Jack Fleming joined the RNZAF two weeks after his brother, my other uncle Andy, also a pilot, was killed flying a biplane against Zeros in Malaya. Jack’s first operational flight was in a Stirling bomber, known for its inability to climb above 13,000 feet with bombs aboard. The aircraft was shot down over Germany by a night-fighter; only one of the crew managed to bale out and survive. Jack joined the 1861 New Zealanders who did not return home.
Today a memorial will be unveiled in London’s Green Park to all those brave men. As the Telegraph says:
Of 125,000 aircrew who served in the strategic bomber force between 1939 and 1945, 55,000 were killed and another 18,000 wounded or taken prisoner, a casualty rate of 60 per cent. Statistically, there was no more dangerous occupation during the war, except for that of U-boat crewman. The chance of being killed on a typical operation was one in 20, while the standard “tour” undertaken by a crew consisted of 30 ops. Flak, accident, the prowling, pitiless nightfighters – a completed tour was something to celebrate in the squadron local.
The bravery required to take to the air night after night, as one’s luck drained steadily away, was of a different quality to that required in most other branches of the Armed Forces, where combat was often a short and terrifying interlude to extended periods of inactivity. Turning up over Berlin or the Ruhr for the third or fourth time was not enough to merit an award for gallantry, no matter that it entailed the nightly mastering of fears that inevitably drove some to the wall.