Russell Margerison was one of hundreds of thousands who volunteered for service in the RAF during World War II, serving as a gunner on a Lancaster bomber. His chances were survival weren’t great, as more than 12,000 RAF Bomber Command aircraft were shot down and 55,573 airmen perished out of a total of 125,000.
“We were on the return flight, at 23,000ft, when there was a sudden heavy rattle of cannon and vicious, sparkling white tracer whipped through us. The Lanc appeared to stop dead, as if to gasp for breath, then lurched on like a drunken man.
“Both port engines were ablaze and flames spewed back over the port tailplane and fin.
“The firing had lasted for no more than two seconds, but it was more than enough. Down went the nose of the aircraft, the engines screaming in agony, and my head felt as if it was going to burst with the pressure.
“‘Pull the bugger out, pull the bugger out,’ someone shouted, and in reply the aircraft slowly responded.
“‘Feather port engines,’ Max ordered, then immediately: ‘Abandon aircraft. Abandon aircraft.’
“Shocked at the suddenness and speed at which events were moving, I watched as curls of metal rolled off the huge oval tailfin and revealed the framework underneath.
“Off came my gloves. I uncoupled my oxygen supply and electrically heated suit, then vacated the turret in record time.
“The whole fuselage was an inferno. Flames licked at my parachute, which lay on the floor. I grabbed it and with a sharp tug tried to hook it on to the harness I was wearing. I failed.
“Gib, wearing his ‘chute, opened the back door, turned, gave me a thumbs-up and disappeared from sight.
“Smoke and lack of oxygen were making breathing difficult as I tried, and failed, once again to clip on the ‘chute. I leaned against the fuselage side and said aloud: ‘Well, this is it.’
“The heat was intense as I moved nearer the door. Ammunition was exploding. Through holes made by the cannon shells, I could see flames outside.
“‘What the hell am I doing?’ screamed my fogged brain. In sheer desperation, I banged on the ‘chute as I tried to attach it again. This time it stayed on, and I rushed to the door.
“As soon as I poked my head outside, I was whipped out of the plane by a fierce wind. As I floated down I could hear a fighter coming closer and, as his engines became a deafening roar, I tried to curl myself into a little ball. The night was so black I couldn’t see him but, thankfully, the noise faded.
“It was a grim sight, watching our plane curl ever downwards, streaming flame as she went.
“I had seen many go down but this was different. Some of my mates could well be inside this aircraft. The Lanc hit the ground to leave a circle of fire. I turned my head away.”
Margerison would spend weeks on the run with the Belgian underground following his plane’s downing before being captured by the Germans. He eventually returned home to England after the war, still six months short of his 21st birthday.
Some 59 years after being shot down, he returned to the Continent, to visit the Belgians who risked everything to help him.
One supposes that among the advantages to heading a tinhorn dictatorship is that, from time to time, you can thumb your nose at the world and the world can do little more than say: “What the hell?”
Consider Guinea, the West African country that in 2006 had the rather dubious honor of being rated Africa’s Most Corrupt Country by Transparency International. Earlier this month, Guinea’s ruling junta decided arbitrarily to recall 30 ambassadors, from Washington to Beijing.
The military junta gave no reason for the diplomatic reshuffle, ordered by a presidential decree read on state television, according to The Associated Press.
Almost all of Guinea’s embassies abroad were affected by the reshuffle, including those in Paris, London, Moscow, Cairo and Pretoria, South Africa. The Guinean representatives to the European Union and African Union were also included.
The recall was the first major diplomatic move by self-proclaimed president Capt. Moussa Dadis Camara since he seized power in a bloodless coup on Dec. 23, hours after dictator Lansana Conte died, according to The Associated Press. Conte’s inner circle had ruled Guinea for a quarter century.
Ah, yes, this can’t help but bode well for putting Guinea on the path to stability and prosperity.
SCBT Financial Corp. announced plans Monday to pay back federal bailout money borrowed earlier this year.
The Columbia-based parent of South Carolina Bank & Trust will repay a $64.8 million bailout loan to the federal government obtained through the Troubled Asset Relief Program.
SCBT Chief Executive Robert Hill said the company accepted the money “only in an abundance of caution and always had the liquidity and capital to repay the funds.”
In a separate move also announced Monday, SCBT plans to sell 1.3 million shares of common stock at $23 a share. The company said it intends to use the nearly $30 million in proceeds from the equity offering for general corporate purposes and to enhance SCBT’s base of tangible common equity.
According to a report in The State newspaper, SCBT applied to the Treasury Department to repay the loan on April 30. Typically, it takes the federal government about 30 days to issue a decision, bank officials said.
Before the bank cuts a check to the Treasury Department, it must meet three requirements, according to The State:
- The bank must be able to raise money through the private capital markets without Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. guarantees.
- The bank must agree to prices for warrants the U.S. government receives for repayment. A warrant is the guarantee to buy a share at a set price.
- The bank must be deemed “well-capitalized” by regulators.
Shares of SCBT stock fell more than 10 percent Monday, down $2.66 a share to $23.20.