I have written a play with Max Kinnings called Wireless Operator which has its premier in at Edinburgh Festival Fringe this August.
My father Sergeant Joe Baldwin, a joiner by trade and a pacifist by instinct, was a Wireless Operator in 630 Lancaster Squadron based at East Kirkby. Like others my dad rarely talked about his war and I grew up with a lovely but burdened man, who struggled to process his feelings. From what I’ve read I don’t think anybody could. What they were asked to do was so absurd, so hideous, that it just didn’t make the kind of sense that could be explained; they were muted, repressed into silence. It’s now understood that this is part of the destructive long term impact of PTSD.
Our story is just one night in a Lancaster Bomber and is told through the eyes and ears of the wireless operator as he, with his crew, some just 18, hurtle through a terrifying frenzy of violence and destruction. He becomes an innocent participant in utter slaughter and, one of the most contentious strategies of WW2. It’s estimated that in Hamburg, more people, civilians mostly, were killed than died in Nagasaki.
It’s hard to imagine the enormity of what ordinary people were asked to do…. obliterate entire cities. And it’s hard to imagine what it felt like to carry out these merciless acts without anger or hate. They were not cold hearted killers, yet they were expected to kill, cold heartedly, and probably die. The statistics are shocking. These young men were not expected to survive more than 10 missions. A tour of duty was 30. If they survived physically, they could never escape the memory of seeing friends blown up or of dropping bombs that burned entire communities.
After he passed away I read my Dad’s log books and a beautifully written and revealing short story he wrote called “1 + 5 More To Go”. It provided the seed for this play as I realised how much more emotionally complex my Dad’s war had been, more than he would, or could, ever have shared.
Wireless Operator is a thrilling and nail-biting drama. Operatic in its ambition with a soundscape crafted from deconstructed recordings of the iconic Merlin engines. It’s an exciting and moving story that takes us deep into the terror of the battle and to the very heart of a personal struggle for sanity.