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& Bullets

Musings on the worlds of aviation, military and international affairs.


With reviews of books that cover these topics


“I shall have lived and died an Englishman”

Though I feel no premonition  at all, events are moving rapidly, and I have instructed that this letter be  forwarded to you should I fail to return from one of the raids we shall be shortly to undertake. You must hope on for a month, but at the end of that time you must accept the fact that I handed my task over to the extremely capable hands of my comrades of the Royal Air Force, as so many splendid fellows have already done.


First it will comfort you to know that my role in this war has been of the greatest importance. Our patrols far out over the North Sea have helped to keep the trade routes clear for our convoys and supply ships, and on one occasion our information was instrumental in saving the lives of the men in a crippled lighthouse relief ship. Though it will be difficult for you, you will disappoint me if you do not at least try to accept the facts dispassionately for I have done my duty to the utmost of my ability. No man can do more, and no one calling himself a man could do less.


I have always admired your amazing courage in the face of continual setbacks in the way you have given me as good an education and background as anyone in this country, and always kept up appearances without ever losing faith in the future. My death would not mean that your struggle has been in vain. Far from it. It means that your sacrifice is as great as mine. Those who serve England must expect nothing from her, we debase ourselves if we regard our country as merely a place in which to eat and sleep.


History resounds with illustrious names who have given all, yet their sacrifice has resulted in the British Empire, where there is a measure of peace, justice, freedom for all, and where a higher standard of civilisation has evolved and is still evolving, than anywhere else. But this is not only concerning our own land. Today we are faced with the greatest organized challenge to Christianity and civilisation that the world has ever seen and I count myself lucky and honoured to be the right age and fully trained to throw my full weight into the scale. For this I have to thank you. Yet there is more work for you to do. The home front will still have to stand united for years after the war has been won. For all that can be said against it, I still maintain that this war is a very good thing; every individual is having the chance to give and dare all for his principle like the martyrs of old. However long the time may be, one thing can never be altered – I shall have lived and died an Englishman. Nothing else matters one jot, nor can anything ever change it.


You must not grieve for me for if you really believe in religion and all that it entails that would be hypocrisy. I have no fear of death, only a queer elation… I would have it no other way. The universe is so vast and so ageless that the life of one man can only be justified by the measure of his sacrifice. We are sent to this world to acquire a personality and a character to take with us that can never be taken from us. Those who just eat, sleep, prosper and procreate, are no better than animals if all their lives they are at peace.


I firmly and absolutely believe that evil things are sent into this world to try us; they are sent deliberately by our Creator to test our metal [sic] because He knows what is good for us. The Bible is full of cases where the easy way out has been discarded for moral principles.


I count myself fortunate in that I have seen the whole country and know men of every calling. But with the final test of war I consider my character fully developed. Thus at my early age my earthly mission is already fulfilled and I am prepared to die with just one regret, and one only – that I could not devote myself to making your declining years more happy by being with you; but you will live in peace and freedom, and I shall have directly contributed to that, so here again my life will not have been in vain.

A letter from a young British airman, written to his mother, to be opened in the event of his death. It was forwarded, after his death on operations, as requested, by his CO.  See blog for August 19, 2014.

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