killed people. He was no more
than a boy, flying in a box with wings.
times the box went down, each time
with another crew up and so
missed becoming a statistic and survived
to spend his life working figures out.
simple honesty which later marked
his handling of business affairs
have been with him then: he must have killed
reluctantly but well. I only heard him talk
about his thirteenth mission, on
February Thirteenth—he said
ever his number was up
that should have been it; but by 1945
daylight raids were almost unopposed—
with the Luftwaffe beaten they bombed more or less at will.
dilemma that he faced was exquisite:
to do his job well, as he knew he must,
killing ever more effectively
those who were neither enemies nor friends,
weakness robbed the fliers of all excuses
but that they followed orders (the defence
wouldn't serve at Nuremburg). On the
night of the Devil's Tinderbox
knew what they were doing. The target,
all but unguarded, had no strategic value
its railway, and was swelled with refugees
from Stalin's push west. Poor bastards, he said
those years later, in a voice
I had never heard before. With the war already won
settled in the belly of the plane,
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.
Tinderbox was a
nickname given to the Allied bombing raids on
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.