In My Father’s Words
03/07/1938 – 18/10/2018
‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.’ These lines open the classic Charles Dickens’ novel, “A Tale of Two Cities.” He was speaking about the French Revolution. I am not sure that his assessment was totally correct. Hundreds of thousands of people died in the time of the Terror, and for what? The freedom of man? The dignity of the human spirit? Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité? Maybe. Maybe not. But more importantly, it worked, didn’t it? Most certainly it did not. In the 217 years since the much heralded, and fraudulent, storming of the Bastille, France has had three monarchies, two Empires, five Republics and one degrading regime of collaboration with Nazi Germany. In the same period, stuffy old Britain has had one constitutional monarchy. So the sacrifice of the hundreds of thousands who died in France was really for nothing.
In a similar way, the sacrifices made by countless numbers of young Americans in the Civil War were not primarily to free slaves, but to prevent secessionist States from breaking up the Union. The ending of slavery in the United States was not the cause of the War, but the result of the Union victory, to put the South into economic difficulties.
This is not to argue that something good achieved, for the wrong reasons, is therefore not something good. Slavery was well on its way out in 1861. It had been abolished 28 years earlier in the British Empire. So, what were the sacrifices of the blue and gray soldiers for?
In the Second World War some sixty million people died. Were the sacrifices of the Jews in the Holocaust, or the Londoners in the blitz all in vain? After all, they didn’t really have a choice.
People make sacrifices every day; husbands for wives, wives for husbands, both for their children and vice versa. However, it must be recognised that the ultimate sacrifice, to employ a hackneyed phrase is to give ones life for a cause, or another person, especially when the choice is available not to do so.
One such person was Squadron Leader Arthur Stewart King Scarf. Scarf was a Wimbledon born lad who joined the RAF in 1936. In 1940, while serving in Malaya, he met and married his wife Sally, who was a nursing sister in Singapore. She moved to Alor Star in northern Malaya to be near her husband who was a squadron commander at Butterworth. On 7th December 1941 when the Japanese carried out their attack on Pearl Harbor, Scarf had been watching events in Europe, unable to assist at Dunkirk, or the Battle of Britain or in the air war against Rommel in the desert. Twenty-seven months after was started, he had never been in action.
On 9th December, two days after the ‘Day of infamy’ as President Roosevelt had described Pearl Harbour, Scarf took off in his Blenheim light bomber to lead his squadron of twelve against Japanese targets in Thailand. At that precise moment enemy aircraft attacked the Butterworth airfield, destroying all the British aircraft except Scarf’s.
He would have been justified in aborting his mission, now reduced from twelve to one aircraft. He didn’t but carried out a lone attack against the original target. His aircraft was badly damaged and he was seriously injured by enemy flak and fighters and crash-landed near Alor Star. His crew was safe, but the critically injured pilot was taken to Alor Star hospital where he was able to speak to his wife before becoming unconscious. Sally gave two pints of her own blood, but Squadron Leader Scarf, died, as it happened in the arms of his wife.
It would be June 1946 before Scarf’s courage and sacrifice would be recognised with the award of the Victoria Cross from the King. At his school, King’s College, Wimbledon, this ‘not frightfully brainy, but fine ordinary chap’ had his VC added to the list of gallantry awards won by the pupils. 6 DSO’s, 7 DSC’s, 23 MC’s, 17 DFC’S and a George Medal. The Duke of Wellington is reported, incorrectly, as having said that the Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton. Surely the boys of Kings College Wimbledon also deserve a mention.
Of all the thousands I could have written about, why did I choose Arthur Scarf? Well I served at Butterworth, wore the same khaki uniform and cap badge as he had worn, and walked daily on Scarf Road, named after a man who made the ultimate sacrifice.
Written by BM