Ode on a Canadian Warbird
The author remembers childhood, with round engines.
- By Bruce McCall
- Photographs by Bruce McCall
- Air & Space magazine, January 2010
(Page 3 of 3)
The ugly realities that made the war such an ordeal for home-front grownups seldom penetrated the make-believe world of schoolboys. From a kid's perspective it was all mostly pain- and anxiety-free, a living comic strip that began on September 1, 1939, and chronicled one glorious, uninterrupted winning streak. The weekly movie newsreels verified this: It was only enemy ships that were getting sunk, enemy cities bombed flat, enemy planes knocked out of the sky. Only Allied airplane factories were humming, Allied ladies turning out bombs by the thousands, Allied ships sliding down the slips at an almost hourly rate. So far as you could tell from the carefully censored film footage, the D-Day landings were virtually without Allied casualties. There was Pearl Harbor, admittedly, but Japan had outrageously cheated, so that didn't really count. Only years later did I learn that the Dunkirk fiasco hadn't been a victory for our side.
Well past the end of hostilities with Germany and then Japan, my enthusiasm kept my World War II roaring on. Peace be damned, I wasn't ready to abandon all that hard-won warplane intimacy, or the state of perpetual excitement the war in the air had been stirring in me for what seemed to be my entire life. Besides, what thrills could a world at peace provide in their place? Bank robberies? Four-alarm fires? Stamp collecting?
I decided it didn't have to end after all. Particularly not when, in late 1945, a local farmer acquired a Canadian-built Hawker Hurricane of his very own, through a government program unloading suddenly redundant military aircraft for something like 20 dollars apiece. He parked the Hurricane in a field visible from the highway, to be cannibalized as needed for bits of metal or wire. Propeller and gunsight and a few vital instruments aside, it was all there: the airplane that had won the Battle of Britain! Over the next couple of years, I hiked out to that farm and climbed into that old fighter every chance I got, my every fantasy bout of aerial combat climaxing with my busting open the starboard-side escape hatch and tumbling out of the cockpit and down off the wing, to live and fly and fight another day.
As in a time-lapse film, the Hurricane—my Hurricane—would, over the months and years, gradually disassemble itself until one gray November day in 1949, I passed by that field and confronted an assemblage of skeletal struts and tubing, no longer a heroic fighter, but a rusting set of monkey bars. My World War II had finally ended.
Bruce McCall is a writer and illustrator whose work frequently appears in the New Yorker.