R.I.P Uncle Jack

Written By: - Date published: 1:19 am, June 28th, 2012 - 7 comments
Categories: disaster, war - Tags:

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.

7 comments on “R.I.P Uncle Jack”

  1. prism 1

    My father was another NZ airman who didn’t come home and only one man from his Lancaster bomber survived. Thomas More of Scotland did the hard job of writing a letter of condolence to my mother and perhaps had to do this compassionate duty for each of the crew, all of whom were Brits, apart from Dad. He now lies beneath a cross in Toule, France in a carefully cared for orchard of crosses. He was writing without much hope at the end of the Grim Reaper getting him.

    I miss that I don’t remember him but believe that he died in an essential fight for a decent civilisation after the World War 2 agony. The older I get, the more I read and observe brings me to that conclusion. The allies fought against awful dark forces that threatened to sweep away in the whole world, all human advances of ethics etc that had been adopted. We know that all sides in a war are brutalised but the result of not winning the war would have taken us down to below animal behaviour. My father and the others who went to war weren’t just defending the UK as some might think.

    • Bored 1.1

      It is sad you grew up without a father. I was born post war to a father who saw action from 1942 through to the end of the Korean war, then came home. When we were kids the ultimate nasties were the Nazis, Hilter the ultimate bogeyman. I don’t know who fills that role with today’s children, maybe some comic book baddy?

      When I studied history (among other things) the facts were given but the tools for interpretation left very under the covers. For example I discovered Marx’s relations to production after studying industrial history, it would have been very useful as an interpretative tool earlier, but the teachers either did not know it or deliberately avoided it. As a result of reading mainline “authorities” (such as Adam Smith on economics, Trevelyan on imperialism etc) I got attracted to the alternate sources (such as Gramsci, Marx, Veblen, Bakunin etc). Leads me to one conclusion: nobody has a monopoly on the truth.

      On your conclusion as to why our parents fought WW2 I have to agree, the winners prevented us from a darker result for which they have my gratitude. My readings above throw the whole thing into a different light however, the themes that pervade history of empire, hegemony, class conflict, economic advantage / disadvantage, etc etc run strongly through the whole story of the last century up till today. So many parallel and interweaving streams.

      For today I worry that we have gone full circle on the “golden age of Liberalism” that lead to the First War and that the same genies that lead to Hitler, Stalin, etc are going to be let out of the bottle once more. And to be literary in a common garden manner, seems the US picked up the One Ring and became the worlds Dark Lord.

      Thanks for our parents and their commitment to a better world: I fear we may let them down.

      • prism 1.1.1

        Hi Bored
        I don’t think we can blame ourselves for not taking on board what our parents in WW2 might have tried to tell us, if they had dared to think about it and analyse it. I don’t think our education has served us well with that type of thinking. We have for a long time studied with a narrow vocational focus, not learning about philosophy and human behaviour. We didn’t have WW2 put in context to us young ones. Part of that would have been giving the whole war, including our effort, a critical analysis. Learning how to be objective is hard and also some people don’t know what a hypothesis is.

        No wonder we are starting again on some dangerous thinking. Yesterday I got sent a nasty email – someone in Houston Texas was naming and shaming a Muslim shop (named with address.) There was a photo of the door sign announcing the shop would be shut in memory of someone he said was one of the Sept 11 perpetrators. We did a google check and found that was a lie and they were honouring a past religious leader. Now this is being widely distributed and the shopkeeper says he has been harrassed. This is the sort of malicious act that breaks down tolerance, trust and respect and leads to wars. I told the sender I thought it was similar to the Norwegian murderer’s hate attitudes and shouldn’t be passed on. It doesn’t take much to alter neighbourhood feeling against the perceived outsider, the one not like us.

        • Bored

          All so true Prism, there is so much nastiness by commission and by omission, so much language designed to avoid acknowledgement or responsibility. On that note I cant forgive Key for turning a blind eye to the direct appeals of Tamils in a war zone for asylum. He used the language of standing behind official policy etc, showed neither bravery nor action. His mother was an Austrian Jew, saved by coming to NZ. You are right about lessons not learned.

  2. Murray Olsen 2

    I hope my grandchildren will see the day when politicians stop sending out other people’s children to kill each other. Given Obama’s love for deadly video games, I also hope they see the day when the powerful stop sending out drones to kill other people’s children.
    Almost everyone who served in WW2, on all sides, and those who conscientiously objected, displayed a bravery that is totally foreign to most of us today. They left us the potential for a better world and we decided to be a small part of that when we drew back from involvement with the US war machine. Now Nactional are busy putting us back in the belly of the beast, a dark place which we’d almost managed to crawl out of.
    Support soldiers, sailors and airmen by stopping war!

  3. prism 4

    Don’t know if anyone is now following this thread. But there was a great interview by Kim Hill with Major Bob Wood this morning. He and another man escaped from a German prison camp in Italy. They were constantly on alert and often in great discomfort, hungry but always thinking out the best moves. A very nice person and most interesting. He went to live in Australia after the war. Does that tell us anything? I wonder if he knew Nancy Wake who went there and remarried, later returning to retire in Britain.

    He was on at 9.05am 30/6 and audio will probably be up after midday.

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