Saturday, 7 March 2009

Lies, Damned Lies, and Wikepedia

You need to read this man's obituary. You really do. If his life were set down in words today some big brother jobsworth would have it relegated to the fiction shelves as unbelieveable.

by johnofgwent

When I was sixteen I met a man who made quite an impression on me. No, not the person I pictured above, but one of his "brothers in arms" perhaps. When I met him, Arthur was then in his sixties, a quiet man with a passion for electronics and the inventor (and patent holder) of a little plastic clip made and used by the million every day to close the end of the plastic bag that a loaf of sliced bread was packed in at the factory where it was made.

And a man who, in his twenties had flown Spitfires for a living. It was that aspect of his life about which we had the sort of discussion that is not easily forgotten.

Arthur said he was not particularly keen on some things people said when the subject of conversation steered round to "that aircraft." He said it was all very well people in general talking about "The Few" but, he said, "our job at the time was to get up there, get behind some kid hardly out of school and shoot him in the back before he realised we were there. And we did it because we were also hardly older than him they were trying to do the same to us and would have, and did, if given the chance".

I suppose it was also rather predictable that a man who had done this and seen it in that light wasn't terribly keen on the 'pomp and circumstance' aspect of "ceremonies" and "parades" organised to "honour" men like him. Particularly the aspects in which politicians of the day get involved. He told me some things are best left where they can hopefully be forgotten.

Another thing that has stayed with me since that conversation was his plea to me that I never, ever look at such a machine, or its modern day equivalent, and allow my mind to drift round to "wishing to know what it was like" to be sat in the front seat. Because, he said, "there was a very real danger such a wish would come true".

Today I suppose Arthur might be diagnosed as suffering "post-traumatic stress disorder" but at the time of our conversation, such words had not yet been invented. Yet there were many who, as in Shaw Taylor's poem had watched their fellows go into "that undiscovered country from whose borne no traveller returns".

And another thing to bear in mind is that when we had that conversation, we had only recently joined the "Common Market" as it was then falsely represented to us, and the lands to the east of West Germany's eastern border were an "evil empire" whose encroaches were to be resisted at all costs.

Arthur's words stayed with me, though whether for good or evil I do not know. In the years since that conversation I have worked on various systems for many aircraft hailed as the "modern day equivalent" of the Supermarine Spitfire. All but one of those contributions to our country's armed forces have been tested and found to do what was required of them in battle, and in a supreme piece of irony I recently found a reconaissance photograph published by the spinmeisters and pen puushers of today's Air Force, in which the aircraft that carries my final contribution to this industry was scrambled to "protect" us from the shrivelled rump of that once-named "evil empire"


As I said above, Arthur's words stuck with me as the years passed. Try as I might I couldn't - and I still can't - look at my own handiwork without his words about "going up there and shooting some kid in the back before they can return the favour" flooding back. I wonder if the politicians who demand people follow in Arthur's footsteps today bother thinking about what they are asking. I somehow doubt it. Maybe Arthur's ghosts now haunt me as they haunted him in his life. Or maybe I look at my daughter, now in her twenties, and think of her friend from college who only last week sent in his application to do the very job Arthur said should "never be wished for".

So it is with a mixed set of emotions that I turn to address the subject that I came here to talk about. Time to grasp the bull by the horns, I feel.

I'm sure you've all seen the Daily Torygraph "scoop" with the headline "BNP uses Polish Spitfire in Anti-Immigration Poster". If not, I really do commend the article to you as an example of how desperate the mainstream parties and their press mouthpieces are. It's beginning to look a lot like the War of Jennifer's Ear all over again. In the article perhaps the only undisputedly factual statement is this:-
A spokesperson at the Royal Air Force museum said: "The Spitfire in the poster can be identified as belonging to 303 Squadron of the Polish Air Force by the code letters 'RF' painted in front of the RAF roundel.
The Torygraph then jumps on the bandwagon by claiming the Aircraft is Polish and the Liberal Democrat MP John Hemming claims it is an example of "The BNP getting confused and not doing its research". This from a man who voted very strongly for the smoking ban, very strongly against anti-terrorism laws and very strongly for gay rights. And he says the BNP are "confused" !!!

Now pardon me but a Pole in the pilot's seat does not make an aircraft Polish any more than Ian Smith's war service in one made it Rhodesian. The famous conversation between Churchill and Keith Park "How Many Reserves Have We" - "There Are None" was happenning not just with aircraft, but with pilots to fly them, and then as now the simple fact is the enemy of my enemy is my friend, and whilst the tales of Polish Cavalry charging at German Tanks is considered an urban myth, Generalfeldmarschall Gert Von Rundstedt is quoted as saying "...in general the bravery and heroism of the Polish Army merits great respect"

So it was extremely annoying for me to find, while researching this article, a claim on the Wikipedia page for 303 Squadron, from where Romeo Foxtrot Delta was flown, that they were "the only squadron to get near the V1 doodlebugs". For the man pictured at the top of this blog entry is, according to his obituary in The Times and the Radio 4 Today Programme which ran a piece on his life and his passing from it, credited with inventing the flying manouvere that disturbed the doodlebug's flight gyroscope and sent it crashing to the ground, hopefully in the sea but occasionaly onto fields and rural villages in the southern home counties, much to the annoyance of the elected representatives of the residents of those vilages at the time, it would seem.

On reading the claim on wikipedia I began to smell a rat but I have to say the stench was not quite as powerful as that caused when one of David Cameron's Tory Party Faithful altered the date of Tischen's death to allow his glorious leader to score a political point. It was, therefore, somewhat pleasing to me to see that one of the stalwart band of Wikipedia Moderators has made amendments to the page in question after reference was made to this man's obituary. Sometimes there is always "Evil Under The Sun". Other times "The best-laid plans of mice and men/oft go awry". Which is this ? I'll let you decide.

I found a less dramatic image of the aircraft here where it is pictured in level flight and being used for commercial gain by an outfit whose relevance to the men Arthur watched go into the undiscovered country is unclear.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Celtic Morning. Terry Spencer. Some man. What an incredible life. certainly puts todays "heroes" and "celebrities" into context. I have failed to trace any autobiography or biography but surely there must be one out there. Or is a man like that not valued these days. Anyone know of a book of his life and experiences?

johnofgwent said...

Hi Celtic.

I don't know if anyone has written his biography. I think there are some who do still value people like him, but I somehow feel that "The Life Loves And Death Of Jade" will shortly be the only book on Waterstone's top shelf.