wordsout by Godfrey Rust                                     BREAKING THE CHAINS 41 of 61  The place where socks go    Occasional pieces for family   HOME


The Devil's Tinderbox

He killed people. He was no more
than a boy, flying in a box with wings. 

Four times the box went down, each time
with another crew up and so 

he missed becoming a statistic and survived
to spend his life working figures out. 

The simple honesty which later marked
his handling of business affairs 

would have been with him then: he must have killed
reluctantly but well. I only heard him talk 

once about his thirteenth mission, on
February Thirteenth—he said 

if ever his number was up
that should have been it; but by 1945 

even daylight raids were almost unopposed—
with the Luftwaffe beaten they bombed more or less at will. 

The dilemma that he faced was exquisite:
to do his job well, as he knew he must, 

meant killing ever more effectively
those who were neither enemies nor friends, 

whose weakness robbed the fliers of all excuses
but that they followed orders (the defence 

that wouldn't serve at Nuremburg). On the
night of the Devil's Tinderbox 

they knew what they were doing. The target,
all but unguarded, had no strategic value 

but its railway, and was swelled with refugees
from Stalin's push west. Poor bastards, he said 

all those years later, in a voice
I had never heard before. With the war already won 

Dresden was still beautiful as my father
settled in the belly of the plane, 

a wheel-hub (all bomb-aimers did this)
shielding his private parts from the chance caress 

of a lucky shell from the untrained
flak guns of the terrified men below.


The Devil’s Tinderbox was a nickname given to the Allied bombing raids on Dresden of February 13-15 1945 in which up to 25,000 German civilians died.

My father Bob (Robert Arthur Rust) died in June 1974 of heart failure, aged 51, as a belated consequence of an infection contracted on a troop ship during the Second World War. This poem was written in March 1985.