I’ve been a lucky sod.
No I have. I’ve had a fairly charmed life and certainly a charmed career.
Lucky in the places I’ve been to, people I’ve worked with, things I’ve done, things I’ve seen.
But to be in Green Park today, to be part of the Bomber Command Memorial Opening Ceremony, to just be able to wander around and take pictures and talk to people and chat and listen. That is the luckiest thing ever. No pressure, no stress, just doing my own thing, going places and chatting to these amazing people, being around them…it’s the highest honour. The very best thing I have done as being part of the RAF.
I spoke to an Ex-Aircraftman II, who fixed Fairy Battles in the Battle of France and was evacuated from Brest instead of Dunkirk, and who was quickly commissioned after and spent the rest of the war as a staff officer.
I listened to an old pilot who talked me through a picture of a Lancaster, telling me that it was a picture that had been taken just after take-off, that the pilot had 10 degrees of flap selected, and why the Flight Engineer was facing the way he was and why the gun turrets were facing that way… I spoke to the son and grandson of a Flying Officer who was too infirm to make it to the ceremony, and that the grandson will be taking Granddads medals to show and tell at school tomorrow.
I chatted to an Air Gunner who suddenly said, do you want to meet my Navigator…and we trotted across to the chairs where we talked about flying and fighting and the weather and the crowd.
I listened to the daughter of an Air Gunner as she talked about her father and how much she missed him even though she could never remember meeting him (she was too young to remember him).
And I talked and talked to a Canadian couple who had spent the last month in Europe researching the gentleman’s uncle who had flown just three missions before he was shot down and killed. I learnt that they’d visited the town where the aircraft had crashed and had been shown to the exact spot where their uncle had hit the ground – by a local German who had seen the Halifax crash.
And I realised one thing. In each of the conversations the theme was closure. In their own way there was some closure here. That finally the monument and the memorial to each and everyone of their fathers, relatives, friends, was finally built and was finally open. It may be 67 years late, but it is here now.
And what a structure! What a memorial! The words ‘fitting tribute’ have been used so many times that they are cliched, but I have nothing left…the statue shows a crew of seven. One shading his eyes from the sun, others in contemplation, one deep in thought, another eyes closed, his mind clearly elsewhere. This whole monument is beautiful, thought provoking, magnificent.
And now it is here, it will stay there. It will be maintained by the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund as a permanent reminder to everyone who visits or passes of the sacrifice the honour and the glory of what those 55,573 men gave their lives for.
So whilst this memorial is about the Bomber Command, it’s not just FOR them. It’s for all of us. It gives the surviving Aircrew closure, the knowledge that at last their efforts are recognised and appreciated. For those who lost their fathers, uncles, brothers, it gives a place of pilgrimage. And for the rest of us…it gives us a reminder of the duty and sacrifice that that generation gave for us today. Truly, they gave their tomorrow’s for our today and finally that has been recognised. Magnificently.