Bomber Command Memorial unveiled

News Article / July 5, 2012

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This story was first published in 2012, just after this dedication ceremony took place.

By Master Warrant Officer Normand Marion

“I thought this day would never come. I’m absolutely thrilled about this new memorial,” says Fraser Muir, a tail gunner who served with the Royal Canadian Air Force on bomber aircraft during the Second World War. “This is not about glorifying war. This is about honouring the 55,573 boys who gave their lives in the air campaign.”

Mr. Muir, along with more than 40 other Canadians who served with Bomber Command of the Royal Air Force during the Second World War, returned to England today to witness a very special event that paid tribute to their service and sacrifice: the unveiling of a Bomber Command memorial, located in Green Park, London, near Buckingham Palace.

The striking memorial, which honours all Allied airmen who lost their lives while serving in Bomber Command operations (more than 10,000 of them were Canadians), was unveiled on Thursday, June 28, 2012, by Queen Elizabeth II during a ceremony attended by more than 7,000 people, including more than 900 Bomber Command veterans from various commonwealth and Allied countries.

“I think it was long past due,” says former RCAF sergeant Frank Boyd, who was part of the Canadian delegation. “It was more than time to honour these fine young men who never came back. To me, they were the best of the best, and it was time they were recognized.”

More than 67 years have passed since Sergeant (retired) Boyd last flew on operations from the British Isles, and yet some of the memories of those war years come back to him as if it was yesterday. Sergeant Boyd served as a mid-upper gunner on Avro Lancaster aircraft with 101 Squadron of the RAF. He flew 31 missions before being shot down on what was supposed to have been the final flight of his tour. He and the rest of his crew survived, but were quickly picked up by German troops and sent to prisoner of war camps where they spent the remainder of the war.

For those who, like Sergeant Boyd, made it back alive, losing flying mates and close friends became part of the reality of war, with far too little time to say goodbye. “Many mornings we’d come to the mess and see the empty chairs,” he says. “Or, if the guy happened to be from your billet, you’d come back after a mission and you’d find his bed space all cleaned up, with all of his belongings gone, just like that. They had special duty people who took care of that. That’s all they did.”

Although Canadians served in RAF, RCAF and other Commonwealth squadrons during the war, 15 RCAF squadrons were brought together in 1943 to form Canada’s No. 6 Bomber Group, the only non-British bomber group to serve in the war. About 40,000 Canadian airmen served in No. 6 Bomber Group, including James Moffat of Timmins, Ontario.

Mr. Moffat flew as an air gunner with 427 Squadron, a unit of No. 6 Bomber Group. His tour of operations was cut short on his 13th mission when his aircraft collided with another one in flight. Somehow he managed to parachute to the relative safety of occupied Belgium, only to discover that he was the sole survivor of both aircraft. He spent the next six months working with underground groups, both in Belgium and France, helping other Allied aircrew to escape.

When asked how he feels about the contribution he and the other members of Bomber Command made to the war effort, he responded without hesitation: “Without Bomber Command, there would have been no D-Day invasion. By the time troops came ashore in Normandy, there were almost no German aircraft coming to meet them because of the damage the air campaign had done. Instead of attacking our landing forces, most of Germany’s war effort turned to the defence of their homeland against our bomber attacks.”

The experiences lived by members of Bomber Command varied greatly throughout the war. Some, like James Fawcett, managed to complete their full operational tour relatively unharmed, and continued for a second or more tours – Fawcett completed 62 missions. Others had short-lived operational careers, like Flying Officer George Mitchell, a Lancaster pilot who was injured while taking off for his very first operational mission: the bomber taking off in front of his aircraft exploded.

But today, the experience lived by Mr. Muir, Sergeant Boyd, Mr. Moffat, Mr. Fawcett, Flying Officer Mitchell and all the veterans of Bomber Command who attended the unveiling of “their” memorial by the Queen herself, was a mixture of pride, joy and—yes—relief that the day had finally come after all these years.

Perhaps their only regret is that so many (at least 55,573) of them were no longer with them to witness the event.

About the memorial

The Bomber Command Association (UK) organized the ceremony to dedicate the memorial to those who waged the strategic bombing campaign. Canada’s commitment to Bomber Command was 15 squadrons, with the No. 6 Bomber Group—Canadian formation—flying more than 40,000 missions. In total, more than 50,000 Canadians served in Royal Canadian Air Force or Royal Air Force squadrons, with about 10,600 losing their lives. The Canadians were the second largest contingent of aircrews in Bomber Command.

Construction of the Memorial began in August 2011. It was designed by architect Liam O’Connor, who also designed the Armed Forces Memorial at the National Arboretum in Stafford, England, and incorporates a sculpture by Philip Jackson depicting a seven-person heavy bomber crew.

The United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence provided ceremonial support, which included a flypast by the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s Lancaster bomber and Royal Air Force Tornado GR.4 aircraft.

The memorial is built of Portland stone and at its heart is a bronze statue of aircrew members. Within the memorial, the space is open to the sky, designed to allow light to fall directly onto the aircrew.

The design of the roof was inspired by the geodetic construction used in the Vickers Wellington bomber and it incorporates aluminum recovered from a Canadian Handley Page Halifax III bomber (LW682) from 426 Squadron  that was shot down over Belgium on the night of May 13, 1944. Eight crew members were killed. Three airmen were still at their stations when the aircraft was excavated and they were buried with full military honours alongside their five comrades.

Within the Memorial are carved depictions of Bomber Command’s principal aircraft, and words from a 1940 speech by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill are inscribed: “The gratitude of every home in our island….and indeed throughout the world except in the abodes of the guilty goes out to the British airmen who undaunted by odds, unweakened by their constant challenge and mortal danger, are turning the tide of world war by their prowess and their devotion.”

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