Sunday, February 22, 2009

Faith, Hope, and Charity

One of the more amazing stories from the Second World War is from the defence of Malta. The situation was desperate. There are plenty of accounts of the heroism of the people, of the sailors who managed to get supplies through to the island, and of the garrison who defended it. Due to the complete incompetence of the civil service and the lack of foresight on the part of the politicians, Malta's air defences were woefully under-strength at the outbreak of the war, and, by the end of 1940, the fighter defences were down to just three Gloster Gladiator fighters.

These three out of date and hopelessly slow fighter planes managed to give a very good account of themselves in battle, being flown by RAF officers whose skill must have been stretched to the limit by the Gladiator's upper high-mounted wing, paltry armament, and slow airspeed when pitched into battle against the faster Aeromacchi and other modern aircraft operated by the Italian Regio Aeronautica.

Note the names these three little outdated aircraft bore as they were thrown into frontline action way beyond their expected capability. They were "Faith", "Hope", and "Charity. Charity survived the longest, holding out until, finally, a squadron of Hurricanes could be flown in to Malta and then enhanced with more, and eventually even Spitfires. As most will recognise, the names come from St Paul's first letter to the Corinthians Chapter 13, which famously begins "Though I speak with the tongues of men and angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal." Ironic, too, that the word, which has now been debased to mean "free handouts" actually meant, in the days of King James 1, "love". And that in the sense of the Greek word "philos" and not, as the word again seems to have been debased, to mean "eros".