The second of my father’s stories of serving in World War II in the RCAF (please see History 1, below), that remains uppermost in my mind, is this one:
My father and the fellow who was his best friend in the Royal Canadian Air Force squadron in which they served (both as ground crew in a Spitfire squadron), were working together at some task, unloading a truck which was parked on a roadway between two lines of sandbags. An enemy fighter came in to bomb the airfield and as they jumped to find cover, my father leaped to one side of the truck, and his friend to the other. This friend, a man from Edmonton, was killed.
John Richardson (on right) and Friend (before D-Day)
My father always emphasized that the fighter came in every day at the same time, that it was one of the German jet fighters that had been developed as the war came to an end. It dropped a single bomb on the airfield each day, and flew away.
He sometimes spoke of Spitfires already airborne and circling, waiting for this fighter, and the jet being so fast it was there and gone before they could react. They were never able to do it any damage. My father said he caught only one glimpse of it, on one occasion; looking up once, he saw it streaking up into the sky, disappearing in a couple of seconds.
Each time I have heard this story (my father is now 97) I have been aware of his re-experience of this loss. He was only 24 at the time, roughly the age of many of the students with whom I interact every day.
“War and Peace in the Global Village” (McLuhan and Fiore) is an odd book, full of images, quotes and asides. On page 98, there is comment above a photo of a wounded soldier: “Every new technology necessitates a new war”, and I have mostly understood this as actual war. This may be true, but perhaps McLuhan also intended it to imply personal battle. The jet fighter in my father’s story was a piece of new technology that I believe through its effects created and planted a conflict within him. Perhaps the generation of men and women who experienced such loss were also carrying a kind of permanent personal siege as they returned. Indeed, WWI and WWII were often perceived as war between two opposing societal rationales, agrarian and technological. Technology has been the clear winner: since 1945, the number of people in Canada deriving their livings from agriculture has fallen from 45% to about 5%. This enormous shift has been made possible by, and at the same time has been dictated by, technology.
RCAF 403 Squadron Ground Crew (1945)
(John Richardson, back row second from left)