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Shalom and Sheiks: 15 - Payback

...They came out, standing on the path down to our front gate. Dad, hearing the commotion, came out too. The traffic was stopping. People came out of shops and houses to look, and there we all stood, our necks tilted back and everyone gazing upwards. For there, as far as we could see, from horizon to horizon, at different heights, all at the same speed, all droning steadily onwards towards Europe, were hundreds and hundreds of bombers. But this time they were OUR BOMBERS!..

John Powell tells of a sight which gladdened the hearts of Londoners who had survived repeated German bombing raids.

We were still having air raids at night but not quite with the same ferocity as before, while the daytime raids seemed to be more of a nuisance value, just to set off the sirens again.

It was one evening at dusk that I heard an unusual droning sound of aircraft engines, but this was different. These were not German engines; heaven knows, we knew that sound well enough. I went outside to look and cried out with joy.

Rushing back into the Waiting Room I called out, "Come outside everybody. Come out, there is a sight to gladden your hearts."

They came out, standing on the path down to our front gate. Dad, hearing the commotion, came out too. The traffic was stopping. People came out of shops and houses to look, and there we all stood, our necks tilted back and everyone gazing upwards. For there, as far as we could see, from horizon to horizon, at different heights, all at the same speed, all droning steadily onwards towards Europe, were hundreds and hundreds of bombers. But this time they were OUR BOMBERS!

I could pick some of them out in the fading light; Lancasters, Stirlings, Manchesters, Whitleys, and even the old Wellingtons. People started cheering and yelling encouragement, "Give 'em hell, boys...Good luck all of you...God bring you home safely..." and more. Somebody called for three cheers, which we gave with great enthusiasm.

And still they came. As the leaders disappeared into the growing darkness, more appeared overhead until, at last, they had gone. We were seeing the start of a 1,000 bomber raid by the RAF on Germany. It raised our morale and did our hearts good. We felt sure that Winston Churchill had arranged for their flight path to pass over London. We needed it.

I turned to Dad, "You were right, Dad, when you said, 'One day they will get theirs,' and, by God, the great day has come. It really is payback time."

Payback? But at what a price: what a terrible cost! Bomber Command had 50,000 Air Crew killed over Europe. In one awful night in March, 1944, when Nuremberg was the target, 95 of our bombers were lost. Lancaster bombers formed the majority of our bomber force and, over Europe, 3,345 of them were shot down in the war. With the aluminium used in their construction, it was said that when they caught fire, it was a terrifying spectacle.

And what of the enemy? There were 9,111 sorties against Berlin. In the 1,000 bomber raid on Cologne, 469 civilians were killed and 5,000 injured, while 45,000 people were bombed out. The RAF lost 44 bombers in the raid.

Such statistics, of course, were only available after the war. It would have lifted our morale had we known that Berlin had so many air raids, and would have eased the pain of over 40,000 civilians killed in London not that we knew that either until afterwards.

In London, even much later, when the air raids dwindled, there came the new terror, the V1 flying bomb, or 'doodlebugs' as we called them. It was a bomb with wings and an engine mounted on top, which was timed to cut out over London. The fighter pilots had trouble catching up with them, as they were very fast, and were very dangerous to fire upon, as when they exploded, the pursuing aircraft could fly into the explosion.

Some fighter pilots used the technique of the young Canadian over Tonbridge, and flew alongside to tip the bomb's wing, sending it crashing. Over 10,000 were fired at Britain. Of these, about 3,000 failed to arrive due to malfunction. 7,000 were plotted into Britain, of which approximately 1,800 were brought down by fighter aircraft, and also, 1,800 by anti-aircraft fire.

The remaining 3,400 crashed and exploded on greater London, and great was the havoc on buildings and morale. They could be heard approaching with their distinctive 'pop-pop-pop' engines, then they would cut out. Everyone tensed themselves in the silence, not knowing where they would explode, and about ten seconds later (ten seconds that seemed like an eternity), came the explosion.

When, eventually, the V1 launching sites were put out of action, Hitler fired off his last hope at London, the V2 rockets. You never knew they were on their way until they exploded.

One day, 25 years after the end of the war, at a Christmas party in South Australia, I was talking to Hans, a German migrant. It came out that he had been a navigator on Domier bombers and had bombed London.

"Do you know, John, how old I was when I was called up? I was 14 years old. I ask you, 14 to be a navigator. Instead of flying Domiers into battle I should have been flying a kite in Mother's garden. I was 15 when I did my first raid on London. I remember it so well. I was so scared and on the way home, we had a brush with a night fighter, I was shivering with fright. Oh yes, I remember it well, I messed up my pants with fright."

This, at last, was my chance for my own personal payback; my chance to get at one of the bastards responsible for all we went through. Quickly I grabbed a nearby bottle of beer and, taking a firm grip on its neck, I swung it up towards him, "Let's fill up your glass, Hans, it's empty."

"Thanks, yes, Merry Christmas, John."

"Thanks, mate. Merry Christmas, Hans."

Our glasses clinked.

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