Saturday, April 21, 2012

It was ninety four years ago today..........


.........that The Red Baron, le Baron rouge, left this earth for ever, after being shot down from below out of the sky like a partridge.

He was only twenty-five, but has left his footprints forever in the sands of time. He was destined for only a short life, for he courted death willingly. Less than a year before he left forever, he was seriously wounded in the head while in the sky.

Completely disoriented and having lost a good part of his vision, he managed to land his machine. He had to undergo several operations to get fragments of bone out of his head. Six weeks later, despite warnings from his doctors, he was again in the sky. However, throughout the remaining months of his stay here on earth, he suffered headaches and nausea. And, in character, he was not the same again. 

His fame lies in his shooting down of eighty enemy planes, though more likely eighty-one, since one of his kills came down on the French side, and so couldn't be confirmed by his own side, the Germans. In any case, he shot down more planes than anyone else in the Great War, la Grande Guerre.

It might be thought that because he was so adept at shooting down enemy planes, he was an aerial acrobat. Far from it. He simply had an eye for the weakest pilot in any enemy flotilla his squadron came across in the sky. Like an eagle over the savanna he swooped down on the prey he'd picked out, and that was that.

Even so, he ensured his success by ordering his colleagues to cover his sides and rear as he swooped down.

Something else about him. He didn't like war as such. He simply liked it for the sport it offered. For each plane he shot down he bought a silver cup and engraved on it the date of the victory and the type of plane. However, after his sixtieth victory he could add to his collection of cups no more because, just as Germany was running out of money, he was running out of money too.

Who was it who shot him out of the sky like a partridge? No-one knows for sure, although names were circulated about. This, though, is not what is important. What is important is the respect he had in the eyes of his opponents.

They organised a military funeral for him. Six allied officers carried his coffin. A guard of honour fired salvos as the coffin was lowered into the ground. On his gravestone, someone anonymously wrote: À notre ennemi vaillant et digne.

2 comments:

  1. It's a big jump from the hazy heat of Faulkner to the dare-devil heroics of fighter pilots.

    I wonder how The Red Baron would have held up in rural Mississippi.

    Chekhov (I think) said: Any idiot can face a crisis; it's the day-to-day living that wears you out.

    Actually, I thought about that Chekhov sentiment as I read A.K's Hannibal book.

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  2. ".....It's a big jump from the hazy heat of Faulkner to the dare-devil heroics of fighter pilots......"

    I've always been catholic in my tastes.

    ".....Any idiot can face a crisis; it's the day-to-day living that wears you out....."

    How true. I think also of the difference between the live coward and the dead hero, which is that the dead hero simply didn't have the same capacity to imagine what might happen to him as did the live coward.

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