For some, the Second World War is history. For others, it is a part of their lives. Regardless of who you are, you can learn something from history, and right now, specifically from those who helped turn the tide of war away from the shores of England.
It is fairly well known that the Battle of Britain was an important battle in the timeline of the Second World War, in that Hitler’s planned advance into the British Isles was halted. This is significant because it showed the world that the Nazi war machine was not all-powerful. The reason for this halt in German war operations is due to the efforts of the Royal Air Force pilots.
While writing my book Unguarded, I researched some personal accounts (mostly through the BBC) of those who joined up in the fight in order to get a real idea of what it was like to stand up to evil in that way. Drawing from accounts of those who joined both before and after the blitz of 1940, I found that the experience was rooted very much in the idea that community and collective strength would allow the British forces to overthrow their enemy. And not just community and collective strength across the ranks of soldiers and pilots, but also on the home front—between civilian men, women, and children. The firefighters, the constables, the auxiliary workers, and everyone in between would help when and where they could, however they could. This was how the blitz was beaten on the ground.
Persevering through the relentless bombardment of the Luftwaffe, and having the wherewithal to continue the fight back over the Channel and into enemy territory, proved that the British people stood behind their fighting men and women in the skies. It also proved that the people believed in the fighting cause which, in turn, helped those doing the fighting to believe as well. Fighting for one’s country was the fuel that fed the fire in the hearts of those who felt the need to join in that fight.
The support of the armed forces, notably the R.A.F., was fantastic. In one account, the author tells of when he joined up and stated that his boss gave him his outstanding weeks’ pay and even threw in a pound out of his own pocket. Wishing him luck, the boss inherently was telling the author to “go get ‘em.” In another account, this one from after the blitz, the author tells of the community between himself and those in his unit. He tells of doing things together as a unit, such as viewing instructional films on gas warfare and security, eating meals in the mess hall, and to church. Private matters were always dealt with as a group. This level of camaraderie goes to show that the notion of “get the back of the man next to you, and he’ll do the same” really meant something to the pilots of the R.A.F.
There were many instances where pilots were shot down and survived to fly another day. One account I researched, found in the book Ten Fighter Boys, told of a time when the pilot was shot down in a dogfight in the skies above England. His plane crashed and he survived, being taken in and cared for by a local man who witnessed the plane fall from the sky. The next day, the pilot was able to contact his superiors and was picked up by the M.P.s soon after and taken back to his aerodrome. The pilot’s tone when telling this story was as if it was no big deal—just part of the job. To me, that’s amazing!
It is hard to imagine doing anything abnormal to everyday life, unless you actually experience it one way or another. With regards to R.A.F. pilots, I can say with confidence that they experienced a great deal of emotions and thoughts while up in the air, something that people who aren’t pilots will never fully understand. Imagine the adrenaline coursing through their veins as the rush of excitement pumped their blood. Imagine the G-forces pushing and pulling against the pilots as they chased down enemy planes, all the while unleashing a fury of lead bullets in their direction. Imagine the relief they felt when they returned from a mission and safely landed at their aerodromes. And this was something people volunteered for, which again goes to show just how important it was in that time.
The events of the Second World War forever changed the world as we know it today, and will have a ripple effect even farther for years to come. It was certainly a different time back then, rather set apart from the world of today in many ways. It is my hope that the history of that time period will never be forgotten or unstudied. For to understand ourselves and where we came from, we have to understand the past.
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