british children and dead german soldiers -- 4/30/14

Today's selection -- from Good Bounces & Bad Lies by Ben Wright. The author, who later became a commentator for CBS Sports, was ten years old in wartime Britain in 1942. The experience changed him:

"You see, the war had turned my young friends and I into beastly little savages. Luton, the town in which I was born, is 30 miles north of London and was quickly in the thick of things in World War II. A Vauxhall factory (now a General Motors plant) had switched from making automobiles to becoming Britain's biggest producer of Churchill Tanks. The townspeople, therefore, experienced daylight raids of dive-bombing German Stukas early in the war. I learned as a young boy to recognize the frightening whine of a Stuka in full dive.

The Luftwaffe targets the Vauxhall factory

"My lads and I had opportunities to view the occasional handiwork of the Royal Air Force when we would pedal our bikes to the crash sites and raid the downed German planes. We would always be in a hurry to reach the downed bombers, because if we got there before anyone else, we could canvas the wreckage for wallets, valuables, and gauges from the instrument panels. We'd grimly scavenge for anything we might be able to sell on the black market. We never ran into any pilots who were still alive, but I won't kid you, we did run into pilots who were still warm. It was a morbid hobby for a ten-year-old child to have.

"We were very evil little children, shaped from the hardship of war. I recall vividly coming very quickly upon a downed Messerschmitt 110, which was a two-engined fighter-bomber. One of my friends and I were rooting around in the cabin, where we'd collected both pilots' wallets, when we noticed smoke billowing out of one of the engines.

" 'We'd better get out of here!' I shouted.

"As we fled, the plane exploded and we were both blown into a nearby hedge. By the grace of God, we didn't suffer a scratch, but even we had more sense than to go back into downed aircraft after that awful experience. ...

"At that young, impressionable age, I was forced to learn to get used to this kind of violence and destruction. I survived the V-1 rockets and the V-2s, which were more lethal. The V-1s were little unmanned airplanes with a primitive, noisy jet engine on the tail. Flames came out of the engine, so they could always be spotted at night. I could hear their sound -- a 'chug-chug-chug' -- as they flew over. The sound would stop when their engines cut out, and they would take about 45 seconds to fall from the sky and explode on impact. My sister and I would stand on the steps of the air raid shelter and watch them fly over. When the motor cut there was a very distinct silence, so we would run down into the shelter, slam shut the heavy door and brace for the explosion.

"The sight of London burning, its skies orange with the glow of fire, became sort of ordinary to me and the others who were going to survive this horror. I became emotionally dead, and became this little beast."


Ben Wright


Good Bounces & Bad Lies


Sleeping Bear Press


Copyright 1999 Sleeping Bear Press


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