British aviator (96) guest of honour at documentary

'Anger represses fear of dead'

He proudly wears his medals. The British wartime aviator Eric Clarke. Almost 97 years and guest of honour at the world première of a documentary about the emotions behind the excavation of warplanes. Hij was part of the RAF 49th Squadron, just like the crew who died when their plane crashed in Berkhout, in Noord-Holland. They were killed, he came back from 26 operations. ,,I probably had two little angels on my shoulder.’’

,,We were fighting for our country, for the survival of our country, for our existance. Later on we were fighting for Europe.'' Eric Clarke keeps his hands five inches apart. ,,Even now many people do not realize that we came that close, 1940, to being taken over by the Germans. We were that close by going the other way''
Clarke flew in Hampden, Manchester and 'the beautifull Lancaster'. Later on he was an instructor, teaching young people to do the job of wireless operator. He still puts much energy into keeping alive the memory, in and outside of Britain.

He is one of the last surviving veterans who were part of the Allied war machine in World War II. A war that demanded 100.000 lives, among bomber crews only. The 49th Squadron lost 955 people.
Clarke have them in his mind, every day. 'In those days, statistically, the life span of bomber air crew was six to eight weeks. I was on the squadron fourteen months! What can I say. I allways said, I am a very lucky man. Luck was with me all the time.''
The documentary "Memories of Mud ', on which Raoul de Zwart and Arthur van der Starre worked for nearly five years, highlights the human drama and the emotions behind the salvage of the two-engined Hampden bomber in Berkhout from all sides.
The film had its world premiere at the International Film Festival in Breda, in the presence of relatives from both Ireland and England and other people who where involved.
It has become a poignant document.
Impressive because the emotions are recognizable. But also because one realizes that even today, on various places in the world, people die and relatives are left behind in despair.

The makers of the documentary have chosen not to use voiceover or explanating texts. They arranged the scenes - historical footage makes it exciting – in a way that 'pulls' the viewer into the story.
The story shows a glimpse of the usually hidden craft of excavation warplanes, but soon switches to the emotional side when it concerns the families involved.
One by one they appear on the screen.
Margaret Walsh, the now 90 years old sister of the fallen Irish airgunner John Kehoe, determined to fulfill the wish of her mother by bury him in consecrated ground.
His British fiancée Mary Irving, who never forgot him ('I adored him').
Irvings daughter Sheila Hamilton, who started an investigation to find out where the missing 'Paddy' was.
The twin daughters of pilot Chris Saunders, who relived the grieving process because of the excavation.
And the mayor of Wester-Koggenland, who honestly admits that she was first against disturbing the 'field grave'. She explains, she changed her mind when she found out how long the Irish family has been trying to locate the plane wreck with John Kehoe and how important it was for them to see him buried in a proper grave.
Pictures of the memorial services in the meadow where the wreck was - holy water on the grass - and the funeral with full military honor in Bergen make it complete.

Eric Clarke survived. He has a role in the documentary, allthough he didn't knew Kehoe and the other three crew members of the Hampden P1206 personal.
But he belonged, with them, to a group of 20, 25 wireless operators / air gunners who were deployed in the bombers at RAF Scampton, in Lincolnshire. All bomber crew were volunteers. Clarke: "I was five, six years older than the average. The younger people were 20, 21. For some, it was a great adventure. But the older, more mature bomber air crew, they were more serious. We were professionally trained to resist the enemy.''
"The Germans had bombed our cities, 23.000 civilians were killed before I even started bombing. I was professionally trained and I was now going to do to them what they were doing to us. No, it wasn't a great adventure. We were fighting for our contry's existence. I had a mission.''
In the film he shows how a gunner was sitting who had the unlucky fate of being pointed to the place in the 'tin', the bottom dome of a Hampden. The feet together, knees up. 'In this position we sat for five hours, sometimes nine.''
Immobile, the Vickers boardgun in his hands, in pitch dark to Cologne, Essen, Wilhelmshaven. In a cumbersome bomber that was a relatively defenseless prey for the German night fighter who were led to their goal by radar stations.
The documentary shows touching scenes of a plane like the Hampden of Berkhout that is shot in the belly by a Messerschmitt and crashes in a sea of flames.
Weren't the crew members scared? Clarke: "Everyone had a form of anxiety. You had boys of nineteen who ate their nails. Tough guys who wrapped their fear in bravado. But I can not say I was afraid. I never ever had any doubts somehow. I've been trained to do a job, I was lucky and did my job well. You didn't think about it. You just went. Bombing Essen, bombing Milan.''
,,Some boys in aircraft were saying the Lord's prayer before they went. The catholics were crossing themselves all the time. I'm not catholic, I was Church of England. But I couldn't reconcile that. I could not ask God to forgive me for going to kill somebody. So in a way, you can say that in the war, I lost my faith as such.
I recognize Christian principles, stick to the ten commandments. And yet I could not pray, while around me I lost close friends and colleagues."
,,They were killing my people, destroying my cities. I had to do to do what I could, to stop them.''
As the credits of 'Memories of Mud' are shown, there is a long silence in the cinema. Eric Clarke congratulates the makers of the movie. He thinks it has become a special document. "It was wonderful, marvellous and important for the future. In fifty years time people will still be able to see this movie. History has been recorded.''

Bron: Noordhollands Dagblad, 27 maart 2010