RAF Bomber Command Memorial
United Kingdom
Sculpture within the memorial
For the 55,573 aircrew of RAF Bomber Command who died during the Second World War
Unveiled28 June 2012; 11 years ago (2012-06-28)
Location
Designed byLiam O'Connor (memorial)
Philip Jackson (sculpture)
Freedom is the sure possession of those alone who have the courage to defend it

The Royal Air Force Bomber Command Memorial is a memorial in Green Park, London, commemorating the crews of RAF Bomber Command who embarked on missions during the Second World War.[1] The memorial, on the south side of Piccadilly, facing Hyde Park Corner, was built to mark the sacrifice of 55,573 aircrew from Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Poland, Czechoslovakia and other allied countries,[2] as well as civilians of all nations killed during raids.[3]

Queen Elizabeth II unveiled the memorial on 28 June 2012, in the year of her Diamond Jubilee.[4]

History

Main article: Strategic bombing during World War II

After World War II, many people treated Bomber Command, including its flight crew veterans as well its war dead, with disdain.[5][6] Despite describing bombers as "the means of victory" in 1940, British prime minister Winston Churchill did not mention Bomber Command in his speech marking the Victory in Europe in 1945.[7] This view arose from the strong, deadly use of force in strategic but often imprecise, and heavily counter-defended, bombing campaigns. The multi-year onslaught hastened the end of the war and thus genocide such as in Nazi extermination camps, but civilian casualties made the issue controversial.[a] While many ignored the 43,000 civilians killed by Nazi bombing of England during the nine months of The Blitz, they gave damning attention to the 353,000 civilians killed in Germany during six years of bombing (artificially inflated, by propaganda in Nazi Germany, to closer to 1 million – a figure accepted and repeated for decades afterwards by critics and Holocaust deniers as a moral cause célèbre of the war),[5][6] but not as a direct aim of the offensives. The controversy meant that an official memorial to the aircrews was not erected until nearly 70 years after the war.

An appeal was made for £5.6 million (equivalent to £7 million in 2021) to build the memorial, and funding came from donations made by the public. Musicians Robin Gibb (The Bee Gees) and Jim Dooley (The Dooleys) became key figures behind the appeal, working to raise funds and have the memorial built.[8]

Design

Exterior of the memorial in 2013.

Liam O'Connor designed the memorial, built of Portland stone, which features a bronze 9-foot (2.7 m) sculpture of seven aircrew, designed by the sculptor Philip Jackson to look as though they have just returned from a bombing mission and left their aircraft.[4]

Aluminium from a Royal Canadian Air Force Handley Page Halifax of No. 426 Squadron that had crashed in Belgium in May 1944 was used to build the roof of the memorial, which was designed to evoke the geodetic structure of the Vickers Wellington. The Halifax, LW682 OW/M, had been removed from a swamp in 1997 with three of the crew found still at their posts. They were buried with full military honours in Geraardsbergen and the remains of the aircraft were sent to Canada. Some of the metal was used for the restoration of a Halifax in Trenton, Ontario, and the rest was melted down by the Bomber Command Museum of Canada in Nanton, Alberta. The Museum provided ingots for the memorial to commemorate the 10,659 Canadians out of a total of 55,573 Bomber Command aircrew killed during the war.[9][10] Furthermore, some of this aluminium was supplied to the International Bomber Command Centre, which opened in Lincoln, England in 2018, and forms the rear plate of its "Additions Panel".

Interior view of the memorial's aluminium roof

On both walls inside the monument there are inscriptions that read:

THIS MEMORIAL IS DEDICATED TO THE 55,573 AIRMEN/ FROM THE UNITED KINGDOM, BRITISH COMMONWEALTH/ & ALLIED NATIONS WHO SERVED IN/ RAF BOMBER COMMAND & LOST THEIR LIVES OVER/ THE COURSE OF THE SECOND WORLD WAR[11]

and, on the opposite wall:

THE FIGHTERS ARE OUR SALVATION BUT THE/ BOMBERS ALONE PROVIDE THE MEANS OF VICTORY/ WINSTON CHURCHILL SEPTEMBER 1940[11]

The inside face of the architrave to the rear of the statues carries the inscription:

THIS MEMORIAL ALSO COMMEMORATES THOSE OF ALL NATIONS WHO LOST THEIR LIVES IN THE BOMBING OF 1939–1945[11]

The large plinth carrying the statues bears the inscription:

HM QUEEN ELIZABETH II/ UNVEILED THIS MEMORIAL/ 28 JUNE/ IN THE YEAR OF HER DIAMOND JUBILEE/ 2012[11]

The rear face has a quotation from Pericles's Funeral Oration:[12]

FREEDOM IS THE SURE POSSESSION OF THOSE ALONE WHO/ HAVE THE COURAGE TO DEFEND IT/ PERICLES[11]

Since opening

Avro Lancaster PA474 carrying 800,000 poppies, taking off from RAF Coningsby on 28 June 2012 for the opening ceremony

There was controversy in the lead-up to the official opening, as there was a lack of donations forthcoming from official sources or the general public to pay for the projected £700,000 (equivalent to £880,000 in 2021) cost of the ceremony. By October 2012, veterans had pledged an additional £500,000 (equivalent to £628,000 in 2021) towards the total.[13]

Queen Elizabeth II formally opened the memorial on 28 June 2012, unveiling the bronze sculpture. The ceremony was attended by 6,000 veterans and family members of those killed,[4] and the Avro Lancaster of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight dropped red poppy petals over Green Park.[14]

In May 2013 the memorial was vandalised. The word "Islam" was spray-painted on the memorial and on the nearby Animals in War Memorial in Hyde Park.[15]

In March 2015, Les Munro, Royal New Zealand Air Force squadron leader and one of the last surviving members of the Dambusters Raid, intended to sell his war medals and flight logbook at auction to raise funds for the upkeep of the memorial. The auction was cancelled after Lord Ashcroft donated £75,000 (equivalent to £88,500 in 2021) to the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund towards the upkeep, with a further NZ$19,500 donated by the Museum of Transport and Technology in Auckland, New Zealand, to whom Munro then offered his medals for display.[16] Munro, aged 96, died that August.[17]

See also

Notes

  1. ^ See for example Sanders, Paul, and Keith Grint. "The interplay of the Dirty Hands of British area bombing and the wicked problem of defeating Nazi Germany in the Second World War–A lesson in leadership ethics," Leadership 15, no. 3 (2019): 271–295; Ford, John C. "The morality of obliteration bombing." Theological Studies 5, no. 3 (1944): 261–309.

References

  1. ^ "Kiwi WWII veterans to attend London memorial". New Zealand Herald. 28 June 2012. Retrieved 28 June 2012.
  2. ^ "RAF Bomber Command Losses of the Second World War". Retrieved 7 September 2019.
  3. ^ "The Aircrew of Bomber Command". Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund. 2012. Retrieved 28 June 2012.
  4. ^ a b c "Queen unveils RAF Bomber Command memorial". BBC News. 28 June 2012. Retrieved 28 June 2012.
  5. ^ a b Schaffer, Ronald (1985). Wings of Judgement: American Bombing in World War II. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 20–30, 108–109. ISBN 0-19-503629-8. Retrieved 22 January 2024.
  6. ^ a b Selden, Mark (2004). "The United States and Japan in Twentieth-Century Asian Wars". In Selden, Mark; So, Alvin Y. (eds.). War and State Terrorism: The United States, Japan, and the Asia-Pacific in the Long Twentieth Century. Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield. p. 30. ISBN 0-7425-2391-8 – via Google Books.
  7. ^ Harrison, Paul (28 June 2012). "War Dead From Bomber Command Honoured". Sky News. Archived from the original on 22 January 2024.
  8. ^ Barling, Kurt (21 May 2012). "Bee Gees singer Robin Gibb's War Memorial Campaign". BBC News. Archived from the original on 4 April 2023. Retrieved 28 June 2012.
  9. ^ "Memorial Update No 5". Bomber Command Memorial Appeal. 2012. Retrieved 30 June 2012.
  10. ^ "Canada's Bomber Command Memorial". Bomber Command Museum of Canada. Retrieved 28 January 2016.
  11. ^ a b c d e "Bomber Command". War Memorials Register. Imperial War Museums. Retrieved 23 January 2024.
  12. ^ Morley, Neville (22 October 2012). "Monumental folly". Aeon. Retrieved 25 January 2024.
  13. ^ "Bomber Command veterans face cash shortfall". BBC News. 3 October 2012.
  14. ^ Sengupta, Kim (28 June 2012). "Memorial to Bomber Command unveiled in Green Park". The Independent. London. Retrieved 28 June 2012.
  15. ^ "Vandals deface war memorials in London parks". BBC News. 27 May 2013.
  16. ^ Wilson, Libby (25 March 2015). "Deal keeps Dambuster medals in NZ". The Press. p. A4.
  17. ^ Thomas, Rachel; Wilson, Libby (4 August 2015). "New Zealand loses a 'remarkable man' with death of Les Munro; John Key says". Stuff.co.nz. Retrieved 4 August 2015.

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