Baker, James

Letter
Date:
May 8, 1942
To:
Mom
From:
Jim
May 8th, 1942

Dear Mom,

I have been wanting to write to you all week but I have not had much to say and I hate writing a letter in which I can say nothing. But today I received a letter from you and it has helped me a lot. Some few days ago, I sent you a letter enclosing a letter which Mary wrote me and also a printed letter "From An Airman to His Mother". The time has come when I must tell you what I have decided, for I hate to deceive you and I know that it would hurt you very much if I did not trust you or think that you would misunderstand and therefore be afraid to tell you in advance what I am planning. I have determined to transfer to the RCAF as a pilot, preferably a fighter pilot, but as you know, they have a definite test in this force which determines whether a man is more suitable as a fighter or a bomber pilot. So I will have to wait until I have my test to decide definitely. I have already taken the first step though. I have interviewed my Commanding Officer and have sent in my application. I have now to wait for my medical test, intelligent test, etc.

Now I'll have to try and explain my reasons for this choice. As you know my first choice was and always has been the Air Force, but I did not have enough patience to endure the long wait. Also economic necessities were pressing at that time. But those necessities are no longer there for now you have Stanley's contribution coming in as well as mine, I feel freer. I have no premonitions or anything but we must realize that we are facing a certain more definite element of danger and we must be prepared for any eventuality. This is going to add another worry to the burden you already bear but I can only quote from your letter to me: "Have Faith". You know I have never at any time felt any doubt in my mind that I would come back home safely. I have Faith now in myself and I can face the future without fear, for I feel that the step I am taking is without doubt the right one. Perhaps if I quote to you in full my latest poem, it will help you to understand how I feel. I want you to read it several times, study it and try to get to the inner meaning.

THE FIGHTER PILOT SPEAKS

"We are a race of men apart" he said,
"We have a new perspective, new desires.
Our world which once was tragically dead -
A tasteless world of all consuming fires
Which burnt our souls and left a worthless ash,
Has now a romance quite beyond my ken.
I know not why, but when I see the flash
Of silver wings against the blue heaven
My heart leaps up and ever strives to fly. -
‘Adventure doth no longer stride the land!
Why should I strive or seek?' Thus once spake I
And, in my wand'ring on this running sand
I lost my faith. ‘No future comes,' I said,
‘There is no honor for such men as I.
Why do I live?' - My father fought and bled,
He sacrificed, was not afraid to die
For that which he believed. But I - his son,
I saw that Faith betrayed. That Faith became
A thing of scorn! Men said: ‘The war is won'
And turned away to money-making. The flame
Of Peace waxed high, but profits ever higher
Lured on the interest of these men and they
Forgot the man whose sacrificial fire
Had saved tomorrow's world for them today -
They made a peace, a lean contemptuous thing
That bartered nations, peoples bought and sold!
Speeches - once fine, now had a mocking ring,
Justice was dead, their only God was Gold!
And then you wonder that my Faith was lost;
That I did not believe the promises of men! -
Who was I to reckon up the cost
Of Death? Life's door was closed, Hell's door open! -
~
Thus once was I, and in my bitter heart
The flame of hope had all but run its race,
I had no courage, did not want to start
The long, sad climb back up the path to Faith.
And then I learned to fly! - How to describe
The ceaseless wonder that first flight unfurled?
It's with me yet, it doth forever ride
Beside me in this new enchanting world.
I have a new conception of the earth,
There are no man-made boundaries for me,
Instead: this thought my eager mind gives birth,
‘Nations are one! Their hope is Unity!' -
~
We are the leaders of tomorrow's life,
We'll lead the way to brighter, greener fields,
Forget the sorrows and the endless strife
That bitterness and war's destruction yields.
A world of peace and usefulness shall rise
Upon the ash heaps of the old. Our Faith,
Engendered by our flight in sunlit skies
Shall finally subdue Fear's dying wraith.

THE END

Now can you see what it is I feel? There is a physical attraction there, the sheer joy of revelling in my strength and fitness - of demonstrating my superiority, but deeper and more important still is the spiritual attraction which I am sure is there. These men who fly have a totally different perspective, they can learn to look upon the world as a whole - as I believe God meant the world to be viewed. These men laugh at man's silly boundaries: for the endless realms of space are theirs to conquer and subdue at will. Their only boundaries are the physical incapabilities of their machines and bodies. Their minds and hearts are freed from the shackles of convention and prejudice. They laugh at man's silly attempts to keep their isolation for theirs is a boundariless realm, a kingdom without walls in which the earth spreads out before them: a physical unity. Heretofore man's earth has not been a physical unity but a collection of intimate corners bounded by unexplored or unexplorable regions where a different race of people lived, a different language was spoken, a different set of standards of value used, different customs and racial characteristics existed. A social barrier existed no matter how low the tariff wall and how free the boundary outposts. To an airman, those things no longer exist and this is the perspective I wish to strengthen and encourage in myself. From the "race of men apart" will rise the leaders of tomorrow and I want to be one of them. I feel I have those dormant qualities in me. They only need to be roused to life.

Of course, the element of danger is there, but what is the use of Faith if you have not the courage to face danger for it? Of what use is physical fitness and mental ability if we are not willing to risk those things for that which we believe? I have never placed much emphasis upon comfort and security but rather upon doing that which I consider to be right and just, as you well know. This I consider to be right.

There is of course, the killing of my fellow men-in-combat to be considered. But here there are no odds, a man fights a man, matches his brain and his skill against that of his opponent and the better man wins. Both have an equal chance and it is a personal fight. It is a very necessary evil that must be conquered and ruthlessly expelled from our midst. We do not shelter a cancer and give it sustenance. Why not? Because from experience we know it will ultimately kill the body upon which it feeds....so with the cancer that has attacked the earth. We - the Forces, are the surgeons. How much cleaner and more precise is the airman's operation than that of a poor muddling, foot-slogging soldier blinded by his lack of knowledge, dependant upon others for his orders, following blindly where others lead: why? He knows not. He can get no clear idea of what is happening, of the vast machine of which he is only an insignificant part. Can you wonder that no really great men rose from among the ranks of privates and NCO's of the last war? Perspective is needed. The greater the height from which a thing is seen, the greater the view. I am sufficiently intimate with the details as seen close up. I need now the details of physical unity, I need to grasp the far-reaching ideas of completeness and entity.

I had a letter from Stanley yesterday and I was surprised to see how he has grown up and changed. I keep forgetting it is 21/2 years since I last saw him and I automatically think of him as he was then. Evidently he doesn't like it very much, for here is an extract from his letter: "Write soon and answer all the questions if you can and please don't treat me as a little child!"

I am enclosing a postcard of ‘Cliveden Reach' which is situated just below the hospital in the part of the grounds that we call our own. It can give you an idea - better than any word-picture, just how beautiful this place really is. This is Cliveden in her summer clothes, just as she is now. We have had glorious weather this past few days, the sun has shone brilliantly for 12 consecutive days, a record I should think. And I have been sunbathing every day with the result that I am as brown as a berry. I miss my swimming trunks terribly. You know I wrote and told you last year how they had been stolen from me the day I came into hospital. I can't buy any more until the war is over either for I can't get the clothing coupons.

I am sorry you have considered it necessary to resign from the Presidency of the Auxiliary and I am not entirely sure that it was right for you to do so. Of course I realize that certain positions are intolerable and from the sound of your letter, it must have been forced upon you. But I cannot really view the situation because from here, my perspective is too great and I am also personally prejudiced. But you have my sympathy, for I think I can guess how you feel. Never mind, your time still comes. Others cannot fail to recognize such talents as yours forever so long as you remain steadfast in your belief and remain confident of yourself and your own abilities. And I am sure you will, for they have withstood a most persistent hammering for over 20 years.

I received a parcel of cigarettes from the Overseas Birthday Club sometime ago and it completely mystified me for I had never heard of it before. I distributed the cigs. among my friends and they were most welcome.

The other day I had a very enjoyable time. There is a very nice lady - a Mrs. McDougall, working in out Ward kitchen. She is a Canadian whose only daughter died two and a half years ago, just when war started. The daughter had won a scholarship at the London College of Music and she and her mother came over to England to study and live. Mrs. McDougall idolized her daughter and when she died, was completely alone. That is why she welcomed this opportunity to work for others here in the hospital. She is here and I have immense admiration and respect for her. The other day she invited me over to the place where she stays and after tea, we had a lovely musical evening. Mrs. McDougall plays very well. But what was most enjoyable for me, I sang several songs, the first time I have really sung for nearly a year and a half. I enjoyed it immensely.

I am glad you do not expect me to come back and settle down in White Rock again after this is over, for I know I could never do it without killing all that is alive and fine in me. I doubt very much that I will ever be completely happy anywhere but here where I am now. There is so much that is sheer beauty which one sees. But I will certainly come home to be discharged and see you all again. I know there is going to be a long wait and many disappointments between the day the war stops and the day we are demobilized, but as long as I realize those things, I can build up a barrier of patience against them and they will not be so dangerous to me.

I hope you received the letter in which I told you not to sent the lighter. Also the one in which I asked you to buy a wedding present for Sheila who is getting married in August or September.

Well that seems to have exhausted every thing for now. My arm is better and the Doctor said I would be discharged next week maybe. Mary (Beverly) was down to see me last Sunday and we had a glorious tramp through the estate and along the river to Maidenhead. Cheerio...Write soon

Love to all,

Jim




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