20 December 2004
Bomber Crew
A US B17.  Oh, the perils of taking photos of the telly

It is difficult for me to be entirely detached when watching Channel 4’s Bomber Crew.  This is the programme that takes five grandchildren of WWII RAF bomber crewmen and trains them to fly an Avro Lancaster.  It is difficult for me to be detached because like them I too am the grandchild of a WWII bomber crewman.

The programme is divided into two sections. Half of it is devoted to the training and half to the history.  The training is the weaker part.  The hope is that the grandchildren will gain some appreciation of what their grandfathers went through. But it doesn’t really work.  There is an essential ingredient missing.  Their grandfathers knew that every day could be their last.  Today’s generation don’t.

The history part is better.  And it doesn’t pull its punches. The losses were appalling.  50,000 died.  Four out of five who took to the air never came back.  By way of comparison in the Great War four out of five who fought did come back.  I have this awful suspicion that you had a better chance of survival as a Kamikaze pilot.

The tale was told of a bunch of freshly-trained crewmen arriving at their new base.  They eagerly asked how long it took to complete their 30-mission quota.  They were given rather vague answers.  No one knew how long it took: no one had ever done it.  At that stage of the war (1941) being in Bomber Command was a death sentence.  That was precisely the same situation my grandfather was in.  He never saw 1942.  Or Germany for that matter: flying bombers was dangerous enough even without people trying to kill you.

A couple of years ago I had a chat with a man who took his basic training alongside my grandfather.  He was posted to the fighters and in the entire course of the war never took part in a single operation. Another aquaintance was even luckier.  Eighteen in 1939 and German it should have been curtains.  But he was living in England.  He was interned straight away and spent most of the war working in a Canadian abbatoir.  Such is life.

Bomber Crew, Channel 4, Mondays, 2100

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