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Oct 18, 2017, 08:20 AM
What could possibly go wrong?
Thread OP

Veteran Pilots

Hi, I sometimes really stretch the boundaries of off-topic, and something came up on Club Saito that I'd like to continue if anyone's interested, so here's a place for that. I have a neighbour who was a fighter and bomber pilot, and bomber navigator, in WW2, single engined fighters (I don't know what off-hand so I'll ask him again before I try and specify what types) and definitely Beaufort bombers. Of course I'm fascinated to know whatever he'd like to say about flying those classic types, but actually I like the guy in his own right, not just because he's a flyer. He's a genuinely good bloke. I offered to come and help out with things he can't easily do himself, such as lifting or climbing ladders. He's still pretty game and doing remarkably well for a chap in his 90's, but he knows what'd happen if he fell off a ladder so he's wise enough to ask for help when he needs it, and it's a great excuse to have a chat with a nice, interesting fella.

We stopped and had a nice quiet beer, and he likes to chat but of course I always wish he'd tell me all about aircraft (I know better than to ask him to talk about the war, like most actual vet's I've met who were expected to take lives as part of their duty, he simply won't talk about it). But he knows I love my RC planes, and I said hold on, I'll go grab my laptop and show you some videos, and he was interested to see. I showed him some favourites, like the B-25 with twin Moki radials (really screams, that one, I wonder if it's really a bit big and heavy for those engines) and a big Corsair. I've never seen him so happy and animated as when he saw those. He said the sound of them really took him back and just about made him want to dive for the air raid shelter! He said it with a laugh but I had to wonder if there wasn't actually a little bit of bad memory in there too.

People like him are treasures, but he doesn't want to be treated that way, just as my neighbour like anybody else. And he is good company. He liked the model videos so much he's determined now to come along to the RC club's open day in November when all the best models are there, I'd be delighted to show him around. Someone suggested it'd be good to have him meet some younger people, maybe in their teens, I've never been a parent (and I'm old enough now that I don't think it'd be fair on a child to have a dad that old, I'll be 50 in a few more years) but I have a friend with twin sons, 15, who are in fact both interested in the RAAF. Jimmy downstairs in my building would be the ideal person for them to talk to about it (if you didn't know, I'm posting from Australia and my neighbour flew for the RAAF).

I'd be more than happy for anyone who would like to, to contribute whatever they think is relevant about warbirds, veterans, pilots or whatever you think goes with any of that. The floor is yours.
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Oct 18, 2017, 01:07 PM
nigelsheffield's Avatar
My wife's grandfather was in the second world war, being a Yorkshireman he loved to talk about it to anyone who would listen, most of the family had heard it all before so when I went to see him he was happy because I actually listened to what he said lol!

But I never pushed him to talk and he NEVER mentioned killing of any sort and I could see from the way he would go quiet ( for a few seconds lol ) now and then when mentioning a name of a friend who obviously "never made it" and more from what he did not say that the whole thing had affected him deeply, he found religion and never failed to go to church and made sure his whole family did too....

He was some sort of special forces and a lot of what he did was never to be talked about but one of his most talked about adventures was with a priest who he escorted behind enemy lines and he kept in touch with that priest till the day he died ( well into his 90s ).

I've met various other veterans over the years and their stories are always interesting and they are themselves always down to earth people who would do anything to help anyone in need and seem to take everything in their stride, I guess having gone through what they have puts everything else into perspective...
Though he did say God help us once when talking about terrorism and the fact that the terrorists are living here already but that's another topic alltogether...

Won't be many of them left soon and we should never forget what they sacrificed for us , it is nice that you are looking out for your neighbor and I hope that inspires others to look around them and do the same if they are lucky enough to get the chance!
Oct 18, 2017, 02:12 PM
What could possibly go wrong?
Thread OP
(EDIT - I had a couple of things I really had to talk about. Sorry if it doesn't seem appropriate for RCG but that's why I kept if for my personal blog. I encourage others to contribute too).

Thanks Nigel, you know, really it makes me feel lucky, not like I do chores for him but I *get* to help him out so I can spend some time with him. I know exactly what you mean about that going quiet for a few seconds, no doubt he's experiencing some memories that mean a great deal. At his age (I think he's 94 or so now) old Jimmy certainly makes it clear he regards the richly experienced life he's led as a privilege. No I'd never prod him to talk about those painful moments, it's disrespectful, and I guess one of the reasons he keeps quiet about those things is to pay his own respects. It's hard to lose people you love, it happens to us all sooner or later but to have to have it happen to you so many times together in war, when you're all young and in it together and they're your mates, well, I can't imagine it. For my age I had lost a lot of people quite young but not in those circumstances. So yes, they literally did sacrifice so much for us, and they did it for that reason to, knowing that the stakes were high. What if the Nazis or the boneheads of the Imperial Japanese Army, Navy and Air-force in those days had won? As if the suffering wasn't terrible and massive enough already, it would only have been even worse and all the more widespread, and that generation of people serving knew what they were fighting for. Many volunteered, they knew what they wanted to do, and they went off and laid their lives on the line to do it. You've got to admire it.

It must be so chilling for those who fought in those conflicts against tyranny now to see ISIS and what's happening in some places in the world today. Even within our own borders, I won't point the finger specifically at anyone but it seems to me that authoritarianism is making a comeback, governments use our "safety" as an excuse to take away more and more of those hard-won freedoms for their convenience and to gain more and more power, and while conservative politics has its strong points and many supporters who know what they're doing, I also think it's dangerous. It's just a matter of degree before that turns into the opposite of the democracy and freedom we cherish, or all to often take for granted.

Well, sorry to get carried away, but I believe all that stuff, and I believe that ordinary people who went away to war, maybe not even fully understanding why they had to do it, really did something very fine for all of us. I think it's our duty to preserve what they won, and not let it slowly erode and slip away insidiously from within, while we're pre-occupied looking without for new threats. Surely the threats within are just as bad, if not so obvious. I'm far more worried about being punished for "thought-crime" by the political correctness brigades than being bombed by ISIS. It's not a foreign threat or a terrorist who's going to take away my quality of life (or continue to), it's going to be my very own government of MY country. It disgusts me and is the exact opposite of what those people died for, who these old veterans go silent to remember.

There are some sad things about these veterans I'd like to get off my chest. Jimmy, my pilot neighbour, had been away with family for 3 months then came home again one Sunday about a year ago. I live in a multi-storey block of flats, Jimmy used to live on the 3rd floor like I do. It's an old crappy cheap building, with many illegal short-cuts taken in construction in 1960 that they're having to fix now. The elevator only has doors every 2nd floor, but in between floors where there is one, so you either have to go up or down a half flight of stairs from the lift to your floor if you use it. Now, Jim's doing alright for a nonogenarian but there are risks. Poor old fella get tangled in his walking stick coming down those stairs, literally before he'd even got in the door after coming back after 3 months away, and fell down the stairs. You know what these falls can be like for old folks. He got a terrible split to the scalp and a crack in his skull and I believe cracked a rib, too. It was a Sunday and the street fair happened to be on, and the only people left on my floor that day at that time were me and him. I'd been bumming around inside all day till 4pm and just happened to have opened the door that moment to come out when he fell, or nobody would have been there to help. I'll spare you the details but he was in a bad way, and I dread to think what might have happened if I hadn't just happened to be there that very moment. He hasn't got enough voice or wind left to call out loudly for help and he was really hurt. That's when we really became friends, I got the ambulance for him and let them in the building. Poor old boy was really upset. I just remembered he cracked his kneecap too, now that really hurts like anything. Still upsets me to think about it, it shouldn't have happened.

He's on a veteran's pension and it's just not enough. They deserve better, they're supposed to be looking after the returned services. On the one hand we get these flashy TV ad's telling us to be thankful for what they did for us, then they don't give them what they should. I say these folks should be given whatever it takes to look after them, gratis, but it's poverty-level support. It's really not right, and I wonder if it's really as good as they were promised. Apart from anything else I thought those pilots were officers - so that's what they got in retirement. Nowadays we're expected to save for our own old age but in his day there was a pension waiting for those who worked and served all their lives. I know others feel very differently about this, but that's my view. I won't argue with anyone who has their own good reasons to see it differently, but that's just the way I see it myself.

There's another bloke nearby, served in Vietnam. Raymond, he's much younger than Jimmy obviously, and doesn't live in this block but another one just nearby. He spends most of his time with his old lady friend in the block next door, and he's not ageing as well as Jimmy is. He'd be 70 or about that, I think. He's almost blind, and he doesn't walk so much as totter. He's getting a little eccentric, but never says boo to anyone, barely a word, certainly he's no trouble to anyone. Late at night, well after midnight, he often totters all the way down to McDonalds and buys a cup of soft drink and slowly makes his way home. Doesn't drink alcohol at all. I've been a night worker all my life and happened to be out late a couple of weeks ago, and honestly I thought I saw a dumped bag of rubbish in our driveway, but a soft voice said "can you help me please", and I realised it was Ray. He won't admit it but it's pretty plain he got mugged. He said he got dizzy and fell over... and got a black eye, broken rib, teeth knocked out, no, that doesn't happen falling over. But like Jim his head was split right open and he was lying in a pool of his own blood, it was awful, and very sad. Anyway I couldn't manage him alone, too big and heavy, so I called a mate from next door. This is about 2am and he wasn't happy about it but he did come and help (now I think about it he's ex-army himself). First thing he asked me was, is he drunk? But Ray doesn't drink. We didn't realise at that stage that someone had rolled him, it just looked like a fall, but something was wrong, he could stand up but not straight, like his inner ear was hurt. He kept leaning way over and would have fallen again. We were trying to get him to his lady friend's flat nearby but it was clear he couldn't do it.

I called the ambulance. Man, what a palaver... the woman on the phone kept arguing with me that the address I gave as the scene of the accident wasn;t the address coming up on her screen for my phone number. No of course not! I'm not home! That's the address where the patient is! "But that's not what's coming up on my screen, sir". She wasn't going to send an ambulance, for that reason, I had to ask for her supervisor and argue with him. And this is after the computer phone menu - "if... you ... require... police... presss. ... 1... ... ... ... NOW... if... you ... require... :"and so on. Aargh! The woman on the phone asked me not IF he was drunk, but how much had he had to drink tonight. As did the supervisor. As did the ambulance crew. As did the police who then came. Each time, I, the neighbour who DID help (unlike two more), and Raymond told them he doesn't drink at all, they just assumed he did and shoved a breathalyzer in his mouth and demanded a test before they'd do anything about looking at his wounds. It was just a further disrespect and a delay when the man needed help. We owe these guys... and this is what they get.

Before my mate came over, two young girls, more neighbours, came home in a taxi. They'd be between about 18 and 20 y.o. I asked for help because I couldn't handle him myself. They know who he is, but wouldn't help. One said, there's a phone box down the road, and that was as much help as they were prepared to give. I got so angry, I just abused them. I called out, I hope one day it's you lying in a pool of your own blood in the dirt by the side of the road begging for help and nobody comes for you... I said worse things too, it really offended me. If it happens that way I'll know exactly what to say - "there's a phone box down the road, call someone who give a .... about YOU". But, even though they disgusted me, in reality I don't think I could really do that. How can you just walk on by? It HAS been me lying by the side of the road, unable to help myself, hurt and in pain, actually I broke two vertebrae in my neck and for 3 days I believed I was paralysed. I was VERY lucky, the spinal cord was swollen and bruised but not severed. I walked out, basically, and it changed my perspective. But that's another story. What counts is that it made me realise some things.

What it taught me was things that I think veterans understand - that without someone to step in and intervene, people cannot always get by by themselves. You might be rich, big and strong, well catered for, but you still might find yourself out of your depth. Like, say, Poland did in 1939, invaded by armies under the command of some very dangerous people. Others today live under terrible conditions... how'd you like to have been born in Syria and live there now, or maybe Somalia, or Romania under Ceausescu (yes I had to look up the spelling). In Australia we feared invasion by Japan, and rightly so knowing what was done to Nanking for instance, or the people of places in the Pacific, the list goes on.

That's what people like Jimmy and Ray were sent to do something about. I don't know if they volunteered or what (I don't think many conscripts ended up with fighter and bomber pilot qualifications, as far as I know but by all means please correct me if anyone knows better). They did their jobs. Maybe even volunteered. I think it's very brave. I really hated seeing Jimmy get hurt, I like the old boy. But knowing what really happened to Ray, and he's too frightened to even say anything, really makes my heart sink. Aren't some people just... just... ahh what can you say. This is why I really like animals better than people, on balance. There are some truly wonderful people out there and I've met some gems, but overall I think I like non-humans better. If it weren't for quality folks like these two good neighbours of mine, I'd lose faith. Gotta help em out.

Sorry for the length of this and I know it's a bit of a rant, but it's got to be said. Soon, their stories will only be memories of others, not living, breathing people who were there and took part in those great history-making times gone by. Gotta treasure what we have.
Last edited by BernardW; Oct 18, 2017 at 02:28 PM.
Oct 18, 2017, 03:17 PM
nigelsheffield's Avatar
Yep it's a sad state of affairs for the veterans that's for sure, similar situation here I'm ashamed to say.

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