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Bomber Command: Still fighting

RAF Bomber Command Lancaster

By Andrew Hosken
Today programme

65 years after the end of the Second World War, RAF Bomber Command has yet to be given an official public memorial. A legacy, some say, of the controversial area bombing which left German cities in ruins and thousands of their citizens dead.

Sixty five years ago this weekend, RAF Bomber Command carried out one of the most devastating air raids of World War Two.

In two separate attacks, more than 800 bombers dropped more than a thousand tons of incendiary bombs and nearly 1,500 tons of high explosive on Dresden. At least 25,000 people died and one of the Baroque jewels of Europe lay in ruins.

Such was the beauty of Dresden that many had thought it inviolable, but towards the end of the war it had become an important target both as a munitions manufacturer and strategically as a communications hub.

War leaders, including Stalin, had requested the attack but the scale of the destruction caused controversy and led to Churchill to refer to "terror" bombing in a memo he later withdrew.

A raid four days later on the Ruhr town of Wesel attracted little comment although 97 per cent of the town was destroyed. But the attack on Dresden is still debated today.

A memorial to Sir Arthur Harris stands outside St Clement Danes church in London
A memorial to Sir Arthur Harris stands outside St Clement Danes church in London

More than 55,000 aircrew lost their lives in the war but no campaign medal was struck for Bomber Command. Air Chief Marshall Sir Arthur Harris did not receive the peerage awarded to others of similar military rank after the war and it was not until 1992 that a statue of Bomber Harris was erected outside the RAF church, St Clement Dane's, on the Strand.

Since then memorials to the women of World War Two and even animals who served in war have been erected. Now, 65 years after the end of the war, plans are advanced for a permanent memorial to the brave air crews of Bomber Command. Plans will be submitted to Westminster Council for the memorial in Green park in the centre of London.

One of those who survived the attack on Dresden believes the memorial is long over due. Roman Halter, now 82, was working as munitions worker in Dresden at the time of the attack. A Polish Jew, he had survived the Lodz Ghetto and selections at the death camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau.

He says, 'There were cartwheels of fire chasing oxygen and we had to throw ourselves down on the tarmac. The tarmac was already hot. And as we went through people were jumping from buildings.

'Churchill's Blue Orchids'

"People were jumping around with flame. It was horrendous this vision. We had more sympathy for these people than the SS who only cared about guarding us.

But we felt really that they started the war. We knew that England was bombed, that Coventry was bombed and they deserved whatever they're getting."

After the war, Mr Halter came to London and received schooling from former Bomber Command pilots. Inspired by the beauty of Dresden, he became an architect. He says, "Fifty five thousand of them were killed. Everyone of them should have been honoured because they did their duty.

"They didn't protest; they felt that if Hitler wins, Europe and the world will be thrown into a darkness for a thousand years. And if it had not been for Churchill and the RAF boys we would not have won."

Andy Wiseman, now 87, was shot down over Reims and became one of the 10,000 Bomber Command aircrew to end up in a German POW camp. He says, "I think at one time Bomber Command were the blue eyes of the war," he says.

The ruins of Dresden
More than 25,000 people died in the bombing of Dresden

"Churchill's Blue Orchids we were called at one time. I think it was Dresden which did destroy churches and museums inter alia and the German propaganda and there are far too many revisionist historians floating about.

"They should have been in Coventry in the 40s; they should have been in Auschwitz in the 40s, rather than in the cloistered peace of the universities. We don't claim we've done necessarily more than other people, but we've certainly done as much as other people and to see a memorial to the women of Britain going up in Whitehall - bless them, I'm sure they played their part. But they didn't play as much as a part as Bomber Command."

Air Commodore Charles Clarke, who chairs both the Bomber Command Association and the memorial fund raising committee, says the memorial is essential, adding: "First of all it will remind the present day generation that of the sacrifice made by so many young men and also give comfort to the relatives of the men in Bomber Command.

"It will also give great satisfaction to people like myself who are still alive and it's important that we have it erected and unveiled in March and April next year while some of us are still around because we are losing people at a tremendous rate from the POW Association.

"There are so many funerals we have to attend Bomber Command Association is finding it even more difficult losing 45 -50 members a month."

Approximately £1.5 million has been raised of the £4m required for the memorial. Fund raisers hope to see the memorial erected by March 2011. Further information can be found on the RAF Bomber Command Memorial Fund website at http://www.rafbombercommand.com/memorialfund/




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