I had my mother on the ‘phone today to give me her shopping list but, once finished with that, she told me what was on her mind in respect of the civilian aircraft downed over the Ukraine.
You don’t know who or what to believe, she said.
It wasn’t the way it was in the war….though I know that there was propaganda then too: wouldn’t do to let the people know how their pre war governments had left Britain powerless…how the war effort was directed by people with connections rather than by people with brains…but here they are treating the deaths of some three hundred people as pawns in a power game. You can’t have any respect for politicians who do that.
She grew up in the aftermath of the first World War, seeing the men in the invalid carriages, some choking up their lungs after gassings – the smell of the rooms in which they were immured.
As a girl she saw wartime aces earning a living from offering rides in the biplanes which had brought death to so many and were then turned into attractions – the circuit and bump rides in areas which might provide a clientele with enough money to keep the man and aircraft paying their way.
Not much of a home for heroes.
She remembers the rise of Hitler…..she heard him on the radio from Nuremburg, with the masses singing ‘Wir fahren gegen Engeland’…and the Mosleyites in Britain.
She had knitted herself a black jersey with red and white bands at the sleeves and was surprised to be greeted as a comrade by the followers of Mosely when she went to do her mother’s shopping in Kingston market. The jersey was swiftly discarded.
She was an athlete, a sprinter and hurdler, hoping to qualify for the team for the Helsinki Olympics planned for 1940…
But along came the second World War.
She could not, as she said, have given a thought for other countries; sod Poland if you hadn’t gone in to protect Chzechoslovakia…her effort was to prevent her own from being invaded and to beat the hell out of Germany.
She joined the army…..the Auxiliary Terrioral Service…and found herself meeting David Niven at Winchester; trainee tank drivers at Castle Barnard; ghosts – and my father – at Naworth Castle and working under continual bombardment at Park Royal, Wembley, assembling radios for the use of the Resistance in France and in the Dutch East Indies.
But through it all, she said, she knew what she was fighting for. Not just the survival of the U.K. as an independent country…but the transformation of the U.K. into a country where privilege no longer ruled supreme.
She had been sent to a farm in Suffolk for a break from the bombing in London and, brought up on a farm herself, noted how the country folk lived much better than the people in the towns; but not far from the farm was an airfield housing bomber squadrons…flying Avro Lancasters.
She watched the ‘planes taking off on their night bombing raids…and watched the returns, the rows of ambulances lined up to take off the surviving crews…from those aircraft, running blood as the doors were opened, which managed to return.
The rate of attrition in Bomber Command was phenomenal…and she determined that, nomatter how misguided the strategies which had sent those young men – not only of the U.K. but also of Canada, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa – into hell, their monument would be a better society.
She thought it was on the way to being achieved in the post war settlement….but the Thatcher and Blair years have left her wondering whether it was worth resisting Hitler at such a cost.
She might not have the fear of the Gestapo at her door in the early hours…but the policy of recent U.K. governments, brown nosing those of the U.S., has left so many others open to not only that risk, but the risk of violent death at the hands of fanatics financed by these governments…and to what end?
Certainly not that of life, liberty and the pursuit of