I was so proud I had perfected my backflip over the back of our living room couch. It involved getting my mouth fixed just right, gathering momentum, doing a short run, digging my head and hands into the soft couch cushions, then flipping my legs up and over the hard back of the couch and crashing to the floor on the other side, then emerging to the applause of the handsome young men in their Air Force blue uniforms I was trying to impress. My mother was mortified. Here was her seven-year old daughter showing off her waving skinny legs and mended underwear to her young male guests. To me they were a grown-up adult audience to impress. To my father they were the scared, 17 year old boys he had brought home after Sunday evening service to experience a bit of home away from home comfort before he drove them back to the central flying school about 4 miles away. Dad’s car was one of the only six or seven which were allowed to be driven in our 1940s wartime, peaceful English, Cotswold Village.
My father kept a visitor’s book in which he wrote down their names and the date of their visit and beside it was the date of their death. It was the time of the Blitz over London. Boys straight out of school were being trained to fly Spitfires, to shoot down German planes and kill German pilots. It took six weeks to train them. Their life expectancy was three weeks!
Earlier, in the afternoon of that same day, my mother and I walked to our cheerful church hall to serve tea, hand out cigarettes and sing hymns; same tune, different words, with our other guests. They were German pilots, now prisoners of war shot down by our young pilots while on bombing raids over the south of England. Most of them were older men and some had learned to fly in the First World War – the war to end all wars. During the week they were transported in army trucks from the POW camp and dropped off in twos and threes at farms around the countryside. The farmers were glad to have the labor as their sons were off learning to kill Germans. The prisoners were happy, they loved the countryside, they knew that they would love to go home to their families when the war was over. They missed their families and they enjoyed coming to the church because it reminded them of their blonde daughters back home.
I thus learned a lesson at an early age about the irony, tragedy and stupidity but, sometimes, the necessity of war.
— Janet Galloway