October 10, 2014

At War

I´ve been chewing on this post for weeks now, about Yorkshire Air Museum and Allied Air Forces Memorial, which we went to see when we were in York. It´s a great museum, lots and lots of airplanes, lots of barracks with differently themed displays inside. I really did get the sense of it being a memorial, as some of the other visitors were looking at old pictures and remembering their relatives, friends, and neighbours. So many were lost, only half the pilots came back. It´s a large museum, much ground to cover, and we spent all day there.

I thought it was kind of touching that they also had a "Nature of Flight" Butterfly and Moth Conservancy, a wooded area behind the largest hangar. My favourite story from the exhibitions was also about an animal, William the Goat, who was the mascot of West Riding Squadron from 1941 to 1945. In 1942 William was left behind as the squadron moved, but this proved so bad for morale and operational effectiveness that he was brought back. The day after he arrived, the operations were so successful that he was promoted from Pilot Officer to Wing Commander.

William landed in Normandy with the crew of a DC3 Dakota on July 1, 1944, and entered Germany a few days before Victory in Europe Day, May 8, in 1945. He liked cigarettes, had an appetite for secret documents, oxygen, glycol, and the Station Commander´s favourite flowers. He was always at the Station parties and, since he disliked ladies, defended his boys from any who tried to get close to them.

Today, I was looking at the paintings of Jakob Rozalski, and discovered Wojtek, the bear and Polish soldier, a kind of parallell to William the Goat, though Wojtek actually contributed during battle, by transporting shells. There is a film about Wojtek from Polish Scottish Heritage on Youtube, and I also found this one:

Many Polish soldiers did not return home after the war, as their country - as they had known it - didn´t really exist any more; it had been "annexed" by the Soviet Union. A u-boat crew was locked in the Baltic, ended up in Sweden, and many of the soldiers came to live where I grew up, and some of them - and their families - were part of my childhood, as my father is also Polish (and like them, ended up in another country after the war, in his case Austria).

Sometimes my full-blooded Swedish friends complain that there are so many documentaries about the Second World War still being made, but it´s no wonder: the world wars, both of them, so disrupted people´s lives, their sense of identity, home, and world view, that we are still, collectively and individually, processing the damage. I am only the second generation - it´s really not that long ago. Some of us live with the immediate consequences of that trauma still, directly or indirectly. It is only recently that the last survivors of the trenches of the First World War died. The Swedes were lucky to stay out of both wars, it is not "in their bones", so to speak.

Some more photos from the museum:

The mannequins´s haircuts weren´t really of the period.

The French officers´s mess.

This is the kind of thing I am really attacted to, the personal little-things.

I did manage to make one or two decent sketches

Can you imagine sitting in there, up in the air, in combat? 

A slightly later model.

No, I did not do well. Sketching airplanes is HARD!

There are all kinds of ways you can donate money to the museum, which is independent
and have no large organization like English Heritage or National Trust backing them up.

Loved this: a silk scarf/map of Italy, and tiny phrase books to get you by when you get shot down over enemy territory...

The Memorial Garden.

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