We had just moved in to our first home the first time that it happened. I was in the kitchen, marveling at the wonders of counter space (our old apartment had four square inches of it, if you included the top of the microwave). Because we back on to a highway, I was getting used to the sound of the occasional air brake or police siren, but the thrumming roar that suddenly rolled over the house was unlike anything I had heard before.
Because men are stupid and tend to run in the direction of loud, scary noises (instead of running away from them), I rushed outside to see what was going on. A moment later, a massive, four-engine bomber sailed overhead, low enough to spot the markings on its fuselage. When it had passed by, I quickly ran downstairs to look it up in my warplane reference guides (nerd!), and incorrectly identified as a Liberator (it was a good guess at the time).
My wife and I soon realized that this was the famous Lancaster bomber making its rounds.
One of the last operational Lancasters in the world is kept about ten minutes from my house, at the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum. It was the dominant heavy bomber of World War II, a massive workhouse that was the only plane large enough to carry the 22,000 lb “Grand Slam” bombs needed to bust through concrete fortifications like U-boat pens.
The really cool part of the above specifications is the word “operational.” The thing is still flying more than six decades after the war ended. And its flight path goes directly over my house.
Since then, the Lancaster has become a common sight at my place. Most weekends it passes over at least once, always at low altitude, the four huge Merlin engines throttling away like the wrath of God. My wife has often commented on how loud they must have been when they flew, hundreds at a time, over Germany; she and I try to imagine the fear one would have experienced knowing that there was nowhere to run as the sky filled from horizon to horizon.
It’s passing overhead right now, no doubt part of the Remembrance Day ceremonies in the area. There are about four other vintage planes flying about as well. I love living in Ancaster.
In his Zero Punctuation review of the WWII game “Medal of Honour: Airborne,” Yahtzee Croshaw asks the question of why we (specifically the US, but equally true of Canada and the UK) keep harping on the Second World War. “Well, probably because that was the last war in which they did any good, when they had a clear win over an unambiguously evil villain that posed a genuine threat.” And while I would never minimize the contribution of soldiers in any other war, I do understand what he’s saying. It’s part of the reason why so much of today’s focus is on the last World War.
The other reason is that there are so few people left to tell us what it was really like to be part of that conflict. As a child, I took it for granted that I could hear about the war first-hand. My children (one on the way right now) will likely never have that opportunity. Those veterans will be gone. The ones that are left will be the products of wars that were far less clear-cut in their goals, far more manipulative and politically driven than global mobilization against fascist expansion.
I wonder what my child will hear from the veterans that tell them stories on November 11.