The Dog With No Name

For those who are not old and sere, this is a Lancaster bomber, as used in World War II and in the foreground is the canine mascot of one of the squadrons – 617 – whose men flew them over Germany and occupied Europe.

Casualties were high…nearly half in Bomber Command as a whole, just under thirty per cent of those who flew Lancasters. My mother, sent for a break from her job in London to the East Anglian countryside, watched in horror as an American bomber unit returned to base…the line of ambulances awaiting them, the broken bodies carried out on stretchers, the smell of blood…These men paid the price for the overthrow of a foul regime.

I think that, now, we would class those airmen who took part in the bombing of Dresden, of Hamburg, as war criminals – all the more so those who engendered the project and gave the orders, but at the time, well, war was war, propaganda ruled – and the victor’s justice of the Nuremburg Trials was yet to impose itself.

It was a period when emotions were repressed…when one coped with what arrived on one’s plate…and this was exaggerated among the fighting forces. As my father said after a rather nasty firefight…if you can’t take a joke you shouldn’t have joined. Not that there was much choice in the era of conscription. You were called up and you went where you were sent.

There was comradeship, of course, though not a given….but an animal could permit the expression of emotion that was frowned on in human contact. I think all those who have served in the armed forces could give witness to the importance of a dog – for example – in giving an outlet to the human emotions. Just look at the lengths to which servicemen will go to bring home an animal with whom they have served.

This dog gave those who served with his owner a great deal of comfort…

He was their mascot…their good luck charm.

617 squadron, made up of British, Canadians, Americans, Australians and New Zealanders, was given the task of breaching the Mohne, Eder and Sorpe dams, which supplied water and power to the highly industrialised area of the Ruhr, using a special ‘bouncing bomb’ developed to address the topography of the dams. To accomodate the bomb, which hung in the bomb bay below the fuselage, much of the internal armour of the ‘plane was removed.

Two of the dams were breached, more than a thousand people were killed, including French, Belgan and Russian prisoners of war. By Protocol 1 to the Geneva convention, passed in 1977, such action is outlawed except in exceptional circumstances, which, by the speed of German recovery, would not have met the criteria – had they been in force at the time.

Of the one hundred and thirty three aircrew involved, fifty three were killed.

But one other met his death. The dog, the squadron mascot, was run over and killed just before the operation took place. His owner, the squadron commander, ordered that his pet should be buried as his aircraft started the attack, and used his name as the confirmation that the dams had been breached.

The dog was buried as he had ordered…a tombstone was placed over his grave.

And there he was laid in peace, though his owner died later in the war as a result of friendly fire and the world resumed its diurnal round.

Except that now the dog has lost his name. The Royal Air Force has replaced the stone with another in which he is referred to simply as ‘the dog’.

Why?

Because he was known and loved by his name…..Nigger. And that might give offence in this era.

What should give offence is the deliberate pauperisation of the less well off….the wilful starvation of the National Health Service…the ruin of state education, all of which affect the underprivileged, of whatever race or colour they be.

Divide and rule has always been the measure adopted by the powerful….and it works! You can feel yourself to be LGBT, black, brown, muslim in the society of Great Britain or wherever else you be, all of which works to reinforce your disadvantage….but what the oligarchs fear is that you should feel solidarity…to work together to make your childrens’ lives better.

To live with the past, not try to relive it.

To accept that a much loved dog had a name of its time and in its place and understand that the world has moved on and we need to fight today’s battles – oligarchy, modern slavery, wars for control of a fossil fuel that nobody nowadays needs – without dividing ourselves at the behest of those who seek to keep us divided.

6th June 1944…D Day

Provisional cemetary, Omaha Beach 6yh June 1944

Seventy five years since the armada sailed from the ports of England to attempt to release Europe from the grip of the German Nazis…

Seventy five years since the young men died on the beaches of Normandy, neither quietly, nor heroically…neither was it ‘dulce et decorum es pro patria mori’. They were conscripts, not volunteers, sent on a gamble on the weather against troops well dug in on Rommel’s Atlantic Wall

British, American. Canadian, French and many more…they died in their multitudes attempting to get ashore to take the fight to the enemy.

Think of them if you can…the men sent in by gliders who drowned in the marshes of the River Orne….the frightened boys plunging into the sea as the ramp of their landing craft crashed down…those killed in their droves on the beach as they sought to advance…

Think too that it was not just one day…the campaign that was to free northern Europe was only just beginning and the fighting was to be hard, on the Eastern where the Russians had taken the brunt of the work so long as well as the Western front.

You ask yourself how they coped…how they bore the hardship, let alone the fear…and I think the answer lies in the speech from a D Day veteran.

‘We were there for each other’.

If we carry any message from the ceremonies it should be this one, to try to heal our societies which seem so riven asunder.

We seem to see ourselves as members of a group rather than members of a society…we are black, women, homosexual, transgender, Jewish, Muslim, Christian, atheist, young, old, disabled, rich, deprived – Leavers and Remainers in the case of Britain – and we defend our group’s interests and demand its rights.

I suggest that if we want to enhance the chances of our group we start by building a society where all can feel secure….decent housing which is genuinely affordable…jobs which offer a real living wage….education which encourages children to think for themselves and emphasises that vocational training carries an equivalent value to academic studies….a police force which concentrates on real crime and a justice system which works.

All to easy to propose it…but how to achieve it?

By being there for each other, by pushing our differences into the background to work together to break the party system, to have the confidence to elect people who are really independent – not self described community leaders – to local and central government and to realise that, despite the legacy of the Thatcher years, there is a vital role for the state, one that no private sector provider can supply.

And perhaps, if we can start to see how destructive it is to see our group as in some way special…different…..we could start to see that every person is special and different and needs a safe society in which to be able to blossom to the benefit of all.

Let’s be there for each other…..but in peacetime, not just in war.

Rise Up Like a Lion

leo monolulu 004

Our house in San Jose was burgled in the early hours of Saturday morning.

Our 99 year old neighbour telephoned us and then the police. She has a sense of priorities.

The police in Costa Rica are not an homogeneous force….the grunts on the ground are the Fuerza Publica (the Public Force)…known to our friends as the Fuerza Floja (the Floppy Force) whose role is to arrive on the scene, and make an inspection.
Normally they neither arrive nor make an inspection…there are exceptions of course, but generally they are useless.
Reminds me of our local Gendarmerie in France where someone had hung a notice on the gate to their offices reading ‘Do Not Disturb’.
So the Fuerza Floja didn’t come and didn’t inspect.

My husband answered the telephone and I saw a metamorphosis.
He is a pensioner…has been ill for years…but he rose up like a lion.
No, I was not to go…..it would upset me. He would deal with it.
He is an old fashioned man – very protective.

He called Danilo and they went to the house.
The bars protecting the house had been sawn through – the burglars invisible from the street.
Things thrown about, shit everywhere….the defilement of intrusion.

While Danilo started on repairs, Leo got to work.
He contacted the specialist police, the OIJ (like the CID), who were both efficient and sympathetic.
Every line was followed up…fingerprints, DNA and the Muni’s surveillance cameras which were, of course, not loaded.
So much for our local taxes.

He had the bars replaced and security lights and razor wire installed that very day.
Expats, immigrants, call them what you will tend to moan that you can’t get Costa Ricans to do anything in a hurry – but these chaps came out and set to work at once.
Perhaps it helps that they too use the local taxi drivers’ caff where we go for lunch.
The lady serving at the caff offered to clean the house and came round when she had finished work.
For added security she offered the services of one of her sons as night watchman complete with machete and two pit bulls.
I’ve met his dogs – nice animals unless startled, at which point you need to make a getaway at the speed of light if you don’t want your trousers shredded in unusual places.

He obtained estimates for the major repairs which will be carried out on Monday.

Flushed with his success he stopped off at the market and arrived home laden with vegetables, cheese and bacon, calling for beer.
He was a new man – or more accurately, the man he was before illness struck him.
Smiling, happy, confident.
Yes, the burglary was a nuisance…but not the end of the world.
Nothing he couldn’t deal with.

Leo may not have eaten of the prey and drunk the blood of the slain (Numbers 23:24), much though he would have wished to do so – but I am so proud of him.