Last Saturday I met Terry and Bill. They are two of the most remarkable people that I have ever met.
Bill had travelled from the North East and was bemoaning his sat nav.
Half a century before most people had heard of satellite navigation, Bill was navigating Lancaster bombers from Lincolnshire to Nazi Germany using not much more than a pencil and a protractor.
His chances of survival were pretty low. Of every 100 men who joined Bomber Command 41 were killed in action but, thankfully, Bill survived.
On one mission a 1,000 pound bomb became stuck in the bomb bay and so the crew had to fly back and land with it jammed in position.
He chuckled as he told that story and included it as one of the more light-hearted moments. Like I said – remarkable.
Terry is an Ace. Literally. He was one of ‘The Few’ who flew in the Battle of Britain.
The title ‘Ace’ was given to those pilots with a minimum of five confirmed kills.
He explained that one of the advantages of the Hurricane over the Spitfire was that because it was made of canvass over a metal frame, bullet holes could just be patched over with canvas and dope, whereas the Spitfire had metal panels and so took longer to repair. It is worth reflecting on that for a moment.
As a man in his very early 20s Terry was glad that the plane in which he went to war was made of canvas because when he was shot at and hit Sthe damage could be repaired more quickly, and so he could get back to the fighting with less of a delay.
Imagine the metal panels on your car being replaced with canvas.
Then imagine driving at over 300mph, then imagine taking off, then imagine someone shooting at you. Terry went through that day in day out.
Some of the people with him had a matter of hours of experience before they flew into combat.
One of his colleagues flew a Hurricane for the first time as he took off to attack German raiders.
Over 1,000 of our aircraft were lost. Terry and Bill are still with us. Both in their 90s, both fit and well and very good company.
A week on Sunday we remember those who fought but did not survive in the Second World War and all other conflicts.
In 12 months’ time in the year that our armed forces leave Afghanistan we will have reached the 100th anniversary of the start of the bloodiest of all conflicts – World War One.
How do we compare to that generation? Sometimes not very well.
Last week I received a health and safety email warning me not to handle old gas masks, as there was the possibility of asbestos contamination.
I am not sure how the author of that email would have reacted if he had seen the bullet holes in the side of a Hurricane being repaired with bits of cloth!
However on other occasions today’s generation responds with equal courage. Last week I had the pleasure of meeting not one but two Regimental Sergeant Majors. They had both just come back from Afghanistan.
A very old soldier who was present asked how today’s soldiers compare to the ‘Tommy’ of old. Their answer was that the courage and tenacity of the British soldier is everything his forebears are rightly acclaimed for. They gave examples of courage under fire that were up their with the bravery of Terry and Bill.
That is why all of us should take a moment to remember.
Very best wishes,