Bomber Command at the Shrine of Remembrance

The Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne has gone all Bomber Command on us. As I’ve posted previously, there are a number of events happening there over the next couple of months. All tie in with a major temporary exhibition which opened earlier this month in the Shrine Visitor Centre. Bomber Command: Australians in the air war over Europe 1939-45 is open until 1 May next year. It’s only a fairly small exhibition but it covers much ground concerning the Australian experience of Bomber Command, from enlistment, through training to operations and afterwards, including a significant section on prisoners of war. There are photos, artwork and memorabilia that have all been put together in a professional manner, and it is already beginning to draw visitors from all across Victoria and other parts of Australia. I visited last week with Robyn Bell, one of my Bomber Command contacts in Melbourne.

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I suspect that if you hang around this exhibition for long enough you’ll see a fair number of Bomber Command veterans coming through for a look. And, happily, so it was when we visited. There was an older gent wearing a blazer and an Air Force tie looking at the mannequin in the photo above, talking to a middle-aged man about parachutes. Robyn recognised him as Gordon Laidlaw, a 50 Squadron pilot who she has been in touch with before, and talking to his mate later I discovered that they had come up from Mornington, an hour or so south of Melbourne, especially to have a look at the exhibition. It was great to chat briefly with Gordon. He was also talking to another pair of visitors who were in Melbourne on holidays from Perth who had come to the Shrine to see the exhibition:

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Rosemary Grigg (on the left) was overwhelmed to meet a real-life Bomber Command veteran – Gordon – because her father had been an airman too. Allan Joseph Grigg was killed on 22 July 1944 in a Wellington accident near Lossiemouth in Scotland, where he had been serving with No. 20 Operational Training Unit. She is keen to find out more about her father’s service so I’ve given her a few pointers on where to begin. As always, the fact he was Australian makes life much easier.

Moving around the exhibition, Robyn found her small contribution. She has been liaising with Neil Sharkey from the Shrine who was responsible for setting up the exhibition, and he was looking for some Window, the foil ‘chaff’ used to confuse German radar. As it happened Robyn had a small piece and was happy to allow it to go on display:

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What was most unexpected for me, though, was in a frame hanging at the end of one of the exhibition partitions. We had almost finished our walk around when I found it:

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Regular readers of SomethingVeryBig (those, at least, with very good eyesight) will recognise the lower photograph, the only known photo of the entire crew of B for Baker. And the one above it? It’s a portrait of a ridiculously young-looking Phil Smith, taken in London during the war. It was in fact sourced for the exhibition from this website, and has been credited to Mollie Smith at my request:

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It’s clear that, in the last two or three years in particular, Bomber Command is finally receiving the recognition it deserves. An official memorial was opened last year in London. A Bomber Command clasp is now in the process of being awarded to surviving veterans, before being extended to the next-of-kin of those killed during service or who have died since. And the Canberra weekend is now the third largest annual event held at the Australian War Memorial (behind ANZAC Day and Remembrance Day). There’s no doubt that interest in Bomber Command, and respect and recognition for those who were involved, is growing. It’s great to see some of that interest manifesting itself in this exhibition. More people will visit and learn about Bomber Command and the men who were part of it. The stories will live on.

And that’s the most important thing.

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© 2013 Adam Purcell

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