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Old 12th Apr 2012, 21:09
  #2492 (permalink)  
Posts: n/a
Second thoughts.

Now that the end of my training was in sight, and before I finish with Hawarden, I think it might be useful for me, and hopefully interesting to you, for me to look over the last fifteen months for some loose ends I've left, and for things left unsaid which perhaps ought to have ben said.

To begin wth, why did I volunteer for the RAF in the first place? Patriotism is almost a dirty word today, but that was at the heart of it. Of course we were thrilled to have the chance to learn to fly for free (what youngster, even today, wouldn't be?) But deep down we all knew that this was a job which had to be done, and we young men of our generation, who had the fitness and schooling to do it, must step forward, for there was no one else.

We only had to look around at the devastation of our towns and cities, and the massacre of men, women and children in the Blitz. It was our duty to stop this, and we would be less than men if we didn't do it.

Having said that, I must admit that for me (and, I rather suspect, for many others, another less creditable reason may have played some part. We can all laugh now at Corporal Jones ("they don't like it up 'em!") and at the bloodcurdling yells of bayonet practice on TV. But the real thing isn't funny at all.

Can you really envisage what it takes to thrust six inches of cold steel into another human being's guts, twist it so that it doesn't stick (doing still more damage), pull it out and then do it again and again (against all your civilised instincts?) I remember a terrible chapter in "All Quiet on the Western Front", where the German narrator, marooned between the lines in a shellhole with a French poilu, with whom he at first becomes friends, is forced by circumstances to disembowel his new "oppo". (Hitler banned the book in Germany as pacifist propaganda). As usual, Kipling has the words for it:

"I do not love my country's foes / Nor call 'em ''eroes - Still , / Where is the sense in 'ating those / 'Oom you are paid to kill?"

There was a way out: accept the risk of death for yourself, but volunteer for a technical arm like the Air Force or the Navy, where you will kill clinically, at a distance, where you won't see " the whites of his eyes". Was this a form of cowardice? Probably. All I know is, I take my hat off to the PBI, who had to do the dirty work.

I would like to hear what my fellow ex-war PPruners have to say about this.