Those Were The Days “Recognizing Our Heroes”

black and white of the Edersee dam

I have written in previous columns the many times I sat with my Dad at the kitchen table perusing news of the war. It was 1944 and I was creeping up on my tenth birthday, D Day was blazing across the headlines and Dad patiently explained the highs and lows of  WWII, the victories, the defeats and the sadness of ongoing casualty lists. It wasn’t until I was in my mid teens Dad mentioned a group of nurses who braved battle zones and hazardous flights caring for the wounded aboard airplanes evacuating the injured to safe areas. I learned the nurses were dubbed the Flying Nightingales. I found this very interesting because my grandmother’s nee name was Nightingale, she was of similar age and we believe a cousin to Florence Nightingale. 

The Flying Nightingales were a group of 200 nurses who were assigned to accompany wounded soldiers away from the battlefield. The nurses who made up the RAF’s Air Ambulance Unit were given the task of keeping the severely wounded men not only alive but comfortable until they reached hospitals, doctors and operating rooms. Each flight carried one nurse who attend to approximately twenty wounded men. Their danger areas included Africa and Europe, even D Day and the months following, placed precariously into ongoing  battles and subjected to enemy fighter planes during the dangerous trips to safety. The Flying Nightingales were credited with saving the lives of over 100,000 wounded military personnel, truly a group of women we should remember with great pride.

Many of us have probably seen the movie “ Dam Busters”. During WWII a daring bombing operation code named Chastise was planned to bomb the dams in Germany. Three dams were slated to be destroyed in hope of flooding lowlands disrupting the water supply and hydro to the industrial regions thereby cutting off much needed supplies to the enemy. Nineteen Lancaster bombers successfully destroyed two of the dams but during the mission suffered the loss of eight planes and  56 airmen. One of the dams bombed and breached flooding a vast area was the Edersee.

A few years ago my wife and I were invited by friends to visit Germany for five weeks. We had a wonderful time enjoying the company of old and new friends, marvellous German cousine and touring three quarters of Germany including the Black Forest, the famous Cologne Cathedral, a cruise down the Rhine River and, the Edersee Dam. Today it is an enjoyable scenic drive, the dam is surrounded by rolling hills of pine trees and there is an accessable walkway atop the dam, but the large U shaped scar in the middle of the dam is stark evidence of happenings many years ago. Old concrete outlines newer cement and it is impossible to look at this battle scarred structure without bringing to mind the brave airmen who flew the dam buster missions. Thank goodness those years of conflict are history.

Russ Sanders,

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