Thursday, July 10, 2014

Hurrah For the Next Man That Dies


I have long been fascinated with vintage military aircraft.  When I was in Junior High I could quote you detailed information about the turning radius, top speed, climbing speed, maximum altitude, and armaments of just about every World War One and World War Two aircraft.  I don't know where this fascination came from though it probably was more of a borderline obsession than fascination.  I didn't let my school get in the way of what I was really interested in and thus my grades suffered accordingly.  Maybe I flew one in a past life.  I don't know.  But what I can say is that I've forgotten most of the trivial information as time and age have taken a toll on me.  My love of the aircraft remains as strong as ever though.

I think I was probably 12 or 13 when I first saw the movie Dawn Patrol, the 1938 version with the great Errol Flynn.  Flynn was a great actor (when he wasn't busy seducing underage girls....allegedly) and I do have a certain kinship with him.  I am not a swashbuckling pirate or fighter pilot, roles he played so well.  Flynn suffered from degenerative disc disease in his lower back, as do I, and spent the later years of his life in considerable pain because of it.  When I watched the movie I remember being mesmerized when the pilots gathered in the bar after their flights and sang a song which appears a few times in the movie.  It has many different titles and even different sets of lyrics.  One of the titles it goes by is the title of this blog post. The tune and the words have rattled around in my head ever since.

The director did an very good job with the areal combat scenes given the limitations of the time period.  Some of them were lifted straight from the original 1930 version of the film directed by Howard Hawks. (Even back then Hollywood remade things like they do today!)  I was absolutely enthralled with the spinning dodging aircraft, engines belching black smoke, machine guns chattering.  It was a different era and the movie drew me into it and made me feel a part of what was taking place.

Pilots arrived at the front with as few as 8 hours of solo time.  The average life expectancy for a RAF pilot on the Western Front in April of 1917 was about five days.  They called it Bloody April for a reason!  The pilots were young, often 18 or 19 years old.  They lived fast and unfortunately many of them died young.  I think the movie did a bang up job representing their lives.  These men lived in an enormous pressure cooker.  New men arrived and died before anyone learned their names.  The survivors fueled themselves with alcohol and song after missions in a simple celebration of survival.  And the anthem they sang in the song, which was popular among pilots during the War was as follows (partially):

Cut off from the land that bore us
Betrayed by the land that we find
The good men have gone before us
And only the dull left behind

So stand to your glasses steady
This world is a world of lies
Here's a toast to the dead already
Hurrah for the next man that dies

I will conclude by giving a "shout out" to my dear friend and fellow blogger, Christy Putnam.  We share a love of teaching, reading, and classic films.  She posted something on my Facebook page the other day about World War One films given that we are now at the 100th Anniversary of the start of the war.  It gave me the idea of revisiting some of my favorite films and writing about them on my blog.  If you share our love of classic cinema, please check out her work here.

My name is Lee Hutch and I am a Half A$$ Historian who, despite my love of vintage warplanes, is terrified of flying.  It is quite the paradox to be sure.  Perhaps I should as a therapist about it some day.