Wednesday, 21 March 2012
It always helps to try and put things in perspective when you’re not feeling 100% with the world. Sometimes this can be achieved when you chat with others who have experienced extraordinary events. On Wednesday, I had the immense pleasure and privilege to interview a Polish/Brazilian Second World War veteran and his story (like all the veterans I have spoken with) was inspiring. He was a third-generation Polish Brazilian, studying agri-economy when the war broke out. In 1941, an English friend of his was presented with call-up papers. This spurred the interviewee and his brother to join up as well. They left Brazil in secrecy going via Uruguay and then Argentina and, from there, on to the UK. In Britain, both he and his brother did basic training in what became the Polish 1st Armoured Division. However, both were soon accepted for the Polish air force. Short of tail gunners, the chap I interviewed was trained for this position straight away, while his brother went on to become a Mosquito aircraft pilot. For those who don’t know, the tailgunner’s location was possibly the worst on a bomber. On his own, he was in a position that the enemy would frequently target first. He had to keep his eyes peeled all of the time and remain fully alert throughout the mission, which could sometimes last 8 hours or more. The interviewee told me of occasions when they would fly through the flak and he would here the rattle of shrapnel against the airframe. Larger chunks would tear through the panels, a frequent and potentially lethal hazard. He engaged enemy aircraft on a number of occasions and told me about how they would approach and fill up the gun target. He did 32 missions (two were rejected missions) and was then stood down to teach gunnery, which was standard air force practice. After this, he was trained to be a pilot; he proved so adept that he was sent on an instructors’ course and finished the war teaching others how to fly. Sadly, his brother died in a take-off accident in 1944. I often think about the ages of these men when they faced such fearsome pressures – they were mostly in their late teens and early 20s. It’s truly inspirational. I should add that he also told me about the moments of fun they had. While he was a tailgunner he made friends with some Canadian chaps serving in a neighbouring squadron. They would go to the local pub and play a game called ‘Chug-a-lug’. This involves drinking a double whiskey with a pint as a chaser – all down in one, with no pausing. If you paused you had to buy everyone a round. Naturally, this was a game that ended up with everyone roaringly drunk!
Wednesday, 22 February 2012
Things are toodling along fine I suppose. I've just got over a burst of bronchitis, which was hellish. I'm still not 100% and wake up in the mornings feeling groggy and have coughing fits every now and hen. TB lite is not fun! More positively, I was able to interview two Polish WW2 veterans. The first fought at Monte Cassino in Italy; he was very much at the sharp end, witnessing a lot of death and destruction. He was also very young, just 18. Again and again, I wonder how these people were able to maintain focus amongst so much suffering. The second veteran was in the Polish navy, which is fantastic because I've been unable to find anyone who served on the high seas. There might be a few other veterans still to speak to, although I now feel myself wanting to shift to the writing phase - the hardest part - more and more. Perhaps I'll try and get to 30 witnesses and then move forward.
Sunday, 29 January 2012
Well it's been a long time and a great deal has happened over the intervening months. My journey is discussed on my blog Canada Eh? So I'm starting to settle in to my new life in the Great White North; and it is indeed very cold. Meanwhile, my project to chat with Polish veterans looks like it will gather pace as I've made good friends with a Polish society and veterans’ branch here. I'm really looking forward to chatting with some of the contacts they have possibly lined up. The work on my interviews has gone well, although progress is slow. There are two reasons for this. My own lethargy and the lack of time. I'd say it was the former rather than the latter that is the more problematic. I must contact some of the veterans I spoke with back in the UK and ask if they can supply any photos of themselves when they were young. I've got a couple but it would be nice to have a more full set to accompany the interviews. I'm also going to try and come up with some articles for a British magazine called Military History Monthly. This could be a good opportunity to get some extra pin money and keep my name in type. I'll have to come up with some good pitches. Finally, I'm frustrated by my inability to get hold of the webmaster of Firstworldwar.com. I'm annoyed that under his new format 1) my name is shoved at the bottom of the articles I wrote as though it was a footnote and 2) I'm not overly happy that the site is now plastered with adverts - some of which link to my work which I gave gratis. I've tried contacting him, but so far incommunicado... Basically, I’m fine with him continuing to use my work but think that I should have at least more of a byline in an obvious place. A link to my website would not go amiss. After all, if you google up Xmas Truce or Horses in World War One, it is my articles on firstworkdwar.com that come up first (just under the inevitable wiki entry). So quid pro quo…