Yesterday, writes Rupert Colley, I visited the new memorial in London’s Green Park dedicated to the memory of those who fought and lost their lives for Britain’s Bomber Command during the Second World War. Opened last week by Her Majesty the Queen, the memorial, made of Portland Stone, has, as its centerpiece, a nine-foot-high bronze sculpture of seven crewmen, a typical Bomber Command crew, five of them gazing into the distance as if waiting for their comrades to return.
A swarm of people, of all ages and nationalities, had come, like me, to view the Bomber Command Memorial – old boys with medals pinned to their jackets, elderly women, several in tears, schoolchildren and tourists, all moving silently around the pavilion, gazing up at the bronze giants in their flying gear.
At the feet of the sculpture lay a blanket of wreaths, flowers and poppies, and photographs of dashing young RAF men in their uniforms accompanied by handwritten tributes. Reading them was a moving experience. ‘HERO – remembered at last’, said one of a young pilot shot down over Germany in December 1943 and killed, aged only 24. His wife of just five months died last November, aged 90. Another was to a father who survived two tours of duty and survived but ‘bore the scars of it for the rest of his life and eventually died as a result of it’. Another, for a 20-year-old Liverpudlian, shot down over Bremen in July 1941, said, ‘All men must die, it is only given to the few to die for their country.’
But having visited it and felt the emotion around it, these people weren’t here on a sentimental pilgrimage or part of a tourist trail but paying tribute to the 55,573 men that never returned; husbands, fathers and grandfathers who, through the nature of the mission, had been victim of our collective unease.
Liam O’Connor’s memorial, £6 million in the making, is huge and to some, even crass, but anything less would have been unfitting to the forgotten heroes of the Second World War.
(Click on the pictures to enlarge)
See also Bomber Command – 67 years overdue
Rupert Colley’s novella, My Brother the Enemy, set during the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, is now available.