Two Old Codgers

How the World strikes us

Had you been a young man during the Second World War you would
probably have been attracted by the glamour of the Royal Air Force. A Spitfire pilot or part of a Lancaster bomber crew. Soaring the through the skies or crossing the channel to unload your bombs on the enemy.

These young men were our heroes. Daring and fearless as they defended England or carried the war the foe. Hurling their Spitfire or Hurricane into a crowd of German Bombers and fighters or holding a steady course through searchlights, flak and night fighters to drop bombs and incendiaries into the target.
Bat of Brit

But what of the young men who weren’t fearless? Those who were terrified as a Messerschmitt appeared in their mirror with guns blazing. Or from their bomber, looking in horror as they see ahead the target
Bombers over Germany
for tonight, the sky ablaze with searchlights and the explosions of hundreds of anti aircraft shells, the shocking sight of other bombers spinning out of control and in flames with no signs of a parachute.

Each crew member isolated in his own station - pilots, navigators, radio operators and gunners. ‘Tail end Charlie’ the gunner in the rear turret flying backwards for up to ten hours in his cramped and lonely turret, constantly scanning the skies for enemy fighters. Estimates for the life expectancy for a WWII Lancaster rear gunner vary but were estimated at about 5 sorties.
Rear Turret
As a rear gunner, imagine seeing a plane from your squadron landing, badly damaged and ground crews having to hose the remains of the rear gunner from the shattered turret.

Bomber Command crews suffered a high casualty rate: some 75,000 out of a total of 125,000 aircrew were killed, wounded or became prisoners of war - about 60%. Many must have suffered from the terrors of taking part in bomber raids. Some returned early before reaching the target after finding some fault with the aircraft. ‘Creep Back’ is well documented where a pattern of where bombs landed can be anything up to five or ten miles before the target. The cry of ‘Bombs Gone’ meaning we can turn and try to get back to England.

Stories are told of members of the crew who were literally paralysed with fear when the aircraft was hit by flak or machine gun bullets, unable to perform any sort of task and having to be carried from the aircraft when it eventually reached home. The stench of vomit from terrified and air sick crew members permeated many Lancaster bombers.

It is impossible to find details of just how many were labelled as LMF (Lacking Moral Fibre) but figures such as one in ten of bomber crews are quoted.

So what happened to the young men who couldn’t cope? The RAF high command recognised that if they allowed men to to stop flying because of psychological problems it could escalate to an epidemic. In some cases they were charged with cowardice and court-martialled. In others they were demoted, stripped of insignia and posted as general duty second class airmen. Their status was easily seen with bare patches where ‘Wings’ and other air crew badges had been removed. Their records were marked with LMF. Some were transferred to the army, others sent to work in the coal mines.

Friends and families may no longer have looked upon them as heroes and superman but as failures and cowards.

White Feather

Back to the original question “Would you have been LMF?”. It would be nice to think we would have been one of the ‘Glorious Few’ or a distinguished and decorated survivor from Bomber Command, rather than one who kept quiet about his not very distinguished war record.


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