RAFairman's Blog

An RAF Airman's Blog

Closure…

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.

For us.

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.

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9 thoughts on “Closure…

  1. We lost a relative who was a rear gunner and will certainly be paying a visit in due course,

  2. Steve Cockayne on said:

    Sir,

    That has to be the finest piece of writing about the Bomber Boys memorial and what it truly means that I have ever read or probably will read.

    I could not be there today. I would have, had I been more on the ball, for my Uncle who served with 50/61 Squadron based at Skellingthorpe.

    He died in August last year but would have loved to have been there.

    Flt Lt B C Fitch DFC finished the war with his crew intact after 2 tours, becoming an an instructor & converting to the first fast jets.

    His Lanc was LL777 QR-S (Sheila not Sugar – after his wife) which like many crashed in Belgium after being shot up over Guiessen. He had left it for others by then. It had nose art of a poor hand of cards and ‘A Slim Chance’ motto. That slim chance held out for him till last year.

    He always meant a lot to me and was a hero like so many of his squadron who did not come back. Two of his squadron colleagues won VCs (Ried & Manser) and there were numerous DSOs & DFCs.

    So, thank you for being there and recording what was and still is a great day, the people you met, the emotions and highlighting a great memorial to those ‘many’ who did not return.

    This monument will be of great comfort to the friends and familes of the living and the dead who served in the RAF at that difficult time.

    It will be a source of peace, solace and as you so rightly pooint out, closure.

    I will visit very soon and pay my respects.

    Kindest regards,

    Steve

    • Julie on said:

      Steve,

      I recently discovered that my Grandmother’s Brother, Sgt. Earnshaw Ashworth (air gunner), lost his life on LL777’s final flight, on 6th December 1944. Although it is unlikely that your Uncle and Earnshaw knew each other they shared a close association with this particular Lancaster.

      In April this year, I was lucky enough to visit the Bomber Memorial and spent some time there, thinking about the men who served. The monument is indeed a fitting tribute to them and the sacrifice they made.

      Regards,

      Julie

  3. David (RAF retired) on said:

    So very well written. Thank you for putting the thoughts of many into words that can be read by so many more.

  4. What a wonderful, just a shame it so long to show our appreciation.

  5. Paul David Marshall on said:

    Nice sentiment nice words yes finally closure. “so many owe so much to so few”. Let’s hope l/we don’t hear words like “dirty secret” or “embarrassed by” ever again it grates me

  6. Dermot Bell on said:

    I had similar feeling when I volunteered to be an Usher for the BoB 60th at Westminster. The night before there was a hangar cocktail reception for all the veterans. Speaking to these guys was a privilege. They had come from all over the world for one last big gathering. The stories they told and friendships they still maintained as if it was yesterday were quite exceptional.
    I was asked by a Hurricane pilot from Oz how many times I had been shot down (he had survived 2) and I felt rather embarrassed to tell that I had never even been shot at. We had been chatting and he had enquired about which Ops I had been on as he recognised some of my attendance medals. He assumed that as I was on heavies that we must have taken a hell of a battering as that was his memories of friends on Bomber Command. Of course these days the High Value Assets (I was on VC10 tankers) are well protected and rarely have to do anything dangerous. But it was a reminder of how different war was then. I am not for one minute saying that what our forces are doing in various parts of the world is low or no risk, far from it, but that what these guys went through day in day out was truly astounding.
    As always, these guys made light of it and still loved to banter each other about which was the better aircraft, some things never change.

  7. Your description of the memorial has convinced me that my next visit to London MUST include a visit to see it for myself! All three pieces are very well written and a lot better than many articles in today’s press.

  8. A blog by my friend who was also in Green Park with her dad who flew 47 missions in Lancs during the war: http://sandycanblog.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/bomber-command-memorial-dedication.html?showComment=1341320361835

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