After almost 70 years of shameful neglect, the RAF Bomber Command servicemen and women of WW2 were finally officially commemorated with the construction in 2012 of the Royal Air Force Bomber Command Memorial in Green Park, London. Controversy over the tactics employed by Bomber Command during the Second World War meant that an official memorial to the aircrews had been delayed for many years, and a Bomber Command campaign medal has never been issued. Even then, the memorial was, and still is funded by public donations, not by the government.
More than 57,800 members of Bomber Command and ground crew, including women of the WAAF, were killed during The Second World War, the highest casualty rate of any unit.
The New Zealand government had announced that it would send a group of Kiwi Bomber Command veterans to London for the official dedication and unveiling in June.
Top photo: The Royal Air Force Bomber Command Memorial, Green Park, London, 2012.
– Phil Newey.
However to qualify veterans had to have served in the RNZAF. New Zealand citizens such as Doug who had served in the RAF would not be taken. The UK government would not support the RAF veterans to travel to London either, so they were left in a bureaucratic no-mans land.
This was seen as very unfair by some of us, who thought that a New Zealand citizen of 40 years who served in a New Zealand-named RAF squadron and sole survivor of a crew containing three NZers, more than deserved to attend, on their behalf if nothing else. The resulting campaign, including letters to the Minister of Veterans Affairs and the Prime Ministers of both New Zealand and the U.K.(!), generated some publicity and offers of donations, but unfortunately no action from the government.
On the 3rd of June 2012, 32 NZ veterans (from an initial 90 applicants) flew out of Auckland on an RNZAF Boeing 757. Chief of Air Force Air Vice-Marshal Peter Stockwell led the party with the government covering their international travel, accommodation and other costs including their care and support teams and medical assistance during the two-week trip.
Despite several offers, Doug was uncomfortable accepting donations, so he didn’t travel to either the Memorial service or the 75(NZ) Sqdn reunion that was held at Mepal the day after. Gerry’s son Phil and grandson Sean were travelling over to London for the service, hoping to catch up with the NZ vet’s at the reunion, so Doug missed out on seeing them.
Queen Elizabeth II officially opened the memorial on 28 June 2012, unveiling the bronze sculpture. The ceremony was attended by 6,000 veterans and family members of those killed, and the Lancaster of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight dropped 800,000 red poppy petals over Green Park.
A small ceremony was held in Auckland the following day to recognise the Kiwi RAF veterans who had missed out on the trip. Seven veterans including Doug were special guests at a United Kingdom’s Armed Forces Day reception at the Royal New Zealand Air Force Base, Whenuapai.
Doug, Janet, Sandra and I got together for lunch that day and had our own little celebration!
However the publicity and discussion around their situation did have a very positive outcome.
In an incredibly generous gesture, Dutch-born Auckland businessman Ian Kuperus and his wife contacted the NZ Bomber Command Assn and offered to fund and help organise a trip to take six of the Kiwi RAF veterans to London on a separate trip of their own. Through his parents, Ian had grown up with a feeling of gratitude towards RAF Bomber Command, especially for their Operation Manna food drops to the Dutch in the closing days of the war.
Doug rang me, very excited, to say that a “fairy godmother” had come forward, and that he and Janet were off to London in September!
The group (now down to five veterans after one pulled out) flew out on the 19th of September.
As it turned out, they probably had an even better experience than they would have had on the RNZAF trip. They visited the BC Memorial, the Air Forces Memorial at Runnymede , the Imperial War Museum at Hendon, the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight at Coningsby (complete with Spitfire fly-past!) and went for a taxi ride in the almost-airworthy Lancaster “Just Jane” at the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre, East Kirkby. They even had a formal dinner at Woodhall Spa’s Pentworth Hotel, mess for the famous 617 Dambusters squadron.
At East Kirkby Doug & Janet met up with Simon Sommerville, which was very cool as Simon (who I’ve never met) had been so helpful to me, and has been on his own parallel quest for information on his father’s time with 75(NZ) Squadron. Simon took some great photos of the visit, and his photos of Doug’s experience in the Lancaster are so valuable to have.
A TV camera crew travelled with the group and a very nice, very emotional piece appeared on NZ television after their return. A DVD of unused footage also exists, including several interviews with the boys.
It was a wonderful trip and firm friendships were formed. The group has had regular reunions since, and at Doug’s 90th birthday, they presented a painting of an Operation Manna Lancaster to Ian & Wendy Kuperus, to thank them for their generosity.