Strength in unity

The tradition of heraldic badges for units associated with British Commonwealth squadrons of Bomber Command is a long and storied one. Most have symbols of the unit’s purpose, origin, or location – ranging from the obvious to the obscure. The RAF’s 39 Squadron badge, showing a winged bomb, and the RAAF’s 460, depicting a kangaroo and boomerang, are examples of the former. It might take more heraldic expertise than I profess to discern the symbolism of “In front of a Rose Argent a Lion passant guardant Sable” emblematic of RAF 76 Squadron.

Likewise, the motto of a unit, normally emblazoned on a banner, accompanying other requisite standard symbols, usually proclaims their purpose, conviction, or esprit de corps. These mottos, usually in English or more traditionally, in Latin, run the gamut from the mundane, “Strike Hard” (RAF No. 104), to the apt, RAF No. 9’s “Per noctem volamus" -- "We fly through the night" (Latin) to the vaguely threatening admonition “Moosa Aswayita" – Cree for “Beware the moose” (RCAF 419 Squadron).

I very much appreciate the badges of each and every unit but there is one that is my favourite. I will admit complete bias in this but I feel that no other unit has captured the spirit, resolve, or nature of Bomber Command as shown by the badge of my father’s assigned squadron – RAF No. 158 Squadron (shown below).

The symbol is simple but with intrinsically weighty connotation – seven links in a continuous chain. Seven is the usual complement of a British WWII heavy bomber – in this case, a Halifax. No single link is apparently more vital than the next. They are together, in all likelihood, forever. No other symbol seems to capture what must have been felt by members of a bomber crew – as more than once told to me by one of my father’s pilots on squadron, F/Lt. Douglas A. Robinson, “we were closer than brothers.”

The motto compliments and enhances this symbol. “Strength in Unity” describes not only what these men clearly felt through their many experiences and travails, but cements their indivisibility through their lives and beyond. Many a crew failed to return from operations – the seven men sharing a common fleeting last moment of life destined to lie in graves, side-by-side, or even communally. Even should they survive the almost outrageous odds of an operational tour, they were forever linked in their common experience and kinship.

And even more remarkable is how their “unity” has transcended generations. The kin of these men and women of 158 today share this commonality through the 158 Squadron Association and otherwise. Originally, the community comprised the veterans but now many subsequent generations -- children, grandchildren and beyond -- celebrate their progenitor’s camaraderie and spirit. An unbroken chain, strong in our unity. The badge still fits.

- Mark Cote, 31 July 2018         

© Copyright Mark Cote