The headline above is not something you see very often, I suppose.
No, this isn’t going to be an apologetic for Mr Hitler, so stick with me if you can.
I caught a glimpse of my father yesterday even though he died almost three years ago. I was walking past a shop window when thought I saw him. But it wasn’t. It was my own reflection. We have always looked very similar. What was more of a shock was I looked old. That wasn’t me, surely? I don’t look like that in my mind. I’m not a man of my age… I’m a man of well..someone much younger’s age.
This week is the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain (July to October 1940) and I am always in awe of the courage and skill of those pilots and crew. My dad would have been 93 on July 15th. During WW2 he operated as an electrician (a Sparks) on Lancaster bombers. He told me many tales about the R.A.F. and things he and his mates got up to but I suppose the fact that remained with me most is that rear gunners in the tail of a bomber usually had a life expectancy of only three weeks, or five operations, in his experience. He said that the R.A.F. attracted new recruits by offering a Sergeant’s pay straight away. You would think that applicants would have been wary of such ‘high’ pay and made enquiries of how dangerous the job was but men applied, served and died regardless. Obviously the R.A.F. kept under wraps how fragile a rear gunner’s existence was, or many men were just really courageous. According to Yorkshire Air Museum, 20,000 rear gunners lost their lives during WWII. (The mention of Yorkshire links in again later in this article.)
The danger came from the fact that enemy planes always swept in from the rear when attacking a bomber to take out the main gun displacements first. The bombers did not have the manoeuvrability of fighter planes so relied a lot on the swivelling glass turrets containing the guns placed on top of the fuselage and in the tail. Once they were gone the bomber was virtually helpless. The bomber might still survive the mission but usually one of the gunners was dead or injured. On the other hand, a lot of the rear gunners survived the war. Perhaps they were the really good shots or just lucky.
So, why thank goodness for Hitler? Let me tell you a story.
It was in the city of Sarajevo, in June 28, 1914, that a chain of events happened that started World War One. On that day, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria attended a military review – but during the visit a group of Serbian terrorists had lined the proposed car route with the intention of assassinating the Archduke and other officials.
The group were stationed at various intervals along the roads so that if one attempt failed another could be made. What happened almost bordered on farce because after several failed attempts the Archduke was still alive but one bomb thrown by man called Čabrinović had damaged the car behind Franz Ferdinand’s vehicle, resulting in his chief security advisor, Erik von Merizzi becoming injured by shrapnel. He was taken to hospital.
Leaving the damaged car behind, the convoy sped up to reach City Hall, where the next assassination event was planned. As the two cars drove past them, with Franz Ferdinand in plain sight, the three remaining assassins, including nineteen year-old Gavrilo Princip, failed to react and missed their chance again. Princip was a nationalist that wanted the Austro-Hungarian Empire out of Bosnia.
Subsequently, Franz Ferdinand wished to check on the wounded Merizzi but the Archduke’s driver took a wrong turn on the way to the hospital. When he tried to correct his error, he drove up another street and once again inadvertently placed Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie, directly in front of Princip, who was dispirited about missing his chance before to make history. With his quarry suddenly before him, the teenager closed his eyes and fired two shots with his Browning 9 mm pistol: both fatal. One felled Franz Ferdinand while the other killed Sophie. Within minutes both victims were dead. Princip was grabbed by police immediately, while five of the six assassins were in custody within hours.
While the murder of Ferdinand was the immediate catalyst for the declarations of war that followed, a patchwork of mutual defence alliances made throughout Europe meant that if one country was attacked, another was likely to defend them. Britain was allied to Belgium by an old treaty and so when Germany made war with Belgium, a reluctant Britain was drawn in. Within a month and a half, Europe’s five major powers were at war.
From the ruins of WW1, Germany was ripe for transformation as their economy had collapsed. Hitler gained power through his National Socialist German Workers’ Party (Nazi) and as we all know eventually went to war with Europe in 1939. If WW1 had not occurred, WW2 would probably never have happened because Hitler would not have had a platform on which to mount his claim for power.
I mentioned Yorkshire above. Well, if WW2 had not happened my father would not have joined the RAF and been called to do his training in Yorkshire. There, he was billeted near my grandmother’s house and met my mother when returning their lost dog.
So, like many others I suspect, I owe my life to a driver who took a wrong turning and Adolf Hitler’s ruthless evil. Additionally, so do my children and grandchildren.The irony of many people losing their lives so we might have ours is not lost on me.
I don’t know whether a butterfly flapping its wings somewhere in the world can cause a hurricane some weeks later or not but one thing is certainly true; whatever actions we take today can linger in eternity.
K. L. Freeman.