Veterans of the famous Dam Buster mission will meet for what may be the last time to mark the 65th anniversary of their daring and complicated WWII mission.
My grandfather was in the RAF during the war, and though he died shortly after I was born, I grew up with tales of wartime dering-do courtesty of my grandmother. As a boy, I painted countless models of Spitfires (and Stukas, it must be said), read Reach for the Sky several times, and Graham Wallace’s excellent history of Biggin Hill. I have a first edition of that, belonging to my grandfather, and with my name inscribed on the title page by my grandmother when she gave it to me, then aged seven. I see copies can now be had for a penny on Amazon.
And of course, The Dam Busters was one of my favourite films, and, having recently found it on DVD in a sale bin at Tescos, I plan to watch it tonight.
But, enough of my nostalgic warbling and couch-potato plans.
What struck me earlier when I read a report about the anniversary on the BBC website was the subheading and paragraph:
It shouldn’t be forgotten that hundreds of civilians died that night as floodwaters washed down the valleys below the dams, sweeping aside farms and villages.
Now, I feel uneasy about this observation. First of all, we’re talking about WWII here, where almost the entire world was in a state of “total war“. Horrible as it is, civillian deaths were almost a given at that time. Is elevating this information from footnote to bold subheading the first step towards applying a dubious and revisionist anachronism? Secondly, I fear how soon it may be until we start debating whether those heroic airmen (including the more than one third who did not return from this mission) were in fact war criminals?
The prospect of this looming discourse fills me with dread: the mutterings of an ungrateful generation who no nothing of what it took to stop the march of Fascism.
I can’t help it. Another memory. This time of my grandmother berating the teenage me for putting more cheese on my sandwich than they would have had for a week “during the war”. I remember my smart-alec replies at the time with shame. What can someone of my generation really have to say to these surviving old-timers, these heroes, except “thank you”?