It wasn’t 100 years ago today….
No this isn’t another sodding Titanic Special ( as this isn’t the BBC and there’s only so many commemorations/celebrations of a national tragedy which one can really stomach.)
No, it wasn’t 100 years ago on this very day,just nearly: April 21st 1918 that Baron Manfred Von Richthofen – that’s The Red Baron to you – was shot down over Armiens during the first world war. There’s all sorts of controversy and mystery surrounding the exact details of his death, with many differing (you might say Anton Differing) accounts who actually fired the shots which brought The Baron down. But you could do worse than examine what the student’s friend, Wikipedia, has to say on the matter.
At the time, the Baron had been pursuing (at very low altitude) a Sopwith Camel piloted by a novice Canadian pilot, Lieutenant Wilfrid “Wop” May of No. 209 Squadron, Royal Air Force. In turn, the Baron was spotted and briefly attacked by a Camel piloted by a school friend (and flight commander) of May’s, Canadian Captain Arthur “Roy” Brown, who had to dive steeply at very high speed to intervene, and then had to climb steeply to avoid hitting the ground. Richthofen turned to avoid this attack, and then resumed his pursuit of May…. [then after he crashed to the ground] eye witness, Sergeant Ted Smout of the Australian Medical Corps, reported that Richthofen’s last word was “kaputt“
So one thing seems clear, the 1st World War was full of heroes, derring-do, inappropriate nicknames and racial stereotypes. The Kraut was shot down by The Wop and uttered that he was “Kaputt” just before he snuffed if after a wizard prang. If it had been reported he’d said “Gott in Himmel” it couldn’t have been more Corking! It’s like reading a copy of The Battle Picture Library.
As kids in the UK we were brought up on this stuff – mini comic books depicting our brave boys struggle against the nasty nazis. Of course it was all pretty much concerned with WWII as the lines of good vrs evil are slightly more blurred in the first world war than in the second. Us Brits were (and some of us still are) obsessed with the fight against the Nazis and the 1939-45 affair, knowing few details of, or caring far far less about the 1914-18 conflict (the great British hero and eccentric Col A.D.Wintle, of course thought there was only one war against Germany: 1914-1945 which included a 21 year pause in the middle “while the Germans regrouped”). The Nazis are a much easier target than Kaiser Bill’s army, and as the second war is so much closer in time, we’ve tended to concentrate on that, rather than The Red Baron & Co.
There are always exceptions, of course. There are times when the whys and wherefores, the whos and the whats get mixed up. But the important thing is that no-one goes overboard and try to ignite bad feeling and relive old fights. So imagine my surprise when I discovered this little gem by the American group The Royal Guardsman. I was familiar with the song, of course, but certainly not with this performance, complete with cartoon German accents, nazi saluting and goose-stepping. Forgive and forget, they say, but I know neither if The Red Baron back in 1918 was an exponent of the straight-arm salute or the funny walk, nor whether The Royal Guardsmen should be forgiven, or simply forgotten.