Germany, 1944 in the late fall
The air raid sirens broke the peaceful silence of the cold cloudy night. For the third time this month momma was frantically bounding around the house getting the kids out of bed to go to the bomb shelter. Willy, the oldest, was not having any of it and remained steadfast calmly lying in bed.
“Willy, get up, we’ve got to go to the bomb shelter. Don’t you hear the sirens?”
“No, I’m not going tonight. I’m staying in bed.”
At ten years old he was the oldest of five children and was wildly more mature than his years. Growing up in World War II Germany would do that to a kid. The first time the air raid sirens went off was four months ago and it was very frightening causing the kids to scream and cry. By now the frequency of the siren brought a more mundane nuisance aspect to the bombing that is difficult to comprehend in peace time. Mother and the kids hopped to action, but not Willy, at least not tonight.
“Willy, we need to go now! We’ve got to go! Get out of bed, your brothers and sisters need you.”
“Momma, I’m not going. It’s cold tonight and I finally got this bed nice and warm, I’m not getting out. You go ahead, I’ll be fine.” He was stubborn, but as the oldest he was not to be trifled with.
The arguing carried on for only two minutes as she called out to the other four to get ready. She couldn’t continue expending valuable time on him any longer knowing it would be to no avail. The others were up and had their jackets as the protocol was by now ingrained in their young minds, and away they went running to the neighborhood shelter. Willy remained behind cool as a cucumber having secured this one-time reprieve.
The bomb shelter was tight, cold, dank and filled with neighbors. Huddled up in close confines for two hours breathing air that rapidly became more stale was a miserable experience, but they were safe with the sky full of Allied bombers. The Americans usually bombed during the day with their B-17s. A nighttime raid, Willy figured correctly, would be the British Lancasters. This raid would be conducted with a relatively light 80 bombers, a bomber sortie could easily consist of 150 or more. Tonight’s bombers were not loaded with the white phosphorus incendiary bombs that would soon eliminate Dresden. These aircraft each carried 14,000 pounds of general purpose bombs with a mix of delay fuses and instantaneous [nose-armed]. This was the bomb load specific to carpet-bombing an industrial target, as in tonight’s case, a city playing host to factories and many miles of railway.
Within ten minutes of his mother’s departure the skyward rumble could be heard along with the ‘ack ack’ of the German anti-aircraft guns. The explosions of the bombs were distant but their result was easily felt this far away. Willy lay in bed more upset at the nuisance and commotion than scared of a direct hit. Living through war since one’s earliest memories will alter that sentiment regarding the possibility of dying. When death seems ever present its ability to cause fright is diluted. War is hell, people are apt to say. Empty words, those, when delivered by someone who hasn’t lived it.
The explosions were steady and far enough away where the rumble yielded a soothing effect while he lay in bed. Industrial buildings and railway infrastructure were being decimated along with innumerable homes and citizens. An hour passed, the bombers passed, the fire fighting and emergency brigades were at work. Momma and the kids returned safely, tossed their jackets on the sofa and checked on their big brother. He had rolled over on his belly and was sound asleep!
[Inspired by Opa’s real life events.]