Bomber Command Memorial ‘has allowed veterans to speak of their sacrifices’

·4 min read
Bomber Command memorial service - Hollie Adams for The Telegraph
Bomber Command memorial service - Hollie Adams for The Telegraph

The Bomber Command Memorial has allowed veterans of the service freedom to speak about their sacrifices after decades of silence, a historian has said on the 10th anniversary of its opening.

Veterans, relatives, campaigners and service members gathered at the memorial on Sunday morning for a service of remembrance to mark the anniversary in Piccadilly, London.

The memorial was only constructed after years of campaigning by veterans of the bombing war, with no major monument having been built decades after the Second World War.

It was built entirely with public donations, totalling £8.5 million, including more than £1 million raised by readers of The Telegraph following its Forgotten Heroes campaign in 2008.

In the years immediately following the war public opinion was split over whether the late blanket bombing of German cities had been a justified and legitimate strategy.

“Because of the bombing of Dresden and other cities, Churchill distanced himself from the recognition of v,” said Steve Darlow, a historian of the bombing war and documentary maker who attended the service.

RAF veteran George Dunn - Hollie Adams for The Telegraph
RAF veteran George Dunn - Hollie Adams for The Telegraph

Bomber crews were also left out of much of the victory celebrations said Mr Darlow, meaning that many felt “shunned”.

“They somewhat retreated, there was almost a perception that Bomber Command had acted immorally. And I think that's why a lot of them didn't necessarily want to talk about it.”

When the memorial was finally unveiled by the Queen in June 2012 it sparked a shift in attitudes, not only among veterans but also their family members and the general public, Mr Darlow said.

“Because the memorial got national press coverage it was really an opportunity and a window for people to find out more,” he said.

It also gave relatives a proper place to commemorate their lost ones as well as freeing surviving veterans to talk about their sacrifices, he added.

“I think the Bomber Command Memorial has given veterans a freedom to speak about what they did and not to be judged, but to be seen as young men who answered the call to go to war to defeat Nazism,” he said.

RAF personnel attend the Bomber Command Memorial - Hollie Adams for The Telegraph
RAF personnel attend the Bomber Command Memorial - Hollie Adams for The Telegraph

The Command suffered an extraordinary death toll during the war, with 55,573 aircrew killed of the 125,000 who served.

Heavy bombers such as the Avro Lancaster were laden with tens of thousands of pounds of high explosives as well as enormous fuel tanks, meaning any hit by anti-air guns or enemy aircraft could be catastrophic.

The remembrance service was begun by members of the University of London Air Squadron describing the stories of seven Bomber Command members from across the Commonwealth who died while fighting for Britain.

They included the Canadian pilot Patrick Langford, who was captured and later shot during the Great Escape, and John Jennings, a 19-year-old flight engineer who was shot down and killed alongside six crew mates on D-Day.

The Last Post and Reveille were performed and Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston, the head of the RAF, recited For the Fallen by Robert Laurence Binyon.

Greeted with warm applause

The small handful of veterans present, including members of the Women’s Auxilliary Air Force, were greeted with warm applause as they lay wreaths at the base of the memorial.

For two decades the only major public commemoration of anyone linked to Bomber Command was a statue of its overall commander Sir Arthur “Bomber” Harris outside St Clement Danes, the RAF church, on the Strand in London.

That statue, which was raised by the efforts of RAF veterans, was the subject of some controversy with protesters booing the Queen Mother when she unveiled it in May 1992. It was vandalised that same year.

The official memorial, opened 20 years later, did not attract the same kind of controversy.

Mr Darlow pointed out that the monument on Piccadilly was apolitical and did not comment on the rights or wrongs of strategic bombing, reflecting a new willingness to look at the bombing campaigns.

“I think there is more of a willingness to discuss Bomber Command and to accept that it's morally ambiguous. But also to separate that from the human endeavour.

"And I think the memorial does that very, very well. It separates the arguments about the morality of the bombing offensive from the human endeavour and sacrifice.”

The RAF Benevolent Fund is the official guardian of the memorial. The fund is the RAF’s leading welfare charity and supports current and former members of the Air Force.

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