“Whose Side Is God On?”
A THOUSAND bombers took off from England on the evening of May 30, 1942. It was the largest air raid in history up to that time. I was Signals Leader for a squadron of four-engined Lancaster bombers. Each aircraft carried one 8,000-pound (3,600-kg) bomb of sufficient explosive power to destroy an entire large factory or several blocks of a street.
Climbing to 20,000 feet,* we started on our way to the German city of Cologne. The crew members were busy checking the engines, fuel, radio, navigation, and so forth. The three gunners asked the captain for permission to check and fire their machine guns. All was now ready for us to enter enemy territory.
As we crossed the Dutch coastline, I stood up to take my position in the lookout post in the roof of the aircraft. From there I could see in all directions. There I remained, keeping a sharp lookout for enemy night fighters so that evasive action might be taken and instructions given to the gunners. In the distance, I could see red patches lighting up the sky because the majority of the bomber force had already set the city of Cologne ablaze.
Our Turn to Bomb
Now we were ready for our run in to the target. German fighter aircraft were circling the bombing area ready to attack us. We were the last batch of the thousand bombers that raided Cologne that night, and the city was ablaze from end to end. We had to descend to 10,000 feet in search of an area that wasn’t already burning and on which we could drop our bomb.
We had been briefed that the main post office was the aiming point. “There are ammunition factories across the street,” we were told. Many of us, however, believed that we were bombing the civilian population because we knew that in most cities the main post office is not surrounded by factories.
The tension grew as the pilot opened the bomb-bay doors. The noise in the aircraft intensified. This was our most vulnerable moment. Our bomb, which seemed nearly as long as the four-engined aircraft itself, was now exposed. Coloured tracer bullets arched through the sky. If anything hit that bomb, we were finished!
The bomb aimer now took control of the aircraft. Pointing his sights toward the target area, he gave the pilot his instructions: “Left-left; right-right-steady; left a little—hold it—steady—on target. Bomb away!” The plane shuddered, and I heard the “whoosh” as the four-ton bomb fell away from the aircraft. An endless minute went by as we waited until the photoflash illuminated the area we had bombed. Once the damage had been photographed, we set off for home.
Pangs of Conscience
As we banked steeply and turned away, I could see the entire burning city of Cologne down below. I thought about the men, women, and children who had lost their lives. ‘Why am I taking part in the slaughter of thousands of innocent citizens of this huge city?’ I asked myself. I tried to console myself with the thought that this was a fight against the evil regime of Adolf Hitler.
On our way home I could not help returning to a memory that repeatedly haunted me during my 60 bombing missions. Early in the war a lone German aircraft had dropped a stick of bombs on an air-raid shelter near Lincoln, England. I helped to pull out the dismembered bodies of the women who had been sheltering there. I had nightmares about it for months after. Now I wondered: ‘How many times over had such horrors been repeated tonight as a result of a thousand bombers blasting the heavily populated city of Cologne? And what does God think about such dreadful work?’
I often thought about this because I came from a religious background in Inverness, Scotland. My family had been long-standing members of the Church of Scotland. I had been a Sunday-school teacher and president of the church’s Youth Fellowship. On Saturday evenings a group of us used to stand on the corner at the Inverness Town Hall and give public testimony to our faith. At such times I was filled with religious fervor and a desire to be a minister.
“Whose Side Is God On?”
I often spoke to the military chaplains during those six years of warfare (1939-45), and I asked them, “Whose side is God on in this war?” Invariably they replied, “Of course he is on our side! We are fighting an evil tyranny that is out for world domination, and only our Christian forces can destroy it!” However, this did not satisfy me.
One day I sat down in the Officers’ Mess with the squadron’s Catholic padre, and I said to him: “You know, padre, on our aircraft one of our crew members is a Catholic, and you bless him before we go off on bombing missions over Germany. Now, the same Catholic religion in Germany is blessing a Catholic crew member of a German aircraft that comes over and destroys our cities. So the question I ask is, ‘Whose side is God on?’”
“Well, that’s a tough one,” he replied. “All I know is that if we let Hitler rule the world, there will be no place in it for you and me, or any other Christian for that matter.” Needless to say, this didn’t answer my question either, for I couldn’t help but wonder: ‘Then why don’t German Catholics and their church withdraw their support from Hitler?’ I did not get answers to my questions until after the war.
On May 18, 1945, I stood before King George VI at Buckingham Palace, London, and received the Distinguished Flying Cross for having completed 60 missions over some of the most heavily defended industrial targets and cities in Europe. A medal for destroying cities, towns, and lives! Out of the 13 squadron members who came back from a second tour of missions, I was the only one who came through unscathed.
Later that year I was discharged, and I settled in the town of Doncaster, England, with my wife, Barbara, and our young son. It was during this period that I became extremely depressed; my nerves were shattered. I felt dreadful for the part I had in all the killing of people in our bombing raids over Germany and Italy. I repeatedly asked myself, ‘Will God forgive me?’ I often prayed for forgiveness.
An Interrupted Lunch
One day as I was having my lunch, the doorbell rang, and my wife went to answer it. She was at the door for some time, and I became impatient for my second course. So getting up rather angrily from the table, I rudely interrupted the conversation she was having with a man, saying, “What’s all this?”
“Your wife is interested in this book, Let God Be True,” the man kindly replied. “I am one of Jehovah’s Witnesses making calls in this neighbourhood.”
“No, thank you!” I shot back. The mere mention of Jehovah’s Witnesses made me angry. “We are not interested in those people who didn’t take part in our war but were content to eat our food, brought over at great risk by our sailors!”
“Well, sir,” the man at the door replied in a very mild voice, “one thing I would like to mention is that wherever Jehovah’s Witnesses lived during the war, they were neutral and took no part in it. Yet in the same war, as you know, Protestant killed Protestant and Catholic killed Catholic with no compunction whatsoever. But Jehovah’s Witnesses did not kill one another, or anybody else for that matter.”
The Side God Is On
His answer made my mind go back to the question that I had asked during the war, “Whose side is God on?” So I posed the question to him.
“Well, that is an easy one,” he replied. He showed me John 13:34, 35 and read it: “I am giving you a new commandment, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love among yourselves.”
“Obviously,” he added, “if we truly love one another, wherever we live we certainly will not kill one another no matter what politicians may say to the contrary. Jehovah’s Witnesses practice that commandment of Jesus, even though in Germany many died in concentration camps for being neutral, and many others, like me, were imprisoned in this country. We believe that God is on the side of people who really love one another.”
He was convincing, so we accepted the book. My wife and I sat up in bed reading that book and checking the scriptures until the wee hours of the morning. We learned how wars, such as the world war in which I had fought, were part of a “sign” proving that shortly God’s government will end all tyranny and make the earth a place where Christians can live in peace.—Matthew 24:3-14.
After about a week, we wrote to the man who had left us the book and his address and asked him to call. We had lots of questions to ask him. Several days later he returned, and we started to study the Bible with him. After the second study, we began attending meetings at the local Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and eventually my wife and I were baptized in 1948.
A Different High-Altitude Service
Down through the years, my wife and I had kept before us the desire to serve as full-time ministers, and, of course, when our son became a missionary in South America, the desire became even stronger. But it was a big decision to make because by this time we were quite comfortably situated; we had a very fine home, and I had a well-paying job. We weren’t young any longer, and both of us had our share of health problems. And, yet, I knew that we really could be doing a lot more.
After much prayerful thought, the decision was made. The house was sold, and the tears were shed, as we had lived in that house for over 20 years. And so in June 1973 we found ourselves flying in over the barren altiplano of Bolivia to La Paz Airport.
My son and his wife were waiting to meet us. A few minutes after leaving the airport, we stopped, and there before us was one of the most spectacular sights that I have ever seen. The capital city, La Paz, lies in a deep basinlike hollow, something resembling a moon crater, 1,000 feet below the level of the flat altiplano. It was early evening, and we could see the lights of the entire city twinkling below us. Beyond, snowcapped Mount Illimani was reflecting the last rays of the evening sun.
In my Royal Air Force days, I had been taught always to use oxygen when flying at over 10,000 feet. Here we were going to live at an altitude of nearly 12,000 feet—with no oxygen masks! What a struggle it became, climbing up the steep hills of La Paz as we gasped for oxygen in the rarefied atmosphere, during our visiting from house to house! But how enjoyable it was to be in almost constant sunshine, always with a view of the towering snow-covered peaks of the Andes!
Most enjoyable, however, was the great interest of the people in the good news of God’s Kingdom. At first I had the message that I wanted to present written on a card, to help me remember what to say in Spanish. The language, of course, was a difficulty at times. But after 12 years there, I was able to give public talks in Spanish and serve as an elder in one of the congregations. Over the years, we had some delightful experiences, having studied with 20 persons who were then baptized. However, due to ill health, my wife and I had to return to England, where we continue to tell others about God’s Kingdom.
When I think back to that terrible night when we bombed Cologne, it still makes me feel sick to think of the destruction and suffering that I caused. ‘Does God really bless those fighting in war?’ I had often wondered. How thankful I was to learn that God isn’t on either side when nations go to war. Rather, as that Witness explained to me: “God is on the side of people who really love one another.” (John 13:34, 35)—As told by David Walker.
One foot equals 0.30 meter.
[Blurb on page 5]
The plane shuddered, and I heard the “whoosh” as the four-ton bomb fell away from the aircraft
[Blurb on page 6]
‘Why am I taking part in the slaughter of thousands of innocent citizens of this huge city?’ I asked myself
[Picture on page 5]
One thousand bombers headed for Cologne
RAF Museums, London
[Picture on page 6]
Cologne, one target during my 60 bombing missions
U.S. Army photo
[Picture on page 7]
Walker with wife, Barbara, and son during World War II
“Topical” Press Agency, LTD., London
[Picture on page 8]
David Walker and his wife talking to a Bolivian about God’s Kingdom