Gong Gong says

This is a posthumous blog of our father's (Lim Kok Ann) life. When our father passed away on 8 March 2003, he left behind an unpublished autobiography. We'd like to celebrate his life by sharing his autobiography through this blog.

"I have dredged these anecdotes from memory just to pass the time; if they amuse my grandchildren their purpose will have been served; if they provide any instruction, it will be a happy coincidence; that they are disjointed is probably to be expected.

Aurora was the name of my grandfather’s house in Kulangsu.   Amoy, where I spent the first five or six years of my life.   I still have vivid memories of events that took place when I was barely three years old.

Lim Kok Ann
October 1996"

Thursday, September 04, 2008

2:10 The Battle of Britain

After the German Army had over-run Poland in the autumn of 1939, Hitler made a non- aggression pact with the Soviet Union, sharing Poland with them. Hitler had hoped that the Western powers would make peace and allow him time to consolidate his domination over the Central European countries, but the British followed up their declaration of war by sending an Expedition to France. Typical of the British attitude then was a popular song on BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) Radio. “We’re going to hang our washing on the Siegfried Line”. The latter was the German system of fortifications on the German-Franco facing the Maginot Line constructed by the French after World War I and meant to prevent a German invasion across the border.

In the spring of 1940 the German Army struck, by-passing the Maginot Line and going through Holland and Belgium, and driving the British forces before them to the beaches of Dunkirk where they were evacuated amidst scenes of great heroism. Over several days, the British took more than 300,000 men off the beaches. Little boats of all kinds, pleasure craft, fishing boats, life-saving boats, were summoned from the south English ports and fishing villages and towed across the English Channel to Dunkirk where the retreating soldiers patiently waited. The weary soldiers would wade out in the low tide, waist deep and more, carrying their rifles to the end, and finally, before climbing into the boats, remove the firing pins and throw them away, before dropping their rifles in the sea. The boats then carried them to ships waiting off-shore, then returned to the beaches again.

Meanwhile, the German Luftwaffe (Air Force) flew up and down the beaches bombing the ships and machine-gunning the soldiers and little boats. Light British naval craft sailed up and down the Channel trying to protect the soldiers with their anti-aircraft fire, British fighter planes based in South England flew non-stop sorties to try to drive off the German fighter bombers. Many died on the beaches, rescuers and rescued, but the bulk of the British Expeditionary force was saved though all their weapons were left behind.

General Montgomery commanded the rear-guard that held off the German Army while the beaches were evacuated. The naval commander of the rescuers knew that Montgomery was a religious man, so he sent him a message of encouragement to the effect that surely God will rescue him. In reply, Montgomery signalled, “But if not”. Montgomery had quoted a biblical passage in Daniel Ch 3, v:17-18: “But if not ... we will not worship the golden image.” Montgomery meant that even if he was captured by the Germans he would not accept the German myth of racial superiority and their pagan beliefs. Montgomery was taken off before the Germans broke through the rear-guard.

Note: “But if Not” --
Shedrach, Meshach and Abednego were three Jews in captivity in Babylon. When Nebuchadnezzar, the King, made a great image of gold and commanded all his people to worship the god upon penalty of death by fire, the three Jews would not do so. Nebuchadnessar said to them, ‘I have the power to throw you in the furnace and who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands?’ Daniel, Ch.3 v. 17 (King James Version) gives their reply: ‘If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thy hand, 0 king. But if not, be it known, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image you have set up..’ Nebuchadnezzar had the three Jews thrown in the furnace, but they were not harmed, so Nebuchadnezzar called them out and decreed that anyone who said anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abenego should be cut into little pieces, ‘for no other God can deliver after this sort.’

The German Army had prepared a fleet of vessels for the invasion of England, and many thought that if the Gemans had followed through their victory over the British Expeditionary Force the German army would have over-run England. It was at this desperate time that Winston Churchill made his famous speech of defiance that ended with the words:

“We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds; we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”

It is unlikely that Hitler was put off by these words. Hitler had decided that the invasion should follow German mastery in the skies over Britain and sought to destroy the RAF by drawing them into battles with the German bomber fleets. But Hitler miscalculated somewhat. The British air commanders had held back the larger part of their fighter airplanes in Northern England for th defence of Britain and had refused to engage them in the skies over Dunkirk. This policy paid off when the Germans started to bomb air-fields in southern England by daylight. Now the tactical advantage was with the British for their fighters could re-fuel and re-arm near the scene of battle while the escorting German fighters could not stay in the sky too long because of fuel problems. This meant that many German bombers were unescorted on their way home after a raid and were easily picked off. Another important factor was that British airmen who were shot down could come down on land or in British coastal waters and be rescued to fight another day, but German airmen who were shot down, either ended in prisons or in watery graves. The RAF (Royal Air Force) suffered great casualties too and of them Prime Minister Winston Churchill said “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

Through the summer of 1940, the. German Air Force had their go at Britain with daylight bombing, and when this was found too expensive, with night-bombing. Though much of London was destroyed and a great part of Coventry in one raid, the British war-effort was unhindered. It was strange that neither the British who were actually at the receiving end, nor the Americans who came in later, appreciated that bombing of civilian populations cannot win a war.

Edinburgh was not targeted by the Germans throughout the war. The only military target nearby was the Forth Bridge which was well defended by barrage balloons. These were balloons set at various heights along the flight-path of an attacking bomber which would have to dodge the practically invisible balloon cables, besides anti-aircraft fire and defending fighter planes. The only bomb damage suffered by Edinburgh was caused by a solitary bomb jettisoned by a bomber on his way home. It was reported that a Chinese laundry was hit, but this may have been just propaganda; legend has it that a whisky storehouse was hit and fireman wept to see the blue flames from burning whiskey running into the sewers.

Bombing attacks on north Britain were launched from German-occupied Norway which was quite a long way off and not to be undertaken lightly. One massive night-raid on Clydebank, the port area of Glasgow, did substantial damage. On that night we could hear aircraft droning overhead all night because the returning bombers used the faint glow from the city of Edinburgh as a beacon to guide them home to their Norway bases. I was on stretcher duty that night and helped to receive casualties brought by ambulance from Glasgow and to push the stretcher trolleys to the surgical theatre. That was the extent of my war experience, apart from training for the Local Defence Volunteers (Home Guard) and Fire-watching at the Students’ Union.


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