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Battle Of Britain Day And My Father’s War

battle
Battle of Britain Day is 15 September. On that day in 1940, the German Air Force accepted that they could not sustain an air invasion of Britain. They ceased their daytime attacks, and resorted to only attacking at night.
 
 
I just realized today that my father, a soldier in the Canadian Army (whose prime military involvement in the Second World War was the invasion of Sicily and Italy), actually had greater personal hardship from events dealing with the air invasion of Britain, than the acute danger he faced during his land invasion.
 
 
The first thing that comes to mind is that he hated the confinement of bomb shelters, and would not use them. He would wander the streets and watch the air action. He saw bombs explode, and planes (of both sides) get shot down. He recounted one experience of seeing a German pilot parachuting to the ground, after bailing from his plane. A very young soldier aimed his rifle at the descending airman and was ready to shoot. An officer knocked his rifle aside. The soldier started to cry, yelling “They bring me over here, and they train me, but they won’t let me kill a damn German.”
 
 
On one occasion, my father went on leave with a group of soldiers, including his three best buddies. They were always together. However, my father also spent time with my mother (she was a British girl, and became his War Bride). As a result, my father did not return on the same truck that his buddies did, but spent as much time on leave as he could with my mother. When he did return to his barracks, he was greeted by shock and disbelief. The truck he was supposed to return in had been struck by a direct hit from a German bomber. It had just been assumed that one of the mangled corpses was his.
 
 
And the third thing, which I believe he only mentioned once, concerned an incident that happened near one of his British postings. His company was often moved and placed elsewhere during the three years he was in Britain. They would stay in each place a few months, and make friends with the local people. Near one of these postings there was a Boy’s School, mainly of younger teenagers. The boys were interested (indeed, fascinated) by the Canadian soldiers, and spent time with them. One day the school was bombed, and the soldiers were first into the ruined building. My father was eventually to see things more horrible than this slaughter, but I feel it affected him the worst.
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War And The Army And Kafka

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Kafka recorded the beginning of the First World War in his diary this way:

August 2, 1914: Germany has declared war on Russia. Went swimming in the afternoon.

That was it.

But, regardless of his lack of enthusiasm, Kafka believed in the duties of the citizen. He tried to join the army to fight. In fact, he tried to join a number of times. He was always refused because the government deemed his civil/government job was too important for him to relinquish.

But, near the end of the war, when Kafka was so sick he had lengthy periods of leave from his job to recuperate, the army came calling.  Kafka had to appear before authorities with medical proof of his illness.

In my novel, Kafka In The Castle, I ‘fill in’ one of his diary entries describing such a situation.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

07 February 1918

I find I must go to Prague at the end of next week. Such knowledge is proof that one should not open one’s mail. The Military yet again wishes to snare me, and I must once again prove that my hide is not worth the effort.

There were time (very rare) when my father would despair. Not his usual anger at the general incompetence and perfidy of the world around him, but a resignation to the belief that things would never get any better.

“If they want to drag me down,” he would say, “Then I may as well join them. I’ll go out into the street and let myself be swept away by the mob. I’ll become part of their common, grubby life, and let them wipe their boots on me.”

That is much as I feel right now. Let the army take me, dress me in their uniform, point me toward the Americans, and have some cowboy shoot me. Going into battle could be no worse than going into Prague.

[Image] https://www.ndr.de/kultur/buch/tipps/kafka115_v-contentxl.jpg

The Summer Solstice Could Be Bad For Virgins

Thousands Gather To Celebrate Summer Solstice At Stonehenge
I have an odd connection to the Summer Solstice, and it is via Stonehenge. My father guarded the structure, and did so on Midsummer Day.

During the Second World War, it was feared that Germany would invade England. Many of the Canadian soldiers stationed in England were spread in a wide circle around London. An outright invasion would be a do-or-die situation, and Canadian soldiers had it been known to them – without direct orders – that no prisoners were to be taken.

One of the areas put under guard was Stonehenge. Though less so now, at that time Stonehenge was surrounded by vast planes. It was feared the Germans might use these open areas for paratroopers, and also gliders full of troops. Thus the area was defended.

My father was part of this protection, and it so happened that he stood guard duty near Stonehenge itself on Midsummer Day, and watched the sun rise over the monument.

He was aware of the significance of both time and place, as many of his comrades might not be.

Indeed, when he informed them that the Celts, at one time, sacrificed virgins on altars at Stonehenge, they expressed – in more earthy soldier language than I am going to use – “What a waste.”

(Image)https://timedotcom.files.wordpress.com/2015/06/summer-solstice.jpeg

When You’re Commander-in-Chief of The Armed Forces

 

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Brigadier O’Donald decided that it would be a grand day to become Admiral of the Fleet – Lord High Admiral if he chose the hat with cockade and plume.

Nodding jauntily in the air, the plume put on an impressive display, as he either agreed, or disapproved, with a toss, or a shake, of his head. The dancing ostrich feathers would add a dashing air as he boarded his flagship and, with just the right mixture of stringent authority and well- tempered geniality, moved in imperious sweeps among the ranks of ratings on the aft deck.

He would, of course, be extra careful about the pitfalls awaiting a man with ornate dress sword and scabbard, among the steep steps and narrow companionways.

 

Wednesday was khaki day for Brigadier O’Donald.

It was the day set aside to remind him of the loyalty he must always retain from his men, for what was a leader without his troops? And as a treat – for really, the dull brown did not make for a very striking appearance – the would choose the tank commander’s uniform.

With its wide web belt and shiny black holster on the hip, flap unsnapped to reveal the butt of a wicked forty-five. And of course the black leather gloves, as befits a man at the controls of so much power, and the steel helmet polished to a mirror-shine.

The riding crop? Ah, the riding crop was debatable.

 

Today would have a parade. Massed men at attention with stiffly held rifles and fixed bayonets.

Brigadier O’Donald would have to choose carefully to represent his awesome power and responsibility. Cavalry boots are a must, raising half-way up the calf and resounding with silver spurs, steel-tipped toes and heels.

Then would come crisp black trousers, billowing majestically around the thighs, and kept up with a wide leather belt. He took care that each red stripe reaching the length of each leg was as straight as an arrow.

His blue tunic, he decided, would have only muted decorations and the minimum of gold braid entwined about his shoulders. He was – after all – a fighting general.

 

A civic reception is the time when Brigadier O’Donald would be on close display.

He believes he is at his most effective  when draped completely in white, save – of course – for his highly polished black dress shoes (and, in truth, he favoured white even here, but feared such footwear was a trifle effeminate). White is striking by itself, but well he knew it made the perfect background for his medals and decorations.

He has trouble deciding upon which colour sash to wear across his chest, but finally chooses the emerald-green – the reception is in the public gardens. He dons his silver-visored cap, and graces his bosom with the blue Clustered Palm of Valour; the diamond centered Star of Courage; the gold Pyramid of the Oaken Grove; and seven rows of bars and campaign medals.

There are no visiting Heads of State, so he need not be too brilliant.

(image)https://i.pinimg.com/736x/ee/45/d9/ee45d9f61c0565960954885a7fa1c292–ww-history-military-history.jpg

You’re In The Army Now

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Bus rides do give one time to observe people – particularly a bus trip longer than one might want to take.

So, I had time on my hands to observe the fellow across the aisle. I’ll take a guess at early thirties, well-dressed, though well-dressed for travel on a bus. He had a fashionable pea coat, tailored jeans, and rugged dressy boots or dressy rugged boots. He was of slender but muscular build, with short hair and a chiseled face.  The man exuded military.

He had a neatly appointed carry bag for his food stuffs. It seemed each compartment had its own designation. There was one for sandwiches, one for granola bars, one for fruit. There was even a compartment for a slender, space age-looking thermos. I am not certain what it might have held.

When he used his iPhone, though I was too far away to actually read anything, I noted  the cycle of images he went through.  There was a deep red shield with a crest and wings; a large silver image of vertical slashing lightning bolts; and a photo of an almost-smiling attractive brunette. Whatever messages he sent seemed to consist of only a couple of lines of text, all done with his thumb.

About half way through the trip he took a book from another case. It was large enough to read the title across the aisle. It was “Merry Hell: The Story of the 25th Battalion (Nova Scotia Regiment), Canadian Expeditionary Force, 1914-1919” .

No, I wasn’t able to read all that from across the aisle, but a book search of key words led me to it a few minutes ago. And a fitting tale, think I, for a military chap.

When the bus reached its destination, he kindly indicated that I could precede him to disembark. For which I thanked him. And, as I waited to get my luggage, I saw him embraced – fulsomely – by the attractive brunette on his iPhone. A smiling brunette. An embrace he, as-fulsomely, returned.

 

 

On Guard At Stonehenge For The Summer Solstice

salisbury-stonehenge

I do find it grand to have such this connection to the Celts, about whom I have written three novels.

During World War Two, my father had the unique experience of guarding Stonehenge. Not by himself, of course, there were other members of the Canadian Army with him.

The vast plains around Stonehenge were utilised by the military in both world wars. During the First War, the area was a training ground for troops from various countries. There were many encampments for recruits, with both basic training and preparations to train for the trench warfare awaiting on the continent. There were thousands and thousands of men, and huge amounts of supplies.

During the Second War, the area was used as staging ground for the D-Day invasion. There was great security, and as much secrecy as possible. Soldiers were in place to guard the perimeter.

So, my father found himself not only guarding Stonehenge, but doing so on Midsummer Morn, when the sun rose over the monument.
He was a learned man – a school teacher – and versed in the history of the place. He knew of the Celts and the Druids and some of the mythology. He knew this was sacred ground and that Midsummer Morn was especially important.
He might have paused and tried to look into the past, and see more in the morning mist than was actually there. I do not know.

He did, however, when their shift was over and they got to eat, tell the other soldiers of the history of the place.
He mentioned that, during such celebrations by the Celts, the Druids might have a virgin killed to appease the gods.
They were aghast.

“What a waste,” said one
.
DE
(image)//media-cdn.tripadvisor.com/media/photo-s/02/e1/1d/c3/salisbury-stonehenge.jpg

 

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