The Warsaw Rising broke ou t on 1 st August, 1944, between four and five in the afternoon. For us, listening to the loud-speakers, the only vital questions was: Warsaw is fighting – when do we fly to help them?
I remember that moment well. The announcer was finding it difficult to keep his voice properly calm and impersonal – we could feel that. I looked round: every face was set and stern. Some bombers were just taking off outside – their crews knew nothing of the Rising. Lucky fellows, in a way. We were to take off at midnight. Stan, my tail gunner, rapped out a curse, banging the table with his fist and went out, slamming the door.
Of course our flight was unimportant, just as everything not taking place in Warsaw was unimportant.
I'm sure that not one of us even for a moment imagined this Battle of Warsaw would last 63 days – more than two months of heroism, agony and death. It never entered our heads that time after time through the unending night hours we should listen to Warsaw calling for help – and that we should be unable, absolutely unable, to do anything. We were quite sure, to begin with, that the Rising would last only a few days. We feared we might lose an excellent opportunity, and were most impatient. The Russians were advancing westwards so quickly on such a wide front that we all feared it might be too late for us to drop those last few bombs of ours on the Germans besieging Warsaw. So we waited from day to day, but no order ever came.
Finally, as we were climbing out of our bombers one day after an op., an aircraftman came up and told me: "Sir, the Germans have taken Warsaw." He seemed suddenly aged with grief.
Stanley was just behind me. He's what you'd call a Warsaw Cockney with all a Cockney's affection for his city. He must have heard, because he stopped short and dumped his 'chute on the ground He couldn't at first take in what he had heard. He just stood there, turning his head from side to side helplessly; his eyes looked this way and that as if seeking enlightenment. Suddenly he realised the full meaning of the words. His face became a gray mask of hopeless misery. He picked up the 'chute and, bowed down, shuffled off to the car without a word. He came up to me in ops. room later as I was studying the maps. His eyes were sunken and lifeless. He asked me in a hoarse, unfamiliar voice: "Sir, what's the use? Warsaw's gone. Live? In such a world? What's the use, sir? . . ." he broke on and went to the window. He pressed his face against the glass and looked out into the darkness through the panes where the drops of mist were trickling down like tears.