The day bombs turned into poppies
IN WAR, the payload was bombs; in peace, the red petals of poppies. The blue sky above London turned crimson yesterday as the RAF’s last flying Lancaster bomber dropped thousands of poppies in remembrance of the lost crews of Bomber Command.
While the sky reverberated to the drone of aircraft engines, on the ground there was a one-minute silence after the Queen unveiled a memorial to the 55,573 RAF crew who lost their lives but whose sacrifice was for decades largely swept under a blanket of shame.
Controversy over the large-scale bombing of cities near the end of the Second World War such as Dresden, in which 25,000 civilians were killed in a firestorm, stalled plans for a memorial for years.
There were no campaign medals specifically for Bomber Command, and Winston Churchill made no mention of their service in his victory speech.
Yet between 1940 and 1944, when the D-Day landings were launched, it was the “bomber boys” alone who carried the fight to mainland Germany and paid the price with almost half of the 125,000 men killed by night-fighters and anti-aircraft fire in raids over occupied Europe.
Yesterday Duncan Miller, 89, a retired lawyer from Newtonmore who joined Bomber Command as a 19-year-old, said the memorial was “long overdue”. He said of its unveiling: “I am extremely pleased, but understandably the climate that followed the end of the war meant Bomber Command was just not recognised. They did not want to know.
“One thing that did stick in many people’s craw was Dresden. I think Dresden was a mistake.”
Mr Miller, a former pupil of Daniel Stewart’s College in Edinburgh, had hoped to be pilot but remustered and trained as a bomb aimer. He served in both 77 Squadron and 35 Squadron and flew on about 21 missions before being blown out of the sky in August, 1943.
“We were on 35 Squadron Pathfinder. We didn’t drop bombs but we dropped target indicators, which were flares.
“The night we were shot down was over Berlin. We were attacked by a German night-fighter and set on fire. Three members of the crew got out and three were killed. I was the last to get out.
“I’m not trying to be over- dramatic, but the plane was going down in flames and at 12,000ft the target indicators we were carrying exploded and I was blown out of the aircraft. I can’t explain how I got out. I was unconscious and woke four or five hours later in a field outside Berlin with my parachute strewn out behind me.”
Mr Miller, who was badly injured, became a prisoner of war but was repatriated to Britain in the summer of 1944.
The Bomber Command memorial in London’s Green Park remembers the sacrifice and bravery of the RAF crews who played a crucial part in winning the war and faced death on a daily basis.
More than 5,000 veterans and their relatives joined the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh and other members of the Royal Family to remember men who lost their lives. The Queen pulled a rope to unveil the centrepiece of the memorial, a 9ft bronze sculpture depicting a seven-man bomber crew returning from a mission.
The Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Dalton, told those gathered for a 40-minute service of dedication: “It’s a great honour to see so many veterans from the Commonwealth and elsewhere today. This country and the Commonwealth have shown the veterans that their service and courage have been recognised.”
The £7 million Portland stone memorial has been given the blessing of the German people, after an inscription was included commemorating all the lives lost in the bombings of 1939-45.
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Sunday 19 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 7 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 10 C to 20 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: North east