day when I had to leave her as my crew graduated and was posted to Croft, Yorkshire, to join 419 Squadron, one of 15 Canadian squadrons in Bomber Command.
     Visions of marriage and a home with flowers and a white picket fence had to be suppressed as casualties were heavy and I was fully aware of how cruel it would be to leave a widow or to burden a wife with a crippled husband.  Somehow Love triumphed over Common Sense and we married 06 January 1943.  Our Commanding Officer, Merve Fleming, allowed me to live off base so we found one room to rent in the home of a WWI widow.  I would cycle, often in the rain, back and forth.  When bombing enemy locations or mining enemy waters, I would return to crawl into bed with Joan in the early morning.  The morning of 28 March 1943 I failed to return. Fortunately I was among the 17% who survived being shot down so was able to return after 800 days as a guest of the Luftwaffe.
      Remaining in the RCAF we lived in 11 locations in the UK and Canada before our final transfer to NORAD, Colorado Springs, where I reached the compulsory retirement age of 47 in 1966.  We stayed here as I accepted a challenging teaching job.
   Joan was never employed outside the home as raising five outstanding daughters, all born on the move, and all graduating from university in some form of biology was more than enough. She continued to design and make clothes for herself and daughters, and sometimes for friends.  For the house she made drapes, pillows, and upholstered furniture.   She loved gardening and caring for plants, 101 of which we would crowd, over the winters, into a sun room that I had glassed in.  She was a good artist painting landscapes, as well as producing needlepoint art work.  
     Over the years, on our large corner lot some 38 stray cats asked to be adopted.  We did adopt a few while finding good homes for the others.  Joan also volunteered to work for several charitable organizations.  She loved to travel so every summer we would spend a month or more in Canada or Europe.
Of the countless memories that now surround me I have room here to recount only a couple.  Our first daughter, Barbara, was born after I was shot down, so the "Mummy and Daddy, George and Joan" nomenclature confused her.  One week end while stationed at Summerside, PEI, we were touring Nova Scotia stopping in a small hotel on the main street of Truro.  Sunday morning we were still in bed while Barbara played on the child-safe balcony. Two passing women asked what she was doing up there.  She replied: “Me’s playing.  Mummy is in bed with George!”
Luftwaffe pilot,  Roderich Cescotti and I had bombed each other in the  insanity of WWII, becoming good friends when in 1956 he led the first 300 cadets of the new Luftwaffe to Canada for pilot training.    Among the cadets I trained was the German who shot me down when he was a high school student doing night duty as a flak gunner.  We became good friends and he did for Joan and me two large charcoal Bavarian pub drawings that still grace our recreation room.  In 1987 we were entertained for a week in the Cescotti home in  Fürstenfeldbruck (near Munich).  Previously we had entertained his family in Ontario. 
   Joan had a great fighting spirit, enduring a 5-by-pass heart operation in 1988, then 3 cancer operations, then some falls that fractured hip and pelvis necessitating the use of a walker.  All five daughters have been a tremendous help.  One is 25 miles away, three from 3 to 5 hours, and one in Toronto.  I am a very fortunate and grateful survivor.
But let me go now.  I cannot hold back the tears that are welling up.

Ye Old Scribe, 03 May 2015