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’.
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.