Names on a wall…
Just a number.
A fairly big number.
It’s slightly more than the price of a new Ford Mondeo (£18,100). It’s not quite as big as the number of miles around the circumference of the Earth (24,901 miles).
But it’s still a big number. But what is it significant for? Why so important?
It’s the number of names carved onto the walls of the Air Forces Memorial at Runnymede, in Surrey. Each of those names is a member of a Commonwealth Air Force who flew or fought in Northern Europe, and who has no know grave. They are the Missing of the Royal Air Forces that took the war to Germany, between 1939 and 1945.
It’s hard to imagine that number of people. It’s the population of a small town. It’s more than the average attendance of a Championship football match. Just imagine. If you went to watch Forest play Birmingham, you’d have been in a crowd of 20,556. All of them gone. Missing. No grave. No tomb. No where to be laid at rest.
It’s staggering. It’s sobering.
Built in the 1950’s it lists 20,456 names. Each name an airman or airwoman. Each name a person without a grave. Each name a person with a story, a life, and a death.
These sorts of numbers are staggering. Hard to get your head around. Difficult to comprehend. And when you visit, and you SHOULD visit, you’ll find a beautiful and calm memorial near to Egham in Surrey, built onto the side of a hill over looking London, just near to the flight path of Heathrow.
And despite the noise of the aircraft taking off and landing at the countries busiest airport, there you’ll find an oasis of calm in a mad and rushed world; a sense of timelessness. Built like a monastic cloister, with a central tower – reminiscent of an Air Traffic Control tower – there stands panel after panel after panel. Each listed with names. Name after name after name. I am not going to pick out a name, or a story. Each is as important as the other, no one stands out. No one should stand out. Irrespective of rank, gender, role or organisation each should be remembered as one who gave his or her life in the ultimate human folly – war.
And below each panel is a small stone seat. But often the seat has a picture, or a small posy of flowers, or a candle. These maybe the names of the missing, but they are not the names of the forgotten. This is a living memorial. It is where the people – men and women – flyers and ground crew – of the Commonwealth Air Forces who have no grave are remembered by their families, often by generations who never knew or met them.
It is quite simply a beautiful place and it is a fitting memorial to the Missing. A journey to pay homage to the men and women listed here is essential for all of us. We should visit. We should honour them, and as ever we should all remember them. All 20,456 of them.
The next blog in this series, coming soon, will be the first hand account of a Bomber Command Veteran Air Gunner. Keep checking back, or even better, subscribe to this blog to get new posts delivered to your email inbox.