Yesterday I went out to the Western Canada Aviation Museum, where one of the few B-17 bombers still flying in North America is on display for the week. They used to call the B-17 flying Fortress the Queen of the Air. Between the Flying Fortress and the Lancaster (which I saw when it came to Winnipeg three years ago.) There’s nothing quite like seeing those old war birds all chromed up. Elegant old ladies.
There was an hour long lineup to go inside the bomber, but I went early enough to stay in line. One of the crew members read us a poem as we waited, and I found a copy of it:
Tribute to the Queen
From Guadalcanal and the Phillipines at the start of WW2
to the hostile skies of Europe, thru miles of flak she flew.
At home at thirty thousand, majestic as a Queen,
a silver bird flown by men, many in their teens.
She carried war to the tyrants lair, to keep all nations free;
she flew thru flak and flame, as far as eye could see.
She slugged it out with Hitler’s best, brought her dead and wounded home.
Damaged and with engines out, it was often times alone.
Born of war but seeking peace, she carried valiant men
into the very jaws of death, and brought them home again.
Berlin, Frankfurt and countless others, courageous daylight raids,
and only God in Heaven knows the awesome price she paid.
She met death at 30,000, or on a tree top run.
A victim of ack-ack shell or Luftwaffe fighters gun.
Like all the men who flew her, for peace and hope she yearned.
But too often mission boards would read, “Failure to Return.”
Often plane and crew went down in a hostile place.
Others were missing in action and lost without a trace.
Her era’s in the past but the history that she’s made
must always be remembered and never be betrayed.
Generations have come and gone; enjoyed their hopes and dreams,
yet never paused in gratitude to this aging Silver Queen.
And the men who flew her, Heroes everyone,
Who stood between our nations shores and the tyrants mighty guns.
Yes, she’s tired and weary, a little aged and worn,
but she fought and bought their freedom, before most of them were born.
And we who still remember Tojo and Hitler’s dreams
Stand a little prouder…..
In the presence of the Queen.
She then went on to tell us some stories about the young men who flew these planes into combat. The awesome price she paid referred in particular to one day when one hundred B-17’s left England for Germany, each with a ten man crew, and one plane came back.
Another story she told was of a family who found a notebook in the bottom of a toolbox, written by an elderly family member who had been a crew member on a B-17. It began with details on how many bombs they left with on a particular day, and their target, and sometimes comments like “We really gave old Hitler hell today!” in lovely handwriting. As the pages went on though, the handwriting grew more careless, and there were notes like “We lost the new guy today – didn’t even know his name.” The family member who had written it had never spoken about his experiences – this was before PTSD was recognized as an issue with war vets.
The last story she told was about what they called “The Phantom Bomber.” Some farmers in a field, watched as a B-17 approached, dangerously low. They could see it was in trouble, descending to land in a field, probably damaged so badly it couldn’t hold altitude. They were sure the thing was going to crash horribly, but somehow it landed softly in a field nearby. They went to go help whatever crew was left alive in the plane, but when they got there, there was no one in the plane. The crew had jettisoned everything they could, but their parachutes were still there. The farmers supposed that the crew had bailed over the channel, and the plane had somehow just settled on the ground on it’s own. The crew was never found. I can’t help thinking myself that the plane was probably full of Gerry spies that buggered off as soon as they were on the ground, but who knows? Maybe the crew did bail, and maybe they made it out of the water and just never reported back to duty, knowing they’d only be sent back out again. After that story got out to other bomber crews though, they started telling one another, never bail out of a B-17, she’ll always get you home.
Anyway, here’s some pictures I took: