Purveyor of Bollocks to the Crowned Heads of Europe
Friday, 17 March 2017
I was just idly trawling through all the photos which had been lost to me for over a year when I came upon these ones. They were found in my father's old wallet by my sister who was clearing up after his death, and are of the wreckage of the Wellington Bomber which he crash landed in somewhere in Kent.
He was in the only recognisable bit of it at the time because he was the tail gunner - life expectancy: 3 missions. He was the only one left in the plane when it came down, because his radio wire had been severed by bullets and he did not hear the pilot's command to bail out. The first thing he knew about the order was when he saw his fellow crew float down on parachutes from his plastic window in the tail.
When he got out of hospital he was put into an office in the Ministry of War in Whitehall where he uncovered a German spy. The spy put poison in his tea before he fled and - miraculously - he survived that too, otherwise I would not be here, writing this under a false name.
I was talking with a friend last night, and she said how she had just visited a fascinating old 19th century sea-fort above Brean Sands on the North Somerset coast. Rather like the Tardigrade, I never knew of its existence until yesterday, even though I know Brean Sands very well as a lovely stretch of sandy coastline near Burnham on Sea.
She showed me photos of the WW2 installations which are still there, and one feature is a wide set of railway tracks which lead right to the edge of a high cliff, as if the train would be sent plummeting down into the sea.
I was astounded to learn that this site was the first testing area for Barnes Wallis's 'Bouncing Bomb', before they settled on Derwent Water up in the North as a better place to drop the things from an aircraft. The length of rail-track was to launch the bombs out to sea as a test. Why - as with the Tardigrades - had I never known this before?
I suppose that I have always been quietly obsessed about Britain in WW2 because I was born shortly after it had been successfully concluded, and all my uncles (not my father) would recount all sorts of tales about their adventures at Christmas time. I felt as though I had missed out on something - thankfully I had.
My childhood playgrounds were punctuated with brick-built 'pillbox' machine-gun emplacements incongruously set amongst beautiful Surrey meadow land, waiting for an invasion which never happened.
London was pitted with massive bomb-craters filled with buddleia and butterflies, and I was fascinated with the sets of metallic-green gas-masks found in the cupboards of the house we lived in.
The propganda machine and the Spirit of the Blitz was still in good working order when I was young, and I still believe that this was the last - and possibly only - war which truly was a black and white - good versus evil - one, but this is probably because the various shades of grey involving corruption and incompetence had been well whitewashed as everything was then, to stop idle troops from becoming even more bored than they were already.
'If it moves, shoot it. If it doesn't move, paint it white,' summed up the general orders to soldiers in any camp in the British Isles, as told to me by an uncle. They even had to paint the canvas belts of their uniforms white when not in battle, and they became thick and stiff with Blanco.
I was walking on the clifftop near St Ives with my dear German friend, Thomas, when we came upon the concrete ruins of a gun emplacement facing out to sea.
He asked what it was and I said, "Guns."
"Not needed, thank God." His father flew fighter-bombers.