Bomber Command Memorial 10th Anniversary: Veterans share memories
World War II veterans, who attended the Bomber Command Memorial tenth anniversary in London last month, have shared poignant memories of their service in the RAF.
The Bomber Command Memorial service is held annually by the Memorial’s custodian, the RAF Benevolent Fund, to mark the unveiling of the Memorial which was first revealed by Her Majesty The Queen in 2012.
Four RAF veterans spoke movingly about their experiences, the after-effects of their service and their reflections on the importance of remembrance – as well as their support for the RAF Benevolent Fund.
George Dunn DFC L'dH, 99, who lives in Saltdean, East Sussex, initially trained as a Wireless Operator/Air Gunner, before training as a Pilot.
He said: "Bomber Command means everything to me because I think without it the war would have gone on much longer. Thankfully we had a leader in 'Butch' Harris and that was the turn of the tide.
"The Bomber Command Memorial is important to me because I think it was long overdue. Bomber Command had some bad press after the war, mainly involving Dresden, but I think the fact that nearly all the Royal Family were there to make the unveiling in 2012 was the turn of the tide for public feeling. It was then that the public realised what a contribution Bomber Command had made in the war effort.
"I have been involved with the RAF Benevolent Fund since about 2009. We have a group in Sussex, which does book-signings at garden centres and museums, and we have raised in the region of £100,000. It shows that we can contribute to the welfare of those that are less fortunate, and the demand is still there. Even though we are not at war, there are still people that are suffering from the effects of the last war, or World War Two, or the Falklands, and they still need the help of the RAF Benevolent Fund."
George completed 44 operations during the Second World War. He flew his first tour from May to October 1943 on Handley Page Halifax bombers with 76 Squadron, during one of the most intense periods of bombing of the war. On completion of his tour, and after a period as an instructor pilot, he then took up duties flying de Havilland Mosquitos, firstly with 608 Squadron and then with No. 1409 Met Flight.
John Bell MBE D.F.C, L'dH, who turned 99 in March and lives in Pulborough, West Sussex, was a Bomb Aimer in Bomber Command.
He said: "I joined the RAF as soon as I was legitimately able to, in 1940/41, to fly.
"The Bomber Command Memorial brings back many thoughts of the people I served with and the crews and people on the Squadron. I think Bomber Command has a great legacy and [because of the memorial] we are able to tell the public about what their families did.
"The RAF Benevolent Fund does a great deal of work, I have never had to call upon it so far for assistance, but I do contribute to content and I have seen the things that the Fund does to help people."
John took part in several missions during World War II, including the D-Day landings.
Norman Gregory, 100, who lives in Suffolk, served as a Bomb Aimer.
He said: "On the night I was shot down over Dortmund, one of the German fighters came underneath the Lancaster and they had two 35mm cannons at an angle of 45 degrees. The theory on the part of the Germans was to get underneath the Lancaster and fire a short burst of 35mm shells straight into the wings of the Lancaster.
"The wings were full of petrol – high octane petrol – and if the shells exploded as intended the aircraft would have simply blown up in the sky. But it was just a few milliseconds wrong and instead of these shells exploding in the wing, they exploded in the fuselage, and set fire to the Lancaster I was flying in. I bailed out at 2,300 ft and the temperate was minus 20. I removed the escape hatch and went out headfirst and I pulled the ripcord. When I came to a few seconds later I was combed by a German searchlight and was expecting a bellyful of lead, but they didn’t know if I was German or British."
Norman landed in Herdecke, in North Rhine-Westphalia, and was moved to Haagen on a village policeman's bike.
He added: "I was put in the prison cell down to the dungeons and the next day there was a call from the Luftwaffe, who came and picked me up he was taking me into captivity. We had to go on a short railway journey into the city of Dortmund, which I had bombed the night before and the local citizens were very keen to hang me from the nearest lamppost and he [the Luftwaffe officer] pushed me behind him and withdrew his revolver and said, ‘Anybody touch my prisoner, I will shoot’. He saved my life at that point and he then took me to the aerodrome on the other side of Dortmund. I was thrown into a prison cell and already the next cells were occupied by my skipper and by my navigator and out of the crew of eight, we were the only survivors."
He was later interrogated in Stuttgart "for four or five days".
Russell 'Rusty' Reay Waughman D.F.C., A.F.C., L'dH, 99, was a Lancaster Pilot and now lives in Kenilworth, Warwickshire.
He said: "At the time – when I was 20 years old – it was a bit of an ego trip, but as I grew up, I learnt what was going on and what I actually did. The unfortunate thing is you remember you bombed Berlin and you bombed all the big cities, and you suddenly realise – how many people have I killed? And this came to me very seriously after the war.
"In 1991, when they were rebuilding Berlin as the new capital from Bonn, I said to a lady, 'They're not doing much to mend that church,' and she said, 'No, that's going to be kept as a memorial to the 260 children who were killed when we were bombed.' And you suddenly realised, I could've done that. That was when it started to come back and you realise what you did. But, at the time you had no consciousness about it at all, you’re just doing a job."
He added: "The Bomber Command Memorial means an awful lot. It should have been done years ago, of course politics came into it, but it really was a remarkable effort to get the funding and get the money to do it. The RAF Benevolent Fund and those who organised it did a wonderful thing. The expression on those faces on the memorial really means something. When you look at it, it takes you back all those years."