What would you have done?

  It was different when I heard those old World War II stories while living in the United States. When I wondered what I would have done if faced with similar choices, distance and ignorance kept me from forming a thoughtful and empathetic anwser. But now, I live in the U.K. and have had the privilege of hearing first-hand accounts from characters who lived through those challenging years. Sadly, some have already passed on. The remaining few seem anxious to tell their tales. I thank them for trusting me with their stories and hope, one day, I will honor them by sharing their incredible tales - stories of those who, in my country, are known as the Greatest Generation!   In this post, I give you four accounts, all true, and present to you a question -- what would you have done? In the next post, I'll share some more information about these accounts and the people behind the stories.   First Account: The catapult-armed merchant (CAM) ship Empire Tide Out-gunned and out-powered by the German warship in pursuit, the English Captain knew the odds of saving his ship and the men who served him well were not in his favor. They watched as other ships in the convoy, torn apart but the enemy's more superior arsenal, sunk with little hope of rescue for survivors. His crew suffered from days of living on the edge of death. They were exhausted, scared, and always unsure whether the next blast would be their end. Finally, either due to some instinctive aptitude or some miscalculation by his adversary, they launched a fatal blow at the German's lead ship in the pack. "God forgive me," the old captain told me. "I let my crew cheer . . . cheer their hearts as they watched men die out. And what was worse, I wanted to join their elation!" Second Account: English:   Some airstrips, particularly those along the coast dedicated to radar operations, were kept secret and only used by top brass and staff going in and out of the facility. It was late at night when the Polish pilot radioed the W.A.A.F. (Women's Auxilliary Air Force) operator that he and the three other planes in his squadron were out of fuel and needed to land at the facility. The W.A.A.F. operator's standing order was that no one land on the airstrip unless she was given orders to the contrary. Besides, the airstrip was completely consumed by a heavy fog. She refused them permission to land; they would have to fly further down the coast to another airstrip. The pilot desperately replied, "We have no fuel. We have to land!"   Third Account: English: Poster used by the British government... There was nothing she feared more than invasion. "You see," she related, "I had heard all those horrid tales of the first war. There were so many in my family who died or were broke physically or mentally. That awful gas. . .  I was prepared to do whatever it took to protect my children from the Nazis!" During the Blitz, her once quiet London suburban home in Ilford was in the middle of Bomb Alley. With German sights on London's docks, enemy bombers sometimes dropped their weapons prematurely on Ilford and other East London towns and on their way back to Germany, fighter planes emptied their rounds on whatever target they thought would do the most harm. Anti-aircraft guns peppered Ilford's South Park where her boys, aged five and seven, played. She worried about them picking up pieces of shrapnel and bomb debris. She read the articles in a newspapers and saw the posters in Ilford -- the ones that claimed it was the duty of every responsible parent to support Operation Pied Piper and send their children away to be safe in the countryside. Last Account: An Air raid shelter in a London Underground st... Just sixteen, she decided to move out of her family home when her auntie and cousins moved in after their house had been bombed. She shared a single room with three other girls in a building just down the street from her job as a typist. But when that building was damaged in the bombing, she had to accept temporary work across town. Sometimes the raids came before she was able to get home forcing her to spend the night in the crowded, cold, and moldy Underground. Her one enjoyment was going to the dance halls on weekend nights with the girls.They all had their favorite dance partners -- hers was a tall, lanky and quite witty Canadian soldier who lavished her with coveted treats of chocolate, soap, and fruit. She enjoyed his dancing and his wit, but the romance was definitely one-sided. She was too young and curious to commit to one boy! But he was infatuated with her and one night he presented her with a ring and a proposal of marriage. It would mean she could live in Canada -- away from London! (The above link will take you to an interactive map of London showing bomb sites during the Blitz. Ilford is northeast of London.)  
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