Tag Archives: Battle of Britain Memorial Flight

Bomber Command Memorial unveiled

Avro Lancaster of the Battle of Britain Memori...

Avro Lancaster of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight at Royal International Air Tattoo 2005. . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yesterday the Queen, accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh and the Prince of Wales, unveiled the new memorial to the RAF’s Bomber Command of World War Two. The memorial, in London’s Green Park, contains a centrepiece statue of Bomber crewmembers, surrounded by a Portland Stone structure. Part of the roof is constructed from metal rescued from a crashed Halifax Bomber, recovered in Belgium.

The ceremony was attended by many veterans of Bomber Command, who of course are now well  into their 80′s and 90′s. The event was also marked by an RAF Flypast, including the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight‘s Lancaster Bomber – the only surviving flying Lancaster in Britain – dropping thousands of Poppies.

Several years ago I wrote about the injustices that Bomber Command and its veterans have suffered since the end of the Second World War. While the few of the Battle of Britain have been feted, the history of the many of Bomber Command has been largely hushed up out of political expediency.

After the end of the war, the fear of images of wrecked german cities such as Dresden led the authorities – Winston Churchill among them – to unofficially cover-up the role of Bomber Command during the Second World War. Yet more than 55,000 men of Bomber Command were killed on operations – thats around half of all who flew in Bombers. Bomber Command suffered higher losses than any other comparable Command in the British armed forces during the whole war. And while the Battle of Britain raged for several months during the summer and early Autumn of 1940, Bombing raids on Germany and occupied Europe took place from September 1939 until April 1945, only weeks before the end of the war.

I’ve always felt very strongly about the perils of post-modernist history. In a sense, those of us who did not live through the traumatic period 1939 to 1945 should not be able to understand completely what it was like for young men to go up into the skies of Europe night after night as they did. We can’t. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t at least try to form a grasp on what they experienced. And even more so, we shouldn’t try and airbrush parts of history just because they seem slightly unpalatable in the present – we are robbing future generations of their heritage.

I suppose a modern comparison would be the role of the British Army in Northern Ireland. As Ken Wharton‘s books have so eloquently shown us, the role of the British squaddie was a thankless task. Cast into a no-win situation, the British Army was effectively a sitting target for the various bands of terrorists and lawless thugs in the province. Although the British Army in Northern Ireland was often called an occupying force by the nationalist communities, it is usually conveniently forgotten that the Army was deployed to keep the pease after loyalists began targeting nationalists. No violence, no Army.

Yet as soon as the peace process gathered momentum, the role of the Army became marginalised. Instead, current affairs in Northern Ireland revolve around former hard-liners such as Martin McGuinness and Ian Paisley, people who, in their own ways, did much to whip up and perpetuate the firestorm that the Army found itself in. Remembering he role of the Army would of course be embarassing to an ex IRA commander turned politician, so for the present, at least, it is consigned to the shadows.

It’s marvellous to see such a fine memorial being unveiled to the thousands of young men of Bomber Command, and I’m sure that it will become a well-known landmark in London.

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Filed under Bombing, News, Royal Air Force, World War Two

Bomber Boys by Ewan and Colin Mcgregor on BBC1

I really enjoyed Bomber Boys, which was on BBC1 on Sunday Evening. The programme showed Ewen McGregor’s brother Colin - a former RAF pilot who flew with 617 Squadron – learning to fly the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight‘s Lancaster, the only flying Lanc in Britain and one of only two left flying in the world. First McGregor learnt to fly a C-47 Dakota, a classic aircraft that was perhaps as much of a war-winner as the Lancaster and the Spitfire, but has never quite attracted the same glamour. He then progressed to taking the controls of the Lancaster.

I especially enjoyed the insightful contributions of Bomber Command veterans. Of course, so few of those very young men actually survived the war. Bomber Command had the highest loss rate of any comparable command in the British armed forces during the second world war. I think that their views and remeniscences were very interesting, and it is increasingly important that their recollections of everyday life are remembered. It’s not just their memories of flying and fighting that are important, but also of drinking in pubs, life on airbases and chasing WAAFs, and things like that, that really matter. In that sense the McGregors looked at the social history aspect of Bomber Command more than any other programme I have seen. The McGregors also looked at other aspects of the campaign, such as the Germans raid on Coventry in 1940, the Butt report on bombing accuracy, and the raids on Hamburg and Dresden. They also looked at the bombing from the perspective of the German population.

My research into Portsmouth airmen shows just how history has slanted views. Hundreds of young men from Portsmouth were killed with Bomber Command. And they were young men, mostly in their early twenties and some in their late teens. Most of them have never even driven a car, but some found themselves piloting big, heavy Bombers on marathon missions over occupied Europe – often two or three times a week. It’s impossible to describe what a strain this must have placed on these young men – flying for up to ten hours at a time, facing imeasurable dangers of flak, night fighters and the threat of accidents. The rate of attrition in aircraft and crews was, in retrospect, terrifying.

Yet for some unknown reason, the Bomber Boys have never quite attracted the attention of Fighter Command. Compared to the hundreds of Portsmouth men who fought and died in the Bomber Offensive, only ONE was killed flying with Fighter Command during the Battle of Britain. Puts things into perspective doesn’t it? I cannot help but think that this is down to two historical developments. Firstly, after the end of the war the strategic bombing of civilian targets became distinctly unfashionable. Even before the end of the war Churchill was distancing himself from the historical legacy of the bombers. Secondly, the RAF being the RAF, it has always done self-promotion very well. And since the Second World War, it has suited far more to play up the Battle of Britain rather than the Bombers Offensive. And thus when we think of the RAF, we think of the dashing young public schoolboy, pre-war regulars of Fighter Command, rather than the diverse, international and unsung men of Bomber Command.

This was a brilliant programme, very well thought out and blending history with remeniscence. I also found it very moving and inspiring, and made me think of such brave Portsmouth bomber men as Flight Lieutenant Patrick McCarthy, Flight Sergeant Francis Compton, and Flight Lieutenant’s Guy and Arthur Venables. Reading their operational records at the National Archives was a sobering reminder of just what an incredible ordeal they endured.

Bomber Boys is available to watch on BBC iplayer (UK only)

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Filed under On TV, portsmouth heroes, Royal Air Force, Uncategorized

The inaugural Portsmouth Airshow launched

 

A Royal Air Force Avro Vulcan Display Team Vul...

Vulcan - coming to Portsmouth? (Image via Wikipedia)

Next year over the weekend of 18 and 19 August, the skies above Portsmouth will play host to up to seven hours of air displays. Sandwiched between the London Olympics and the Paralympics, it’s shaping up to be a fantastic occasion. It should be a huge draw, and great for Portsmouth. And best of all, it will be completely free to the general public!

 

The organisers are in the process of assembling an impressive array of participants. Already confirmed are a De Havilland Sea Vixen and the Breitling Wing Walkers. The organisers are also in talks with the Vulcan Bomber, various Spitfires and a Hawker Hunter. From the RAF the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, Eurofighter Typhoon, Tornado, Tucano and a Jet Provost have been invited. The Red Arrows have also been applied for, although given recent events they are grounded and their 2012 schedule will not be confirmed until February. The Royal Navyhave also been asked to provide displays, and in terms of foreign assets the French Air Force display team and the Swiss aerobatic team are also in discussion, and these kind of rarities are the icing on the cake of the airshow circuit. Two parachute display teams have also been invited, from the RAF and the Royal Navy. In many cases the organisers have actually been approached by teams wanting to display.

 

But it’s not just about what is going on in the skies. Southsea Common will be alive with events, including a Family village, retail and merchandise areas, a food village, craft village, business and enterprise areas and corporate hospitality. Of course Southsea Seafront, with its panoramic views, historic setting and naval heritage, is perfect for such an event. And in a real treat, there will be a pop concert on the Saturday evening – including a Queen tribute act! – and a firework display finale. A field gun competition between the Royal Navy and Royal Marines is also a possibility.

 

The idea is that this will become an annual event, and the organisers Maurice and Steve are very keen to make sure that it is a sustainable event, on a firm business footing. In the words of Steve, it should have a real ‘Goodwood’ atmosphere. There are plenty of opportunities for sponsorship and corporate hospitality. The organisers are also on top of the game thinking about transport – park and ride will be an option in getting to and from the seafront for the festival.

 

Whats more, the event is not-for-profit, and will be to benefit some very appropriate charities – the Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charities, The Army Benevolent Fund and the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund. The event will also support the Exercise Tiger Trust, raising awareness of a tragic event at Slapton Sands in Devon prior to D-Day in 1944.

 

I absolutely applaud Maurice, Steve and everyone involved. It has taken a massive amount of work to get this far, and they are to be congratulated. I wish them all the best. Lets all get behind it and give ourselves yet another reason to be proud of Portsmouth.

 

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Filed under airshow, event, Navy, Royal Air Force, Vulcan Bomber