I have a mission



I have a mission


An essay discussing that the use of the word mission for a wartime sortie was incorrect and that one should use the word operation.





Two page typewritten document


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[underlined] I HAVE A MISSION. [/underlined]
I have a mission; it is, in fact, to curtail - I know I shall never prevent it entirely - the use of the word Mission in referring to RAF flying activities during WW2. It is as gross an anachronism as Shakespeare's reference to a clock striking in 'Julius Caesar'. We didn't fly Missions; we flew OPERATIONS (more usually, just OPS, of course.)
The hub of all flying at an RAF station was the Operations (Ops) Room; did anyone ever hear of a Missions Room? Our flights to enemy territory were code-named, for example, Operation Hydra (Peenemunde), Operation Gomorrah (The Battle of Hamburg) and Operation Bellicose (the first shuttle-service operation against Friedrichshafen). Butch Harris would turn in his grave at the thought of their being known as Mission Hydra, Mission Gomorrah and Mission Bellicose.
I can boast some minor successes. When the distinguished journalist, the late Sir John Keegan, Defence Correspondent for the DAILY TELEGRAPH. reviewed Richard Morris's biography of Leonard Cheshire, he referred to Cheshire's 101 missions; I wrote to him at once, pointing out that Cheshire had flown only one mission (he flew with the USAAC to witness the dropping of the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima) but 100 operations in Bomber Command. I did receive something of an apology; he wrote "I agree about missions...... I almost wrote 'sorties'. However 'mission' now seems to have triumphed, so I weakly caved in."
Another senior journalist, still writing, so he will remain anonymous, pleaded that he must vary his vocabulary. Accepted, but there are plenty of other synonyms which could be used instead of one that no aircrew - or groundcrew for that matter - used at the time.
I noticed once in the BBC Antique Roadshow presenter, Fiona Bruce, was interviewing a Bomber Command veteran with his impressive collection of memorabilia. She kept referring to his missions, but each time he replied, he spoke of his operations. He was too polite actually to correct her, but made his point very noticeably!
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One evening our local television news programme announced that the following evening they would be interviewing a veteran who had completed x missions over Germany (x being a substantial number, but I've forgotten exactly how many.) I sent a hasty e-mail making my usual objections. When the interview came on the next evening, I was delighted that x missions had become x operations!
Our esteemed Chairman referred to Missions in his first letter to members about the Unveiling of The Bomber Command Memorial. I wrote my usual rather truculent letter, expressing my hope that the dreaded word would be omitted from any literature produced in connection with the occasion. As far as I could see, I was successful!
Our equally esteemed Editor, I noticed, used it in his otherwise excellent editorial in the issue immediately after the Unveiling, and it was this that occasioned this article.
Enough. I must go and consult my log-book. Someone wrote to me recently requesting details of one of my miss............ It's catching, isn't it?
A.H.G.S. (97 Squadron, Dec.42-Sept.43)



Arthur Spencer, “I have a mission,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 21, 2024, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/3607.

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