per ardua ad astra (through adversity to the stars)

This is the Avro Lancaster the legendary British WWII bomber. Over 7000 of these aircraft had once taken to the skies and now only two are left flying—one of them (this one) at Hamilton’s Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum.

I was moved when I saw this plane fly. Not moved by the machine, but moved by the vicarious mark its history has left on my life. Of course I am too young to remember the aircraft fly in earnest, but this plane shaped my, and every other British child’s, neighborhood. As it started up I remembered George, my dad’s boss and the local dairy manager, whose face was badly scarred from a hit by a tracer round when he was a tail gunner. I remembered Doug, my school friend’s dad, who was shot down in one of these over France and would not tell anybody what happened after he was captured by the Nazis. I thought of Doris who lived at the end of the street and always found it hard to make ends meet, whose partner Dennis took off in one of these and never came back. I remembered my grandmother telling me how every evening she listened to the distinctive drone of the Rolls Royce engines lift them heavy into the sky as they set out for distant nighttime destinations, and would then listen for the inevitable sound of German Heinkel bomber engines as they reached her part of London and their destination.

So as this plane circled and flew low across the Hamilton runway on a sunny careless Saturday, I stood in silence remembering all those people I knew, and those I did not know, who in days of adversity had their lives shaped on both sides of the English Channel by this plane.

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