No writing home

Most of the crews of Bomber Command fought an unending battle with fear during their tours. Here, three pilots recall the fractured life between warm, summer afternoons spent playing cricket and the nightly hell over Germany:

“I was not troubled in my conscience because we were fighting a very ruthless enemy. We all knew this. Our families were home behind us and we were rather like a crusader with his sword in front of them. My thoughts at the time were that I have a family, and a bigger family – the public – and I was going to do my damnedest to stop the Germans coming across.”

Wing Commander,
Rod Rodley DSO DFC AE, Bomber Command website

‘It was a Jekyll and Hyde existence really, and it was funny to just ride around your bike among the fields, and think, well, it’s not many hours since we were in another, completely different world. And probably thinking maybe just once or twice about friends who hadn’t come back. It was a schizophrenic life really. You had to have two caps, one to enjoy yourself and one to get serious.’
Roy MacDonald (as quoted on BBC History site)

‘When the flight crews arrived in the Mess you got an idea from their general behaviour and attitude how long they would last. We would bet among ourselves – “Oh, he’ll make it” or “He won’t make it”. Sitting in a corner writing home was not the sort of thing the average chap did. There were too many things to do to worry about your mother. The young marrieds were the ones who suffered most. We just enjoyed ourselves in our free time. We loved flying. There were sadder times, if a crew didn’t return. One night we lost three aeroplanes, 21 people. There was the ritual of moving their kit from the room. Not 24 hours later, or even less, a truck would come through the gates with the new crews to replace those lost. They would come into the Mess where those who had been on the Squadron for a month or two were considered old hands.

I don’t think we worried about it at the time. We had a job to do. Our role was flying aeroplanes to do whatever we could for the war effort. Of course, one never got to know people for any length of time. On the Squadron we knew that it was short-lived, that we would move on if we survived to the end of our tour. We sorted out our friends. The loners, the ones who sat writing letters home, these were the ones that didn’t seem to last. The ones who enjoyed life, who seemed a bit juvenile at times, survived. My best friend on the Squadron survived with me. There were others that I knew very well who were killed. That was Mess life. Squadron life. It was an odd feeling – I could look back and think I was very hard, that people were hard, but they weren’t really. It was a matter of accepting it. This is what happened in war.”

Maurice Chick,
Bomber Command Pathfinder pilot

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One response to “No writing home

  • Amy Scott

    I think it striking that in Chick’s opinion a sense of childish fun helped the men survive. When he says that the loners writing letters to their mothers didn’t make it I can only think that I would have been one of those poor fellows! When he says those fellows didn’t seem to “last” does he mean that they were more likely to be killed? Is youthful bravado really that helpful when one is in the air? Does it mean the difference between life and death? From Chick’s description, it sounds like being a pilot/bomber etc was rather like being at a summer camp from hell. I can still remember sobbing into Snuffles each night at that dreadful camp I went to in Grade Six.

    And yet, as these men observe, they felt they were protecting not just their families, but their entire country. That sense that the safety of the nation (of the Western world) hung in the balance, must have been a great motivator. You can miss your Mother dearly while away at camp, but perhaps it is easier when you understand that your presence there is actually helping protect her, and all other mothers.

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