We have heard a lot over the past few years of things being 'dumbed down', usually with reference to GCSE and A level exams. having no personal experience of this, I can offer little by way of argument to either side. But there is another area where people have been dumbing down and where I do have an opinion. It is (increasingly) common to see references to sporting heroes. A footballer who scores a winning goal is a hero. A cricketer who takes five wickets in an innings in a test match is a hero.
Nonsense! There is nothing remotely heroic about either of those achievements.
I recently read of a true hero, Sergeant Norman Jackson. I quote from The London Gazette of 26th October 1945:
"Raid on Schweinfurt, Germany, 26 April 1944, Sergeant Norman Jackson, 106 Squadron, RAFVR.
recognition of most conspicuous bravery. This airman was the flight
engineer in a Lancaster bomber detailed to attack Schweinfurt on the
night of 26th April 1944. Bombs were dropped successfully and the
aircraft was climbing out of the target area. Suddenly it was attacked
by a fighter at about 20,000 feet. The captain took evading action at
once but the enemy secured many hits. A fire started near a petrol tank
on the upper surface of the starboard wing, between the fuselage and the
inner engine. Sergeant Jackson was thrown to the floor during the
engagement. Wounds which he received from shell splinters in the right
leg and shoulder were probably sustained at that time. Recovering
himself, he remarked that he could deal with the fire on the wing and
obtained his captain's permission to try to put out the flames.
Pushing a hand fire-extinguisher into the top of his life-saving jacket
and slipping on his parachute pack, Sergeant Jackson jettisoned the
escape hatch above the pilot's head. He then started to climb out of the
cockpit and back along the top of the fuselage to the starboard wing.
Before he could leave the fuselage his parachute pack opened and the
whole canopy and rigging lines spilled into the cockpit. Undeterred,
Sergeant Jackson continued. The pilot, bomb aimer and navigator gathered
the parachute together and held on to the rigging lines, paying them
out as the airman crawled aft. Eventually he slipped and, falling from
the fuselage to the starboard wing, grasped an air intake on the leading
edge of the wing. He succeeded in clinging on but lost the
extinguisher, which was blown away.
"By this time, the fire had spread rapidly and Sergeant Jackson was
involved. His face, hands and clothing were severely burnt. Unable to
retain his hold, he was swept through the flames and over the trailing
edge of the wing, dragging his parachute behind. When last seen it was
only partly inflated and was burning in a number of places.
"Realising that the fire could not be controlled, the captain gave the
order to abandon aircraft. Four of the remaining members of the crew
landed safely. The captain and rear gunner have not been accounted for.
Sergeant Jackson was unable to control his descent and landed heavily.
He sustained a broken ankle, his right eye was closed through burns and
his hands were useless. These injuries, together with the wounds
received earlier, reduced him to a pitiable state. At daybreak he
crawled to the nearest village, where he was taken prisoner. He bore the
intense pain and discomfort of the journey to Dulag Luft with
magnificent fortitude. After 10 months in hospital he made a good
recovery, though his hands required further treatment and are only of
This airman's attempt to extinguish the fire and save the aircraft and
crew from falling into enemy hands was an act of outstanding gallantry.
To venture outside, when travelling at 200 miles an hour, at a great
height and in intense cold, was an almost incredible feat. Had he
succeeded in subduing the flames, there was little or no prospect of his
regaining the cockpit. The spilling of his parachute and the risk of
grave damage to its canopy reduced his chances of survival to a minimum.
By his ready willingness to face these dangers he set an example of
self-sacrifice which will ever be remembered"
Norman Jackson was awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest gallantry award in Britain for bravery in the face of the enemy. Now that is heroism.