I Survived the Bombing of Dresden and Continue to Believe it was a War Crime
As a prisoner of war held in Dresden, I still suffer the memories of those terrible events and my anger refuses to subside.
I wasn't new to murder and bloodletting. I had enlisted two years prior to the outbreak of the second world war and by the time I was 21 I had taken part in one major battle and various smaller ones. I had been in fights where the ground in front of me was littered with the remains of young men who had once been full of the joy of living, laughing and joking with their mates. As each year of the war went by, the fighting got more ferocious, new weapons were introduced and fresh young men became the targets. How I remained a sane person through all this I don't know.
Then came the evening of the 13 February, 1945 – 68 years ago this week. I was a prisoner of war held in Dresden. At about 10.30pm that night, the air raid sirens started their mournful wailing and because this happened every night no notice was taken. The people of Dresden believed that as long as the Luftwaffe kept away from Oxford, Dresden would be spared. The sirens stopped and after a short period of silence the first wave of pathfinders were over the city dropping their target flares.
As the incendiaries fell, the phosphorus clung to the bodies of those below, turning them into human torches. The screaming of those who were being burned alive was added to the cries of those not yet hit. There was no need for flares to lead the second wave of bombers to their target, as the whole city had become a gigantic torch. It must have been visible to the pilots from a hundred miles away. Dresden had no defences, no anti-aircraft guns, no searchlights, nothing.
My account of this tragedy, Dresden: A Survivor's Story, was published on the day of the anniversary this week. I gave a number of interviews around the publication, in which I insisted that the affair was a war crime at the highest level, a stain upon the name Englishman that only an apology made in full public view would suffice to obliterate.
Many – including some writing comments underneath articles on this site – have criticised me for this. Reading through the criticisms I have to admit that some of the things I have written have caused many people some hurt, but to these people I would say that as a person I still suffer at times the memories of those terrible events.
From being regarded as some form of hero on the one hand, to a Nazi supporter on the other, has taught me that there are so many sides to any question. I have learned to try to understand those who disagree with my outlook. Like Kurt Vonnegut in Slaughterhouse-Five, I wrote as I witnessed. I have no axe to grind. I just sat down and tried to empty my mind and clear away the residues of the nightmares that I still occasionally suffered from.
My justification for still harbouring these attitudes is the events in European history since the ending of the second world war. The massacres in Bosnia at Srebrenica, the hurling of Tomahawk missiles by British naval cruisers into the centre of an inhabited Benghazi, the manner in which as a nation we still tend to be sympathetic to the use of superior aircraft strength to bomb overcrowded refugee centres. These are the reasons my anger has refused to subside.
Perhaps I should be more realistic and knuckle down to the concept of the brutality of the human race, but I have always been a stubborn individual. I am not a diplomat. I just happen to have witnessed the worst that man has to offer and I like it not one bit. Bearing in mind that I care deeply about the future of all my children and grandchildren, please allow me to express my anger.