20A030 My Friend John  by Jim Davies, 7/28/2020  


I was too young by two decades to fight in WW2, but had the timing differed I probably would have; at the time I was fully suckered by the fiction that government had some kind of claim upon my life, and was happily patriotic.

Much later I met and was befriended by John Nunn, my senior by that same interval, who as a youth (in the 1930s) had loved flying, as had my mother's cousin Reginald. It's possible, though not likely, that they met; but I failed to ask John.

Both were commissioned in the Royal Air Force, and both flew night bomber missions over Nazi-occupied Europe. Eventually, and almost inevitably, both were shot down. Reginald was able to land in a field near Bohain, France, but it was a bit too short, and he was killed with all his crew in a big explosion of all the on-board bombs intended for Germans in Stuttgart, his target city. By an odd coincidence, his crew included one named John Nunn; no relation as far as I know.

The John I knew was more fortunate; with amazing skill he crash-landed his wounded plane in a Belgian field, and all of his crew survived except the tail-gunner, who had already been wounded. They were put in a POW "stalag luft". A little later a dozen POWs walked out of the main gate on a work detail under escort. The guards weren't German and their rifles were wooden dummies; and John was in the party. He got as far as Hamburg, but was betrayed by a French slave-laborer. When, much later, I took business trips with him in Europe, his hostility towards the French was far greater than that towards Germans.

John also helped plan the mass breakout of the "great escape" by scoping out the lines for the three tunnels, "Tom, Dick and Harry" - for he was by training a mathematician, albeit without a compass or other surveying instruments in the POW camp. Tragically, when the day came, the tunnel ended short of the cover of the forest and while many escaped, one was spotted by a guard and the enterprise stopped; fifty of the escapees were subsequently executed by the Gestapo. Very unjustly, John blamed himself for that trigonometric error for the rest of his life.

He was liberated by ladies driving tanks for the Red Army in 1945, and subsequently followed a distinguished career as a senior RAF officer and winding up as Lord Mayor of Winchester, the English city where King Arthur is reputed to have had his Round Table.

There are many thousands of stories like this one. The utter absurdity and cruelty of war is a result of allowing governments to continue to exist; they have always made war on each other, and always will - using the blood and treasure of those they rule. War, with its death and misery and destruction and poverty, will always keep it company; for waging war is the primary business of government.

John never saw that, nor Reginald as far as I know, and I was unable to point him towards these self-evident facts, because this was before I encountered the rational world-view of anarchism. But you and I are no longer that ignorant; we can and should point it out. There are plenty of resources to help; some of them are referenced on the right side of this very page.

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