Two RAF airmen are buried with full military honors by occupying German soldiers, Channel Islands

A RAF airman is buried with full military honors by occupying German soldiers, Channel Islands, 1943 (1)

Full military honors were granted by the Luftwaffe at the funerals of R.A.F Sergeants Butlin and Holden who were shot down over Jersey, Channel Islands. It is thought this was to try and pacify the local population. The Luftwaffe behaved much differently than the SS or Wehrmacht. Much more chivalry.

R.A.F Sergeants Butlin took off on an operation to Frankfurt at 23.15 hrs from R.A.F. Burn in Yorkshire and ditched roughly 3 miles south west of the Channel Island of Jersey after a call was made by Sgt. Odling for assistance. The body of observer Sgt. Holden was eventually washed up on St Queens Bay in Jersey on the 3rd June 1943. On the 5th June his and the body of a Sgt. Denis Charles Butlin from 1663 H.C.Unit lay in state in the Hospital Chapel with hundreds of islanders visiting the coffins to pay their last respects, prior to a service on the morning of 6th June. The coffins were then draped with the Union Jack before being taken to the cemetery. Hundreds of people lined the route but the Luftwaffe prevented them entering the gates of the cemetery.

These gestures weren’t done only by the Germans, the British and the Americans did it too. There’s a World War II story of a kamikaze hitting the USS Missouri and getting full military honors. From Wikipedia:

On 11 April, a low-flying kamikaze, although fired on, crashed on Missouri’s starboard side, just below her main deck level. The starboard wing of the plane was thrown far forward, starting a gasoline fire at 5 in (127 mm) Gun Mount No. 3. The battleship suffered only superficial damage, and the fire was brought quickly under control.[5] The remains of the pilot were recovered on board the ship just aft of one of the 40 mm gun tubs. Captain Callaghan decided that the young Japanese pilot had done his job to the best of his ability, and with honor, so he should be given a military funeral. The following day he was buried at sea with military honors. The dent in the side of the ship remains to this day.

On World War I the allies did the same for the Red Baron von Richthofen, a flying ace (arguably the most famous wartime pilot).

Killing other human beings is not something a normal person will do, even if their life is in danger, often to their own detriment. When American Civil War battlefields are excavated muskets are almost always loaded, and many times they have been loaded over and over without being fired. This basically rendered the gun useless but if someone was not watching closely you would appear to be going through the motions of loading and firing. In Vietnam it was discovered that about 75% of US soldiers intentionally missed or fired high. This brought around a real change in the way basic training was conducted. Soldiers had to be brainwashed into becoming killers. It’s what makes a battle hardened force so much more dangerous than green troops. I would argue that with pilots they are more removed from the supervision of superiors and are more likely to act human without the external pressure to win at any cost.

“On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society”  by David Grossman goes into it extensively, with that example and many others. What’s really interesting is the lengths to which the US Army was forced to change it’s training after WW2 to make ground combat soldiers more capable of killing in battle. They learned that massive numbers of infantry soldiers, from 15-20 percent would find any excuse to not kill, including purposely trying to find other jobs like messenger, faking firing, or even firing over the heads of enemy soldiers, because of a deep-seated, innate revulsion to taking human life. That obviously wouldn’t work on the battlefield. Both strategically to win wars, and tactically for individual soldiers to survive, this had to change. So, the Army changed the way soldiers were trained. Before and during WW2, soldiers were trained by firing at bulls-eye targets. After WW2 they were changed first to man-shaped targets, then green man-shaped targets, then green man-shaped targets that fell down when they were shot. By Korea more than 50% of front-line soldiers were firing, by Vietnam it was over 70%, and by Desert Storm (the last major war before this book was published) it was over 90%. It’s a fascinating read, and it’s written for the lay-person.

Interesting fact: Jersey was the only British territory occupied by the Germans.