Witness to History: Unveiling the Bomber Command Memorial, Green Park, London 28/06/2012

29 Jun

Sometimes we find ourselves on the front row of history. This week in London was scheduled around Wimbledon and catching up with friends and family. Coincidentally we also had the opportunity to go to Green Park to watch today’s state ceremony commemorating the 55,573 young RAF Bomber Command airmen from Britain and allied countries who died while on active duty in WWII, as well as the people of all nations who lost their lives in the bombing campaigns of 1939-1945. 125,000 men in total served in Bomber Command. HRH Queen Elizabeth unveiled the six million pound memorial featuring a larger than life bronze sculpture of seven uniformed aircrew set in a white marble surround.

My particular interest in this event is because the father of my best friend, Marion, flew as navigator on those missions. Although in his late eighties Mac Crombie made the journey from Brisbane to be there today along with many other veteran Australians and Canadians in their 80s and 90s. There’d been controversy around whether this memorial should exist versus why it took so long to honour these men, as well as how it was to be funded. All that was forgotten and forgiven today except for the one young man who cycled past early in the day shouting ‘Murderers!’.

Stuart and I took up our position under a cloudless, blue sky standing behind a temporary metal barrier across the road from the memorial alongside other spectators and waited 90 minutes for the formal program to begin at midday. Many people there had a personal or family connection to bomber command airmen and it was interesting to hear their stories. Much of them centred on regrets that so many passed away before this day came. The 20something blonde, fair skinned Canadian woman on our left had neither hat nor sun block. We watched her turn crimson standing, waiting and watching respectfully. Local office workers came out to watch during their lunch break and the crowd swelled to about 6,000. Experienced as London and the Firm are in organising these mass events it’s no surprise the event ran like clockwork and metropolitan police handled security and crowd control with a light touch.

Inevitably there are always a few chancers who choose to ignore the patient many who have been standing in the same spot for hours to catch a glimpse of the ceremony. Today three different sets of people waltzed up during the ceremony and had to be politely but firmly moved on. By me. The final lot were three people speaking Italian who walked in front of all of us standing behind the barricade to stand directly in front of me. I asked them to please move or sit down. They sat down with much grumbling in Italian but the man kept bobbing up to take photos so I asked him to please desist as he was blocking peoples’ view. He got annoyed with me and I got annoyed with him. I let slip a comment about Italians not understanding appropriate behaviour and was corrected by him. ‘I am not f*#+ing Italian, I am German!’. At this the woman next to him said, ‘I’m Italian but I live in England’. Stuart whispered in my ear that he did not wish to see World War Three break out so I left it at that.

The highlight for us was watching the last fully functional Lancaster bomber fly slowly, low overhead dropping a red shower of paper poppies, one for every airman who’d died. The wind was blowing away from us causing the poppies to land Buck House way. We caught the strains of ‘Jeruselum’, ‘The Last Post’ and heard loud cheers as the Queen removed the blue covering from the statues. The HRH limo passed our line as they left and you can see in the photo below that the Queen graced us with the royal one white glove wave.

We strolled back to George Street via Park Lane musing over the morning’s events. By the Dorchester Hotel I spotted a red blotch on the footpath. It was one red poppy. A few paces on there was a second. In all we collected five red poppies. Marion, they’ll be coming to you by Royal Mail.

Photo credit for the jet formation flyover shot to Emma Villiers who captured it on her iphone whereas I missed.

The official fund raising and support site for the Bomber Command Memorial appeal is:
http://www.bombercommand.com

For a view from Germany see this: http://m.spiegel.de/international/europe/a-840858.html#spRedirectedFrom=www

Footnote: The late British born Gold Coast boy, Robin Gibb of the Bee Gees, was a huge fundraiser for this memorial from the time when he was Director of The Heritage Foundation.

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