In Bombing and Coastal Operations I describe a bit about the Bomber Command tour of George Sweanor of Port Hope, Ontario, these days in Colorado Springs. This year George sent us a different take on Christmas — the views of a former RCAF POW, or, “Kriege” (as the fellows called themselves). George’s thoughts arise after more than 65 years of contemplation:
It was a universe not of our making nor of our choosing. Yet is was beautiful and deceptively peaceful in German Silesia that Christmas eve. For a brief moment the moon was alone and silent in the night sky. It softly and kindly illuminated the blanket of snow that hugged our barbed wire and the guard towers as we few survivors of aerial battles, some as long as five years ago, remembered distant homes and better times.
Suddenly, the quiet was shattered by the foreboding wail of sirens, soon followed by the ugly sounds of exploding flak and bombs. Bomber Command and the Luftwaffe were taking and losing young lives and killing or maiming hundreds in their homes while sickening us with a revulsion against all who worshipped the same God, yet saw fit to continue the slaughter even on his birthday.
We all longed to be home with the war a receding memory, yet there was little or no animosity towards the Luftwaffe flak gunners or fighters killing our comrades, while defending their homeland. We were all victims of man’s insanity.
In a way we pitied them. We believed they were fighting a losing and hopeless battle. And they had it so much worse. We, in Bomber Command, were excused further operations on the completion of 60 operations (a fond hope when the life expectancy was only five), but the Germans had to go on until they found “the Hero’s Death”. One of the many was Helmut Lent, who destroyed 110 of our bombers before he found his Hero’s Death in October 1944. Heinz-Wolfgang Schnaufer fought 164 night battles in an Me 110, destroyed 121 of our bombers, survived the war, only to be killed in a car accident. Men, boys really, like these caused us grievous losses, like the night of 30/31 March 1944 when, during a Nurnberg raid, they destroyed 94 of 705 bombers, killing 658 of 4,935 aircrew.
In the end we prevailed, at enormous cost, yet even greater cost to them, but what did we learn? This Christmas our highly-flawed species remains at war. For me, it all seemed so sad when in 1957 I met and became friends with the German who had shot me down in March 1943. I felt that both of us were flanked by the ghosts of lost comrades, created by the inability of our victorious veterans of WWI to prevent inept politicians from setting the stage for WWII, robbing the world of the promise of the war-to-end-all-wars.
In wars it is the military that creates and endures so much suffering. So, in those countries where individual rights are cherished, and where civil authorities control the military, is it not the responsibility of less-restricted veterans associations to speak for the concerns of the military with its enormous stake in world peace, and to ensure that they get at least as much attention as commercial and political interests?