Utterly disgusting. The best two words I can think of to greet the news that the few surviving Bomber Command veterans may well have to stump up from their pensions to pay for a memorial that was only completed and opened this year. Imagine the outcry if The Commonwealth War Graves Commission sent The Royal British Legion a bill for the Menin Gate?
Surely if the Tories had not botched the Rail Franchise to keep Virgin out, there would be a little money to spare here? Why do we have a department for “Heritage” – one that along with the tourist industry, is never backwards in promoting a rosy view of the Second World War, and Churchill nostalgia. And let us not forget that our politicians are never shy of invoking that “wartime spirit”, or wrapping themselves in the Union Flag for cheap gain. Quite frankly, this stinks.
Bomber Command was, certainly for those who flew, perhaps the deadliest posting in the British forces between 1939 and 1945. Over fifty-five thousand young men died in the bomber offensive against Germany, out of a total of around 120,000. With their comrades in the U.S. Eighth Air Force, they made a huge effort towards the defeat of Nazi Germany. Along with the Bevin Boys in the mines, and the Fourteenth Army in Burma, they were largely forgotten when peace came.
Bomber Command waged a war that most of us would prefer to forget – Area Bombing, which meant the indiscriminate bombing of industrial centres through Germany, causing truly horrific civilian deaths. At the time, questions were asked in Parliament, and public protests were issued against the policy – which contrasts with the enthusiastic public reception given to film showing the bombing of Poland in Germany, where terror was promoted as a wonderful weapon. Let us be clear, the bombing of Dresden was no less an atrocity of war than Coventry, or Rotterdam, or Guernica come to that.
The bombing offensive did probably shorten the length of the war, and it did disrupt German war production. The figures will be argued over till the cows come home, but it is significant that Germany moved a large part of its fighter force home to protect the Reich, and built many more fighters than bombers from 1942. This increasingly meant that Allied forces, East and West, could gain the vital air superiority needed to win on the ground.
This was a battle of attrition, with airmen from Australia, Canada, India, the West Indies, and of course from the occupied countries as well as Great Britain. Arthur “Butch” Harris frequently overstated the results of the campaign, and time and again, young men were ordered into the face of a well organised flak and night fighter defence. Yet these airmen did not falter, orders were orders, and they did their duty, incurring heavy losses in the air, and untold anguish once the war was over.
Because of the controversy and revulsion over Area Bombing, once the war was over, no campaign medal was struck – uniquely for both world wars. Arthur Harris resigned in disgust, and the only memorial to those 55,000-odd men was in Ely Cathedral – out of sight, out of mind.
Until this year, the fallen of Bomber Command had no memorial in London, and it had to be paid for by public subscription. And of course, when the funding fell through, the bill still had to be paid. So who should pay? Well, by the inaction of the British Establishment, it looks like the pensioners who are fast dying out. Only the most cynical of Tories should fail to feel burning shame…