Its been such a busy couple of months that I haven’t had a chance to update my blog. The most important day for me was the long overdue Unveiling of the Bomber Command Memorial in Green Park on June 28.
As you may remember in my previous post here, a Memorial was being constructed in Green Park to commemorate the 55,573 young men of Bomber Command who were lost during World War 2 and who, until now, had not been recognised or officially remembered or thanked by the country and the government in any form, be it campaign medal or monument or even in Churchill’s victory speech, a betrayal that stills rankles with many. 28 June was the day that they, the veterans and their families had been waiting for, for over 67 years, when finally they were given the recognition they had been denied for so long. It proved to be a day that most would remember for the rest of their lives.
Having been one of the wettest Junes on record, everyone was praying that it would at least be dry. As it turned out, it was a day of non stop sunshine and really high temperatures. I think words were had with the weather gods by those that never came home .
Arriving at Green Park about 10am with my brother and boyfriend, I met up with a friend to hand over his tickets and then we made our way to the Salute Area, along with thousands of other families who were remembering their relatives. Although I had applied for tickets in the main Memorial Area directly in front of the Memorial and the area where HM the Queen would unveil the bronze statue of the Lancaster bomber crew, erected in the middle of the Memorial, I hadn’t been successful in the draw and had tickets in the larger Salute Area instead, where we were able to watch everything unfold on a large screen. Entertainment was laid on as well. Singers such as Jane MacDonald, childrens’ choirs, male choirs and so on, compared by Carol Vordemann. There was also the opportunity to have a dedication to your relatives displayed on the large screen, by sending a text & making a donation.
I met up with my cousins who had also come to remember our uncle and I also met, for the first time, the nephew of the rear gunner of my uncle’s plane whom I’d managed to trace only a couple of months previously. As you can imagine, it was a very emotional time all round. My cousins gave me a gift that their mother had given them to give to me, something that belonged to my uncle and that she had kept for all these years. I was in tears as you can imagine.
Then the event began. Her Majesty the Queen and other members of the Royal Family arrived and she unveiled the Memorial. It was amazing to finally get a glimpse of the Bronze. The speculation amongst interested parties had been great over the previous few months and now we could finally see it. It was magnificent! A fitting tribute to ‘our boys’. Then there was a service of remembrance which also included mention of Robin Gibb of the Bees Gees who’d been a great supported of the campaign to erect a Memorial, and then the moment many of us were looking forward to avidly, the Flypast. Firstly came a group of Tornadoes, the current RAF paying its respect to its lost comrades and then the sound that everyone had been waiting for, the roar of 4 Merlin engines, the Lancaster from the Battle of Britian Memorial Flight Phantom of the Rhur (aka City of Lincoln). All heads turned skyward & a huge cheer erupted from thousands of throats. A magnificent sight that never fails to bring tears to many eyes. Suddenly the bomb doors opened and 820,000 poppies, released by a Veteran who had been allowed to fly on the Lancaster for the event, streamed out to represent the 1000s lost. They fluttered and drifted with the breeze, bright red against an azure blue sky, over those gathered below and many came to rest in the park, to be collected by the RAF & police to be hand out to people later to keep for posterity. I collected several.
Once the ceremony was over the Queen left and went to the RAF club nearby for lunch with various high brow RAF dignitaries. Then it was announced that Prince Charles and Camilla would be coming to the Salute Area to meet some of the Veterans and if anyone would like to meet them to go over to the path area connecting the Salute Area to the Memorial Area, so I wandered over and managed to get a place in the front row. We waited for a while while the vets were organised and then we saw the Royal Car approach and then stop nearby. It then drove off and everyone started to take photos as it passed, only to see no one in it. However we could tell that Prince Charles was still nearby, by the number of photographers crowding around. Just as he was getting close a veteran made his way in front of me to join the line up, so I lost my front row spot . I was juggling taking video and stills but still managed to get both video and pics. I heard Prince Charles saw to some vets, ‘I’m sorry its taken 70 years’, then as he approached me, he commented to those around that ‘if it hadn’t been for you all, we wouldn’t be here’. then he started chatting to the vet in front of me and asked him what type of tie he was wearing. I also saw Camilla speak to a veteran, ‘its a great pleasure, lovely to meet you’ I heard her comment. I think it was really appreciated that they took the time to meet people.
The way was open between the 2 areas now and people were streaming up there to take their first close up view of the Memorial. I decided that living in London anyway I would be able to visit at my leisure, so decided not to queue and went straight to the Intercontinental Hotel across the road where my family were due to meet with the family of the rear gunner for afternoon tea.
It was lovely to come in from the sun and relax, and lovely to meet another family who was in the same position as our family, who had lost one of their relatives for whom there was no known grave. They had brought along photos of their uncle and we thought we could see our uncle in the photo as well. My cousins had also brought along letters written by my uncle, that I had never seen before. For us at least we had known about our uncle and had been able to obtain his service records. For the family of the rear gunner, the RAF had been unable to trace any records for their uncle, in fact the RAF thought he didn’t exist, despite the family having a photo of him in RAF uniform. It turned out that, like many of the young men at the time, their uncle had lied about his age when he volunteered, not only his age, but also his name. This had made it extremely difficult for me to trace the family as I was looking for the name he gave the RAF and the family were looking under his real name. By pure chance I had found someone on the internet who was looking for for a young man whose name was very similar to the person I was looking for and who’d been lost on the same day. After making contact we realised my ‘man’ and hers were the same person and she was able to give me the address of the person with whom I was now drinking tea, and they were extremely grateful and thanked me profusely. Something I was proud and honoured to have done and achieved, it made all the long hours tied to my computer scouring the internet, worth while.
My cousins told me that my uncle had never had a proper funeral or memorial service as the family had always hoped he would come home at some point, so the Unveiling was, in one way, his funeral, a little late perhaps, but a very fitting tribute in the end. Its not everyday that the Queen comes to your funeral.
After the tea I met up briefly with some of my Facebook friends from the Support the Bomber Command Memorial group and it was lovely to put faces to names and drink a toast to those we’d lost.
Just last week I finally got a chance to visit the Memorial close up for the first time. The weather again smiled on me and it was brilliantly sunny. I found the cross that I had given to be laid at the Memorial was till there a month later . Respect! It seems at least this monument was still sacred. Loads of people were there paying their respects, wandering round quietly, examining the wreaths and messages that had been left. The statue itself was far larger than I had realised and the more I looked at them the more the bronze figures seemed to come to life and become ‘real’ people, each man with his own character. Although they are a Lancaster crew, they represent all the crews that were lost and I tried to imagine which one was my uncle. I took some photos, including one of the cross to my uncle. As someone from the Bomber Command fraternity commented ‘Its great to finally have somewhere where we can go, and just remember’. Another trip is definitely in order.
They shall grow not old,
as we that are left grow old.
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun,
and in the morning
We will remember them
All images are © Nicola Gaughan Iconic Creative 2012. Images may not be reproduced without permission. Other photos can be viewed on my website www.iconiccreative.co.uk.