Les Munro, the last surviving Dambusters pilot, has accepted Lord Ashcroft's offer to donate £75,000 to the RAF Benevolent Fund in return for gifting his decorations and medals to a museum in his native New Zealand, the international auction house Dix Noonan Webb announced today. Mr Munro's decorations and medals will now not be auctioned.
In addition to this, Dix Noonan Webb has decided to waive all its fees and out of pocket expenses on the understanding that the Museum of Transport and Technology in Auckland, where the medals will go on display, makes a further donation of £10,000 to the RAF Benevolent Fund.
This means that Mr Munro, who is 95, will have raised £85,000 for the Fund to be used specifically for the upkeep of the Bomber Command Memorial in Green Park, London, which commemorates 55,573 aircrew, including 1,679 New Zealanders, who were killed during the Second World War.
The public response to Les' incredibly generous donation has been overwhelming and the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund launched an online Book of Gratitude to collect messages of thanks for Les. Messages have poured in from more than 50 countries, from Azerbaijan to Venezuela.
"I am content that I have achieved my goal of doing all I can to ensure that the men of Bomber Command who lost their lives during the Second World War will be remembered with pride for generations to come," says Mr Munro, one of only two New Zealanders to have taken part in the historic Dambusters raid in 1943. "I have been astonished and very touched by the huge interest that the sale of my medals to raise funds for the upkeep of the memorial has aroused.
"In the end, in consultation with my agents Dix Noonan Webb, I have decided that there was a delicate balance to be achieved between raising funds for the RAF Benevolent Fund and ensuring that my medals are preserved for future generations of New Zealanders to appreciate. Lord Ashcroft's very generous proposal represents the best way of attaining both these objectives. I am extremely grateful to him."
Christopher Hill, Director of Client Liaison at Dix Noonan Webb, the international coins and medals specialists, says: “We are delighted to have helped Mr Munro realise his aim of raising a substantial amount of money towards the upkeep of the Bomber Command Memorial. We share his belief that the memory of more than 55,000 aircrew who gave their lives should be preserved and we have been in close consultation with him throughout this process."
Lord Ashcroft, a British peer who owns the world’s largest collection of Victoria Crosses, last week offered to donate £75,000 to the RAF Benevolent Fund if Mr Munro withdrew his medals, logbooks and associated memorabilia from the auction and gifted them to the Museum of Transport and Technology.
As part of this proposed arrangement, the Museum would pay Dix Noonan Webb’s withdrawal fee and out of pocket expenses. This will no longer be necessary because the auction house has waived all its fees and expenses on the understanding that the Museum donates £10,000 to the Benevolent Fund on top of Lord Ashcroft's £75,000.
Mike Neville, Director of Fundraising at the RAF Benevolent Fund, says: "Lord Ashcroft's most generous donation, in support of Les's desire to see his efforts of the Second World War continue to bear fruit today and into the future, is simply terrific. We are very pleased for Les and delighted that he has realised his aim of supporting the RAF Benevolent Fund in their duty of maintaining the Bomber Command Memorial in perpetuity. Les' sacrifice and Lord Ashcroft's donation will help ensure the long term future of the Memorial."