In the dinghy
If you ditch your kite in the drink, you are liable to go west, unless you get, literally, in the dinghy. My father was a tail end charlie in Lancasters, a fact of which, for a pacifist, I am inordinately proud. I particularly like that bit of WWII RAF slang, “in the dinghy”, all right for now. You don’t know whether you will be picked up, you don’t know whether you will be picked up by your side, but at least you are out of the water.
I have cited wiktionary, which is a good list of the gallows humour of the Tommy, but the problem with that as an authority is that the source was me. Another page quotes wiktionary, so my tale is spreading slowly. This page quotes a longer phrase, in the third message, by cliffnemo. “I’m in the dinghy Jack, let go the painter” is a Googlewhack. So the memory of the daughter of one rear-gunner keeps the phrase alive. Perhaps it was only that squadron, or that crew.
Still, it is a wonderful phrase. All right for the moment. Everything is alright. Dunno what comes next. The worst that could happen is quite ghastly, but-
Charlie, often right charlie or proper charlie, is an outdated synonym for coof, eedjit, wally, plonker, or prat. So called because he could not squeeze into his gun turret without taking off his parachute, and fighters coming in from behind might hit him first.
A woman in my office used the word “gen”, which I got from Biggles books as a child. I like the word. It sounds manly in a pipesmoking, Baden-Powell sort of way.
I think my father has lost his own crew photo in a housemoving. He did not say much about the war until the 1990s, when he joined the Bomber Command Association, and started attending squadron reunions. He was delighted by these, seeing men with whom he had shared that experience. There were regular gatherings in Edinburgh, but now these have stopped: at 87, my father is one of the youngest terrorfliegers. When the statue of Bomber Harris was erected, there were protests, while all he did was kill people and destroy things, which is what military forces do. That statue honours my father’s ordinary courage. Harris, in February 1945:
Attacks on cities like any other act of war are intolerable unless they are strategically justified. But they are strategically justified in so far as they tend to shorten the war and preserve the lives of Allied soldiers. To my mind we have absolutely no right to give them up unless it is certain that they will not have this effect. I do not personally regard the whole of the remaining cities of Germany as worth the bones of one British Grenadier.
The feeling, such as there is, over Dresden, could be easily explained by any psychiatrist. It is connected with German bands and Dresden shepherdesses. Actually Dresden was a mass of munitions works, an intact government centre, and a key transportation point to the East. It is now none of these things.