And We Do Remember Them

The Beeb is running two sets of the same type of programmes on air these days, one is named ‘A History of the World in One Hundred Objects’, the other is called ‘Seven Ages of Britain’. Watched a piece of ‘Objects’, and decided it was not for me, but enjoyed ‘Ages. Possibly the presenter, possibly the direction; anyway, you, as always, takes your pick. I was turning the images from both programmes past my mind, and wondered which Web page or Site has influenced my thinking or stuck fast in my memory, of all the pages which I have scanned, since I first became computer literate. Obviously, I could discount the sites visited most frequently, the News sites, the newspapers and online publications, most of the blogs, save A.T.W. and my own small efforts, the business sites such as banking, insurance etc,, as all we want from those is efficiency, and so I fastened upon a page which has remained fastened in my memory, authored by an American named Wally Hoffman.

His story is at once both simple, and extremely complex. He was a tail-gunner in a Boeing B-17 bomber, based at Polebrook airbase, Northamptonshire. On October 14th 1943, 340 of the big bombers, from bases all over the East of England, rose into the sky with the trademark hammering noise of the Wright Cyclone engines blasting at the ground as the waves of heavy aircraft swept across the fields and streams, gaining height towards an operational altitude of 30,000 feet. The formations headed towards Schweinfurt, a city in which was based over two-thirds of all the factories furnishing high-precision ball-bearings for the Nazi war machine. The formations, scarred, blood-soaked, many semi-crippled returned to their bases some ten hours later. Wally’s bomber landed, then as the tail-wheel contacted the runway, it, along with the whole tail structure, broke away from the main fuselage, as it was held on now only by cables and the skin of that legendarily-tough aircraft. I urge you to read the words which give some idea of the hell which those men and boys flew through while completing their missions.

Thirty-odd thousand of Wally’s compatriots died in those long-past years of my childhood, as they fought their aircraft through the flak, the fighters, the cannon-shells and bullets which came against them. Their heroism is acclaimed here in this strangely-touching memorial at Duxford, but no mere building, statue or plaque can give a true record of the debt which we owe to those brave boys who went forward, never to return.

After I read his page a few years back, I contacted Wally, and we exchanged files of our writings; I received a two-page piece of another flight, literally to hell and back, and Wally was kind enough to comment upon a short novel I had written based around the B-17, and war in the skies. I wrote again some months later, and found that Wally had died, time had come around for that warrior who had cheated death in the clouds of war!

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