Writing | Rage | Story Origins | Axel and the Terrorflieger

A chilling, poignant story of a Canadian pilot in WWII and his interactions with a German guard where the humanity of both men is revealed as it becomes clear the depth of their losses and the horror of war has left them equally broken.

Story Origins

Axel and the Terrorflieger

Not all of my fiction is as grounded in a real event as this one--most of my stories come together only after I've jammed two or three discordant ideas together (which then sparks my imagination and allows me to create something I believe worth developing). However, the central premise of "Axel and the Terrorflieger" came to me pretty much intact, and has fascinated me for years.

In February of 1944, my uncle, an RAF Pathfinder pilot, was shot down near Stuttgart, Germany. He and his crew bailed out, were eventually captured, and remained prisoners of war until his escape just before the war's end. While I was still a child, that was all he would tell me about his wartime experiences, but as I grew older, he eventually told me more. He told me how his guards would sometimes select four prisoners, stand them at a wall, shoot two of them, and then order the survivors to dispose of the bodies. He told me how he hated the Schutzstaffel for their cruelty, but could find common ground with some members of the Luftwaffe as they were soldiers, just as he was. And he told me of the day he was taken as a prisoner of war to Frankfurt am Main, where a woman in the crowd spat on him, called him terrorflieger (terror flyer), and incited a mob.

Without giving too much away, that event in Frankfurt is the heart of "Axel and the Terrorflieger." I've always marvelled and wondered at the guard assigned to my uncle, how he was able to do what he did, and what it must have cost him. Of course, my story is fiction--I've changed things around (Daniel Thane is most emphatically not my uncle), added other twists, and jammed my discordant ideas together, but at it's core, this story is one of understanding who or what is really an enemy.


An excerpt of a very early version of this story originally appeared as a stage play script in Wreck, an in-house literary anthology published at the University of British Columbia in 2008.

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