Wednesday, July 28, 2010


Prussian Award Pour le Mérite also informally ...Image via Wikipedia

Dear You—

It’s another gorgeous day. I feel decidedly tempted to head out for a walk, and probably will, but first let me tell you why the movie, The Red Baron, resonated so much with me.

Primarily it has to do with my much loved grandmother, Vida Lentaigne who served as a volunteer nurse from about 1916 onwards under circumstances not entirely dissimilar to those portrayed in the movie. Of course, there was one important distinction: she worked for the British, not the Germans, although she nursed both because a casualty received attention regardless of nationality. She had been brought up surrounded by servants, and all the trappings of wealth and privilege, so the grim business of cleaning out infected wounds, mopping up blood and puke, and coping with the horror of the kind of terrible injuries inflicted by bullets, high explosives, gas and the bayonet, took some getting using to. But she told me that she felt compelled to serve at a time when so many of the young men in her social circle were in uniform and being killed. She said the sheer scale of the losses was devastating. Practically every male friend she had was killed.

My grandmother died in 1976 aged 78 - active and creative until close to the end; and no day goes by that I don’t think of her, and miss her.

The other memory that The Red Baron brought back was that of another movie, The Blue Max, which was actually made very near where were lived in Ireland, at the Ardmore Studios, and which starred George Peppard, James Mason and Ursula Andress. Later, I was to go flying with one of the stunt pilots from the movie and to have other adventures – both aeronatic and romantic - which will have to wait for my memoirs.

The Blue Max of the movie was the term given to the  Pour le Mérite award. Let me quote Wilipedia on the subject: The Pour le Mérite was first founded in 1740 by King Frederick II of Prussia, named in French, the language of the Prussian royal court at the time. Until 1810, the Order was both a civilian and military honor. In January of that year, King Frederick William III decreed that the award could be presented only to serving military officers. The Pour le Mérite is correctly called an "order", in which a man or woman is admitted into membership, and should not be referred to as a "medal" or "decoration."

I have only been in one aerial dogfight in my life – and we were merely simulating one for about 15 minutes – but it was still one of the most exciting and intense experiences I can recall as we each maneuvered to get on the other’s tail and administer a fatal burst. The real Red Baron, Manfred von Richthofen, regarded 50 meters as the optimum killing range. 

Farewell for the moment. Write soon. I miss your wit and your company.


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