(One of a series of weekday posts on the life of Winston S. Churchill.)
In Their Finest Hour, vol II of his History of World War II, Churchill writes about the threat posed to Britain by the German's use of delayed-fuse bombs; and the character and courage of those who served at extraordinary peril to diffuse the bombs:
These bombs had to be dug out, and exploded or rendered harmless. This was a task of the utmost peril, especially at the beginning, when the means and methods had all to be learned by a series of decisive experiences.It is always a wonder to me where people find such courage.
I have already recounted in Volume I the drama of dismantling the magnetic mine, but this form of self-devotion now became commonplace while remaining sublime. I had always taken an interest in the delayed-action fuse, which had first impressed itself on me in 1918, when the Germans had used it on a large scale to deny us the use of the railways by which we planned to advance into Germany. I had urged its use by us both in Norway and in the Kiel Canal.
There is no doubt that it is a most effective agent in warfare, on account of the prolonged uncertainty which it causes. We were now to taste it ourselves. [...]
Special companies were formed in every city, town and district. Volunteers pressed forward for the deadly game. Teams were formed which had good or bad luck. Some survived this phase of our ordeal. Others ran twenty, thirty, or even forty courses before they met their fate.
The unexploded bomb (U. X. B.) detachments presented themselves wherever I went on my tours. Somehow or other their faces seemed different from those of ordinary men, however brave and faithful. They were gaunt, they were haggard, their faces has a bluish look, with bright gleaming eyes and exceptional compression of the lips, withal a perfect demeanour. In writing about our hard times, we are apt to overuse the word "grim." It should have been reserved for the U. X. B. disposal squads.
One squad I remember which may be taken as symbolic of many others. It consisted of three people - the Earl of Suffolk, his lady private secretary, and his rather aged chauffeur. They called themselves "the Holy Trinity." Their prowess and continued existence got around among all who knew. Thirty-four unexploded bombs did they tackle with urbane and smiling efficiency. But the thirty-fifth claimed its forfeit. Up went the Earl of Suffolk in his Holy Trinity. But we may be sure that, as for Mr. Valiant-for-Truth, "all the trumpets sounded for them on the other side." (pg. 260-263)
Tomorrow I'll end the four-part Churchill and U.X.B. series with a discussion of some unintended consequences of the German's use of the delayed-fuse bombs and a few comments about contemporary society.