We should never turn our backs on history

We all love a hero. And when that hero is entwined in our local history the affection runs deeper still. Such is the case with the dashing Fred Sherborne, whose adventures during World War II read like some great work of fiction – only they were fact.

When we were told relics from the plane in which he was shot down were about to be unpacked at the Fleet Air Arm Museum, we had little idea of just how compelling the story behind them was. 

These fragments are tangible remnants of a life lived amid the drama of World War II. The speak not only of derring-do but of the global effort to rid the world of Nazism. The aircraft from which they came was American, flown by an Australian in the service of Britain’s Royal Navy.

Fred Sherborne crash landed just weeks after the D-Day landings in 1944, some 80km ahead of the Allied front pushing deeper into occupied France. His Grumman Wildcat had been peppered with enemy fire.

He was taken in by local Resistance fighters and hidden from the retreating Germans until the town near which he came down was liberated. His aircraft was hidden too.

It’s worth remembering the era in which Sherborne lived and fought. 

Adolf Hitler had swept to power on a tide of populism.

He promised to make Germany great again. He made scapegoats of minorities and the intelligentsia. And he did deals – short-lived as they were – with Soviet Russia to suit his plans for European domination.

It seems depressingly familiar. We’ve watched Donald Trump swept to power on a tide of populism. He, too, has appealed to voters by marginalising minorities and promising to make America great again. The evidence is mounting of deals with Russia designed to help propel him into power. And he has gone to war with the media.

Trump’s intent is in no way in the same league of Hitler’s but the effect of his populism has been dark. Hate crime is on the rise and cooperation between nations is on the wane. Thankfully, memories are long and the institutions of democracy appear strong enough to keep the unpredictable president in check.

In the 1940s, it was the collective efforts of ordinary folk doing extraordinary things that undid Hitler.  The story of Fred Sherborne, who with millions of others fought for democracy, resonates still. Such is the power of history.