Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

A “Reluctant Co-Pilot,” British Humour and an “Unassuming Fellow”: Volunteering at the Norwich Archive Centre

February 21st, 2010 · 1 Comment

On February 11th and February 18th I was able to make my fourth and fifth visits to the Norwich Archive Centre.  I was able to listen to around six audio recordings from US WWII veterans.  I won’t mention all of them but I will try to touch on a few.  The first audio recording was of a veteran who served primarily as a co-pilot throughout the Second World War.  He mentions basic training and gives a brief overview of some bombing missions he took part in.  For the most part this audio recording was fairly straight forward with few anecdotes.  However, one interesting thing to note is that this veteran published a book about his experience during the War – “The Saga of a Reluctant Co-Pilot” (available at the 2nd Air Division Memorial Library). In the audio recording, he expands on his reluctance.  He notes that he was unhappy most of the time with military life.  The training was too regimented in his opinion and as a result he never got to make close friendships; this was only compounded by the fact that groups changed frequently.

The next audio recording was also of a co-pilot of a B-24.  After briefly going over his training he was keen to mention his plane, “Gerocko.”  He noted how its unique nose art made it stand out from all the other aircraft.  Being stationed in Britain, he watched cricket for the first time with a certain fascination.  He then notes all the types of missions he fly while in Britain.  These range from bombing aircraft plants to railroad yards to airfields to V1 rocket sites to oil refineries.  In total he flew 24 missions but he did have a few notable missions.  The one that really stood out was a bombing mission to Evereux, France.  During the course of the mission, his plane took damage to the engines and they were forced to land on French soil.  Interestingly, because of the forced landing his plane was the first four-engine bomber to land on free French soil.

The next veteran was a ball turret gunner for a B-24.  He mentions enlisting at 18, being inducted in 1942 and describes his training.  He has numerous anecdotes including one about the English sense of humor.  Noting the poor weather one day to an Englishman, the veteran asked, “Do you ever have summer?”  The Englishman replied, “Yes, I believe we do and it came on a Saturday last year.”  The next anecdote he mentions is about a train ride back from London.  On the train he noticed a particularly attractive young Englishwoman.  Mustering up courage, he was able to start a conversation with her.  Eventually he managed to ask her if could have her address so they could go on a date.  She agreed and he took out a slip of paper to write on but unfortunately could not find a pen or pencil on him.  However, when he looked up he noticed two Englishmen and two Englishwomen offering pens.  So he got the address after all.

Before I end I have to mention an interesting development at the Norwich Archive Centre.  In my last blog post I ended with a story of WWII veteran who was interned in Turkey.  From his audio recording I had the suspicion that he was involved with some type of covert operation or involved with the OSS (Office of Strategic Services).  One of the archivists mentioned that this veteran actually came to the Norwich Archive Centre about a week ago.  The archivist was able to speak with him for a bit and it was revealed that this “unassuming fellow” was actually ex-CIA.

Volunteer Time: 4 hrs. 30 mins.

Total Time: 10 hrs.

Tags: Andrew F

“…and what’s the deal with this airline food?”

September 15th, 2009 · 1 Comment

Some say laughter is the best medicine. Others say “Laugh, and the world laughs with you.”

To be honest, I am not too sure what the British say.

My parents introduced me to British humour early on in my life (not too early, mind you), and after years of patiently watching and listening, I have no bloody clue what it all means. You know it is supposed to be funny, but what is there to laugh at? I still have no idea sometimes.

One of these moments occurred during my freshman year at Dickinson. I was in a show by N. F. Simpson, a well-known British playwright under the direction of a senior who had just come back from a year abroad in…you guessed it – England. She can safely fall into the category of anglophile, as indicated by her love for Monty Python – one of the most famous comedy troupes in the entire UK. She showed us a collection of famous clips from the group as “inspiration” for British humour (much of which appeared in the play I was in). Needless to say, the next 30 minutes were painful, for many of the skits went over our heads, never to be understood. We simply could not relate. Our director understood the humour, however, and laughed heartily at the sketches, occasionally stopping to look over at us as we sank into utter confusion.

Parrot Sketch

I do like some parts of British humour, do not get me wrong. There are sketches I reference in conversation, such as the one above, to either the delight or (as seems to be a regular occurrence here) utter confusion of the people around me. I laugh at Eddie Izzard, enjoy the humour of John Cleese, and I wish I could afford the 110-pound tickets for the Monty Python reunion at the Royal Albert Hall in October.

Is there really a better way to understand British humour? Will this be the one barrier that forever distinguishes us as American tourists? I will stop before my lamentations turn philosophical, but it something very important to reckon with. Take a moment to consider the enormous market for comedy in our generation. You have huge a huge fan base for the likes of Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, Steve Martin, Tracy Morgan, Jeff Dunham (random, but he is a very funny ventriloquist), and so on. We even have an entire channel dedicated to comedy (Comedy Central)! If the British market for comedy is half as large as that in the US, it will be a force that we will have to reckon with, whether we understand it or not.

The Ministry of Silly Walks

The skits and acts embedded in this post are very funny, at least to me. It has taken some awkward and often forced encounters with British humour for me to gain any interest in viewing it. Some surely can say it is just one variation of a larger, more universal type of humour, but I do not agree. Britain has established some very funny acts and humour that breaks free from any type of standard with which I am familiar. Quirky, interesting, and downright strange, these comedians, comedic actors, and others have been the pride of British society. I plan to discover why this is so.

Supermarket Psychology

Tags: Brandon