The Debt We Owe
It is a well-known military saying; never volunteer for anything. This country recently commemorated the momentous events of D Day which changed the course of history. Many of those who stormed ashore that day had volunteered to fight before waiting to be called up.
I know exactly where my father Dennis was that day; his RAF logbook tells me that he was in Madras India. He had volunteered as an RAF mechanic in 1940 aged 18 but by 1943 he had volunteered again to train for aircrew duties. His training had taken him to Canada and the West Indies but in June 1944 his war was about to start for real!
Operating from a jungle air strip in Sri Lanka (Ceylon) by the end of the war he had completed 45 operational missions as the flight engineer on a Liberator aircraft. Operating at the very limits of the aircraft’s capability they flew across endless tracts of the Bay of Bengal hunting Japanese submarines, laying mines and on special operations dropping agents behind enemy lines. His Squadron was special by any measure; they earned 60 bravery decorations and lost 105 personnel during hostilities. He was still only 23 years old when the war finished.
He finally got home in 1946 having reached the rank of Warrant officer and immediately volunteered as a reservist with the Royal Auxiliary Air Force until 1960; he just couldn’t leave it alone! He eventually retired to Capel St Mary where he spent the last 20 years of his life. He passed away in January 2005 a few weeks before he and I were due go back to Sri Lanka to visit some of the locations where he had served. I still made the trip and his ashes now rest in the jungle clearing he flew from; his ‘corner of a foreign field’ as the poem goes.
Although special to his family he was not by any means unusual; thousands like him served this country with great distinction. He gave some of the best years of his life; thousands gave their rest of theirs. In May we dedicated a memorial stone for him at the National Memorial in Staffordshire. He wouldn’t have welcomed a lot of fuss, like many of his generation he was modest and unassuming; despite having much to be proud of.
He and his brothers in arms understood that there are occasions when freedom has to be won. They should all be respected and admired; above all they should be remembered.