Under sunshine uncharacteristic of the British summer so far, the Bomber Command Memorial was dedicated in London’s Green Park on June 28. Around 7,000 veterans from the Commonwealth, Eastern Europe, USA and Caribbean and their families attended the ceremony. This included thirty-two New Zealand veterans, flown to the UK on a 40 Squadron RNZAF Boeing 757.
The memorial commemorates the 55,573 members of Bomber Command killed on operations during World War II. Around 6,000 New Zealanders served with Bomber Command, and 1,851 did not return home, a loss rate of thirty per cent. Canada’s losses were around fifty-eight per cent of the personnel sent. Speaking at the dedication, Sir Stephen Dalton, Chief of the Air Staff pointed out that the wartime casualties were greater than the strength of today’s RAF. He singled out the stories of Canadian Andrew Mynarski, who was posthumously awarded the VC for attempting to save a fellow crewmember and Briton James Flint, whose George Cross came about in similar circumstances, but who was able to attend the dedication.
Queen Elizabeth II unveiled the centerpiece of the Memorial, a sculpture of a typical seven-man heavy bomber crew, depicted as if having just returned from a raid over Occupied Europe. Princes Phillip, Charles, Andrew and Edward were also in their roles as honorary RAF Marshals and Air Commodores, but there were thankfully no politicians or celebrities. One of the latter who did much to make the memorial possible was sadly missed, however. Bee Gees singer Robin Gibb, president of the Heritage Foundation which had raised much of the £6 million cost of the Memorial, died on May 20.
The Memorial was a long time coming. Although Sir Winston Churchill’s quote of September 1940: “The fighters are our salvation but the bombers alone provide our means of victory” is inscribed on the west side of the Memorial, the destruction of Dresden, attacked on his direct order, and other German cities dampened his enthusiasm for bombing. Bomber Command was not mentioned in Churchill’s 1945 victory speech and he refused Bomber Command chief Sir Arthur Harris’ request for a campaign medal. It has taken nearly 70 years to get a national memorial built, by which time the surviving veterans have mostly entered their 90s.
One of the younger ones, Aucklander Ron Mayhill, 88, who served with 75 (NZ) Squadron at Mepal said: ”I think we now have a broader and more balanced view of what we did. We were there to win the war and I think Bomber Command did more than its fair share”.
The Memorial itself, in sight of the New Zealand War Memorial on Hyde Park Corner, was designed by architect Liam O’Connor in classical style and is largely made of Portland stone. The 9 ft high bronze figures that comprise the centerpiece were sculpted by Phillip Jackson and are accurate down to the last detail of parachute buckle and microphone lead, although they wear no badges of rank.
Aluminium from Halifax LW682 of 426 Squadron RCAF which was shot down over Holland in 1944 forms part of the roof, which is braced inside in a pattern inspired by the Geodetic construction of the Vickers Wellington. Above the heads of the figures it is open to the sky. On the park side of the memorial is a bronze wreath sculpted by an Australian veteran, Colin Dudley DFC, who was a Halifax navigator on No. 578 Squadron.
One of many real wreaths laid at the feet of the statue commemorated brothers John and George Mee from Becks, Central Otago, both Lancaster pilots who died over Germany in March and April 1944 aged 25 and 26, respectively. A note with it read in part: “As with their comrades they did not seek glory, they asked for no collateral for their lives, they demanded no privileges, no power or influence as they flew steadily into the valley of death”.
Five Tornado GR.4s, today’s counterpart of the World War II ‘heavy’ made a flyover, followed by the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s Lancaster, marked as ‘Phantom of the Ruhr’ of 100 Squadron. Aboard was Ron Clark, 90, pilot of the original Phantom, who last flew a Lancaster on VJ Day, 1945. Today he was in charge of the release of poppies over the ceremony, one for every Bomber Command airman lost. Arriving in the London control zone, the Lanc’s navigator Squadron Leader Russ Russell checked in with London ATC: "10 POB (people on board) with 55,573 souls."
This also appears in the July 2012 issue of NZ Aviation News: