Ninety-three-year-old Victor Gregg sorts through his memories of surviving the dreadful firebombing of Dresden. Captured at Arnhem, he had escaped from several prisons, but then had committed an act of sabotage that resulted in a death sentence. He was imprisoned with many other condemned men in a long building with a domed glass ceiling in the heart of Dresden.
He barely escaped death in the first wave of bombers; his co-condemned who had been sentenced with him was not so lucky. The walls of their building collapsed and all streamed out as the incendiaries began to fall. Luck was with him as he was conscripted by an extremely conscientious and organized German officer to fight the fires along with a group of soldiers. The task was worse than Sisyphean and they finally hunkered down in a field along the railroad tracks, watching in horror as people were sucked into the fires by extremely strong winds fanning created by the inferno. It wasn’t really what you could call a wind or even a gale, the air that was being drawn in from the outside to feed the inferno was like a solid object, so great was its force. The women were clutching onto the men sensing the danger of being sucked across the open ground into the centre of the enormous bonfire, that had once been the centre of Dresden. Further along the line the station was engulfed. I am not certain that this was the main Railway Station of Dresden but it was a station of sorts. I never got near it, so I cannot say. It had a centre arch, we could all see, which suddenly collapsed and still not one bomb had landed.
Huge tanks filled with water proved to be an illusory haven as the fires heated the water and the slippery sides of the tanks prevented people from escaping leaving them to be boiled alive. Those not trapped in the buildings but who happened to be hit by the phosphorus used in the incendiary bombs became human torches as the phosphoros could not be extinguished.
Their task then morphed into rescue attempts as he and others, soldiers, prisoners, refugees, anyone who could banded together under command of this officer whom he labeled the "General." Their efforts were for naught as they tunneled into cellars where people had sought refuge only to be suffocated as the oxygen was used up by the fires and then their bodies became but piles of rubble. They were hauled out and what remained incinerated in the tanks that had been filled with water.
Told to report to a camp for prisoners, he decided not to risk being recognized as a man marked for execution and so walked east toward the Russian front. He reached it and his skill at getting American Chevy trucks going made him indispensable until he was repatriated to the British Army.
His feelings about the episode remain strong and not a pacifist by any means argues against any future campaigns like those conducted against civilians in WW II. By the time of the bombing of Dresden the formula for the mass murder of civilians had been bought to a fine art. The commanders had developed a technique: first of all fires are started; then canyons of devastated buildings are created to draw the air to feed the inferno thus creating the winds and the fire storm; finally come the blockbusters that demolish everything and trap the helpless victims inside shelters that turn into ovens from which there is no escape. Ironically the ghastly events that I have tried to describe in these pages took place on the Christian holidays of Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday.