Friday, 17 June 2011

Thanks for everything, Tobe

Once again I find myself apologising to older bloggers for repeating myself, but what with Father's Day coming up and the nice post on this blogger's father, I thought that this image of mine and the story that goes with it was worth repeating, if only to show what an easy life my generation have had - so far.

When my father joined the RAF during WW2, he really wanted to be a pilot, but - for some reason - didn't get picked for that and ended up as a gunner in Bomber Command.

As I'm sure you know, the life expectancy of the crew in a bomber over Europe was the lowest of any of the armed forces, and the life-expectancy of a rear-gunner was even lower than the rest of the crew's. On his last mission, his plane - a Wellington - was badly shot up with flak, but they made it back to the southern coast of the Kent airfield before the pilot (being unable to lower the undercarriage or control the plane properly) radioed through a command to bale out.

The radio cable which went through to the tail where my dad was positioned had been severed by flak, so the first he knew of the command was when he looked out to see his comrades gently floating to ground on parachutes as the plane flew on with only him on board, at a height of a few hundred feet. He sat back and waited to die.

When the Wellington hit the ground, almost all of it was destroyed except the gun position of the tail, as you can see from theses pictures, and from being the most dangerous position on the plane, the tail-gunner's suddenly became the safest - not that safe though, he was pulled from the wreckage with every bone broken in both legs in more than one place.

I don't know how long he spent in hospital after the crash, but I do know that he spent the rest of his life applying bandages to his legs as a result of some complication of the injuries, and I never saw his legs at all when I was a kid.

When he was finally released from hospital, he was given an office job in the Ministry of War (now the Ministry of Defence) in Whitehall, London, and before long, he suspected one of his fellow workers of being a German spy. Spies were everywhere during WW2 - some known about, others not - and they all had impeccable English accents with fake school records, etc. to go with them. It was quite common to settle a vendetta by falsely accusing someone of being a spy, so my dad did a bit of checking up on this one before blowing the whistle.

He never got a chance to blow the whistle, because the German was alerted to his investigations and quickly left the office. The last thing he did before leaving was to put poison in my father's tea.

It seems that this spy was as bad a poisoner as my father was a detective, because he over-dosed him, and dad threw most of it up and survived. My earliest memories of my father was visiting him in hospital, where he was having pieces of artificial stomach-lining sewn in, about 6 years after the war was over.

He ended up surviving my mother and died aged 84, about 20 years ago.

Thanks for everything, Tobe.


  1. An incredible life story Tom.

    Despite the government instilled fear we apparently live with today, I imagine it is nothing compared to those truly dark years during the war.

    Both my Grandfathers fought during the conflict in Europe and N. Africa and both saw many of their mates fall.

    Neither of them really wanted to reminisce about their wartime experiences with an inquisitive boy who had grown up on 60's war films, as the memories were often too distressing.

  2. What a story. I presume that you've inherited his tenacity!

  3. My father didn't want to talk about it either, Chris. All of the above was gleaned from my mother. I only found the photos of the crashed plane - hidden away in an old wallet - after he had died. I wish I had asked him more in the last days.

    I certainly hope so, Cro!

  4. Actually there was a fascinating documentary on BBC4 about the Wellington Bomber the other night. They might repeat (almost certainly with the Beeb) so watch out for it.

    Amazing to see all those women stitching the fabric onto the fuselage.

  5. P.S. I did ask him about the crash once in his 80s, and all he said was, "The pilot just got windy (scared) that's all. He could have landed that plane."

  6. nicely done thomas....
    my father too was in the RAF during the ladder days of the war!

    your Dad has a look of David Niven!
    obviously you take after your mother

  7. Yes, he was a handsome devil, and - I'll have you know - my mother was a fashion model. I don't know what happened to me.

  8. Hearing stories like that gives me goosebumps. That he survived that at all is just amazing and the things that generation went through are just so awful and unbelievable. I know most veterans don't talk about it much. What a turnaround there has been. Nowadays people talk about every little thing publicly.

  9. With my dad dying when I was 17 there is a lot I don't know about him. Most of my memories of him are of a frightened, sick man.
    Just recently though, his family (all still in England) have made contact. Particularly is older sister...I'm looking forward to getting to know my Dad through her eyes and memories.

  10. ladder days?

    bloody hell my eyesight


  11. and I'd thought that was some sophisticated reference to RAF life.

  12. 'Ladder Days' must be some reference to being a little lad, Cro.

    Too true, Raz.

    I hope it's interesting with your new found family, J.

  13. (by which I meant he had to use a ladder... oh, never mind. I was going to make a really bad joke about starting at the bottom.... oh, never mind)

  14. Not sure who the 'rear gunner' reference was aimed at either...

  15. sign
    rear gunners!
    back to a carry on movie again!

  16. And that was a fitting tribute for your father, too, Tom. And yes you're so right - we do have life easy now - a grateful thank you to the sacrifice of those who made our lives so much easier.

  17. Along comes Moll and raises the whole thing to a different level. Just in the nick of time, Moll (is that like the crack of dawn?)

  18. That is such a remarkable story Tom - your Dad obviously had superb survival skills. The accounts of bravery from those days are largely forgotten except by the ones of us who can remember those days. Of course there are similar stories from 'modern' wars - it all makes war seem futile, except that WW2 was an essential war and thanks to men like your Dad - we won.

  19. I don't think all these exploits are forgotten, Weaver. It's just that there were so many of them, that it would be impossible to list them all. 55,564 RAF bombers were lost in action during WW2. Unthinkable.

  20. Your Dad looks like he was a bit of a lad. He must've been born under a lucky star though to survive that crash. Great story as always Tom. x

  21. This is quite a story. What a survivor your father was--handsome too. I don't think I've ever heard of a person rising above so many obstacles in life, one after the other. It sounds like he was truly an unspoken hero, so, Happy Father's Day to him. You wrote a beautiful piece in tribute.