..through adversity to the stars. This is the motto of the Royal Air Force.
Today sees the opening of a long overdue war memorial in London. The Bomber Command memorial was officially opened in Green Park by the Queen. Of the 125,000 airmen who served in Bomber Command during World War II, more then 55,000 lost their lives. Almost 1 in 2 chance of death. Add another 20,000 injured or captured as POW’s and an unfavourable outcome was an odds-on chance.
One of the reasons for the long delay is that hindsight has the luxury of being politically correct and many can afford now, in freedom , to make judgements about the morality of making war from the skies where civilian casualties would be extensive. These men with an average age of 22 had no such opportunity to exercise their critical faculties in some Guardian readers type debate. Their country was under attack from the most ruthless, fanatical power since Genghis Khan and things were not going too well. German bombing of our cities was already underway and it was not a time for considering if Adolf Hitler had “issues” or a difficult childhood.
Many of those airmen came from all over the Commonwealth to serve the “Mother” country. From Canada, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand. My own father served as a navigator and was shot down over Belgium and spent two years as a POW. He was more fortunate than some of his other crew.
His Halifax BB249 ( call sign DY-Z) took off from RAF Pocklington ( Near York) at 2311 hours on the night of 9/10 thJuly 1943. It had been detailed to bomb Gelsenkirchen, Germany. Nothing was heard from the aircraft after take off and it failed to return to base.
The Crew were:
RAAF 416561 Flt Sgt A T Fraser, Captain (Pilot)
RAF Sgt W Morse, (Flight Engineer)
RAF Sgt T E Stockton, (Navigator)
RAF Sgt R N Brand, (Air Bomber)
RAF Flt Sgt J H G Mansell, (Wireless Air Gunner)
RCAF Sgt R F Glass, (Air Gunner)
RAF Sgt H Edwards, (Air Gunner)
We now know that the aircraft was shot down by a night fighter and crashed at 0240 hours on 10th July 1943 at Eprave (Namur) 4kms south west of Rochefort, Belgium.Four of the crew were killed and Sgt’s Brand, Stockton and Edwards were POW’s.Those killed are buried in the Florennes Communal Cemetery,Namur, Belgium. Thanks to the internet and the typically thorough record keeping of the Luftwaffe, I know the name of the German pilot who shot them down. ( Hauptman August Geiger, Staffel Kapitan of 7th Staffel 111 Gruppe NJG 1 who himself was shot down and killed 2 months later.)
As Frances Gibb says in her article today in The Times whilst relating how her own pilot father desccribed his experience:
“It was a tale we rarely heard. A reserved, sensitive man, my father said little about what must have been a searing experience. In any case, his generation did not tend to boast or grandstand — far less show emotion publicly — about the horrors of what they had seen or done.
The enormity of their courage, night after night, was in almost inverse proportion to what they said about it, in contrast to the cult of heroism today. Their attitude was “we just got on with it”. And they had a strong sense of duty: my father never doubted that the missions were the right thing to do.”
This memorial will hopefully serve to remind future generations that they owe their freedom to disagree with such memorials to those 55,000 selfless young men.