The Who2 Blog

The Greatest Obituary Generation

The Greatest Generation are getting into their 90s now, and it just won’t be the same without their obituaries in the British papers.

The death notice of the plucky World War II hero has been a staple for years in The Times, The Guardian and other British papers. They’re RAF pilots who flew in the Battle of Britain, Royal Navy commanders who had boats torpedoed out from under them, usually with nicknames like ‘Bertie’ or ‘Pug’ and always with impossibly colorful exploits during the war.

This week The Telegraph has Air Commodore ‘Dim’ Strong (above), dead at age 97, who in 1941 ditched his bomber off the coast of Denmark, was rescued by fisherman, but then was turned over to the Germans:

“Two Mercedes staff cars brought Strong and his crew to the officers’ mess, where all the Luftwaffe airmen gathered to greet their RAF visitors. An all-night party ensued, with food, Danish beer, brandy and musical entertainment.”

They were then shipped off to a Nazi prison camp, of course.  But Strong and his Luftwaffe host that night, Hauptmann Hans-Kurt Graf von Sponeck, “kept up a regular correspondence after the war.”  Heigh-ho!
Last weekend it was flying ace William “Billy” Drake, age 93, who shot down 25 German aircraft during the war, twice won the Distinguished Flying Cross (and another from the Americans), then retired and ran Billy’s Bar in Portugal.

“Drake, known for wearing a cravat in the colours of English Epsom Derby winner Hyperion, later recalled, ‘By God, we had a good time. That’s not to say we behaved in the way Hollywood likes to portray Battle of Britain pilots. Of course, there were a few randy ruffians who would chase any girl. But generally we all had girlfriends, and we didn’t use the war as an excuse to sleep with them. We were gentlemen.'”

Then there was Flight Lt. “Blondie” Walker, twice shot down in the Adriatic and rescued by the same American flying boat crew both times. (“Not you again!” the crew exclaimed as they hauled him in the second time.)  And after the war?

“He first skied at Kitzbühl in 1948, and thereafter returned almost every year until he was 80. He loved fast cars and beautiful women. He was known in the town as ‘Halifax,’ some locals even assuming that he was the Earl of Halifax.”

Maybe Blondie was one of those randy ruffians Billy Drake was talking about.
So moving and entertaining are these military obituaries that The Telegraph lines them up in their own section, with irresistable teasers: Harry Warde, “Officer who charged through minefields and anti-tank fire to reach Le Havre.” Peter Twiss, “Pilot who was decorated in war and then became the first man to break the 1,000 mph barrier.” Vice-Admiral Sir David Loram, “Naval officer who sent five tons of Russian gold to the bottom and was later an equerry to the Queen.”  
And those are just selections from the last month.
Amazing people, amazing stories. At this point, you really have to be 85 or older to have been a veteran of WWII, so they can’t last forever. We may not see their like again.

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