On 28 June 2012, the Bomber Command Memorial will be officially dedicated and opened in London by the Queen. The Memorial will be a lasting tribute to more than 125,000 Commonwealth aircrew who served with Bomber Command during World War II.
The bomber offensive was perhaps the longest, most sustained single campaign of the war – crews were in action from almost the first day of the conflict and the final sorties were flown at the very end of hostilities in Europe. Their contribution to the final victory was immense – as, sadly, was the cost. Out of those 125,000 airmen, more than 55,000 were killed in action. As an overall group, only the German U-Boat crews suffered a higher casualty rate.
Some 10,000 Australians served with Bomber Command. Almost three and a half thousand of them died while on active service. Bomber Command represented some 2% of total Australian enlistments in WWII but suffered 20% of Australian casualties. One Australian unit, 460 Squadron, lost more than 1,000 men over the course of the conflict – the equivalent of being completely wiped out five times.
Yet despite their terrible sacrifice, despite their enormous contribution to the war effort, the men of Bomber Command have never received the recognition that they deserve. A campaign medal was never awarded. And it has taken until now – nearly seven decades after the cessation of hostilities – for an official Memorial to be built. It’s been estimated that some 150 Bomber Command veterans remain alive in Australia. The youngest of these are fast approaching their 90th birthdays. Naturally our surviving veterans are very keen to travel to London to take part in the dedication ceremony. Due to the ravages of age not all 150 are well enough to attend, but at least 80 have registered interest with the Bomber Command Association of Australia.
The Australian Government initially announced a Commemorative Mission of five veterans would be fully sponsored and supported to go to the Ceremony. No family members or carers were included. A further forty grants of up to $3,000 each were to be available to assist other veterans in defraying their travel costs. In contrast, the New Zealand Government announced in a media release (through Veteran’s Affairs New Zealand) that they will be sending an RNZAF Boeing 757 to London with any veterans who are willing and able to make the trip, plus carers. Veterans’ Affairs New Zealand will cover all accommodation, transport, travel and medical expenses. This is a superb effort and shows how much the New Zealand Government respects and appreciates the efforts of their veterans.
So the Bomber Command Commemorative Day Foundation started a campaign for proper recognition of our veterans. And it was successful, sort of. The Government announced on May 12 that they will now be taking 30 veterans, with $5,000 grants available to those who miss out on being part of the official delegation. This is a good improvement, but more is still needed. There are practical difficulties associated with travelling at such an advanced age and having a family member or carer travelling alongside is almost a necessity. The Australian Government was quite happy to send these brave men all-expenses-paid to England seventy years ago. The least they deserve is help so that they have the chance to see that their efforts – and the memories of the 3,486 Australian airmen who never came home – are properly recognised in London.
I’ve written letters supporting this cause to my local Member of Parliament, the Minister for Veterans Affairs, the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader. So far (a week and a half later) the only response has come from the Office of the Opposition Leader, in a phone call this afternoon. The staffer who rang me suggested I also contact the Shadow Minister for Veterans Affairs, so a new letter will be on the way shortly. I’ll be very interested to hear the responses of the others and will post here with any updates.
In the meantime, for those who wish to give practical support, please see details for making donations to the Bomber Command Commemorative Day Foundation’s London Visit Appeal here.
An article in the Hornsby Advocate featuring a great photo of two of our 463-467 Sqn veterans.
I’ve also received a reply from Warren Snowdon’s office advising that the official mission is now 32 men – 44 applications were received and all those assessed as medically fit to join the mission were accepted. The number of $5,000 grants is uncapped. This, to me, appears a reasonable response – it is certainly an improvement over the initial proposal. I’m still awaiting a response from my local member.
Text (c) 2012 Adam Purcell