At last we have recognised our brave bomber boys
I am delighted that after 67 years the nation has finally honoured the brave young men of Bomber Command who did their country’s bidding and died in such horrific numbers in the blackness of the night over occupied Europe. My own mother was made a widow in that campaign of hitting back at the enemy.
What must be remembered is that, after the evacuation at Dunkirk, we faced years of being marooned on our island with no way of being able to engage the enemy on the mainland of Europe while we rebuilt our army and readied ourselves to assault Hitler’s formidable Atlantic Wall.
What were we to do in this time? Allow Hitler to consolidate his hold over all the captured nations or disrupt it as best we could?
He had showed no qualms about using that new form of warfare – aerial warfare – to bomb our cities, and the jury was still out at that time as to whether it was possible to win a war entirely from the air. So it was not, in my view, immoral to send out our air fleets to see if this surgical solution was indeed possible. If we had won the war from the air, we certainly would have saved many of our soldiers’ lives from a bloody land campaign.
Although events later revealed that, until the arrival of the atomic bomb, you could not win a war without boots on the ground, the bombing campaign brought massive disruption to the German war machine; over a million men were tied down on home defense who would otherwise have been deployed on the Eastern Front and huge quantities of ordnance were similarly kept at home which also would have gone east. Indeed, 70% of their fighters alone had to stay to engage our bombers. It made the difference between Russia staying in the war or losing it, which it very nearly did anyway.
It can be convincingly argued, therefore, that the air campaign indirectly won the war by preventing the full might of Germany ever reaching Russia.
As well as having only 30% of its fighter force to engage the Russians, it had 50,000 fewer artillery pieces and much else besides. And then there was that massive morale booster: a symphony in the night skies played out over occupied Europe. In the eyes of its downtrodden peoples it beat anything Beethoven ever wrote; it was the sound of our bombers droning their way to the oppressor’s heartland. It was the one thing that gave them hope. It reminded them that a free people on the Atlantic seaboard of their continent remained unbowed and would one day bring them deliverance.
So when the establishment turned its shameless back on those brave young men (average age of 22) who were carrying out their orders so selflessly and stood a one in two chance of dying, it did a terrible thing.
The otherwise great Churchill must take a considerable share of the blame. In his speech after victory, when he lavished praise on every branch of the Armed Forces, he pointedly made no mention of those 55,000 dead bomber boys.
Now, at last, thanks to the pops stars Jim Dooley and Robin Gibb – bless them – the people, with their humble subscriptions, have had their say. The Ministry of Defence would not contribute a penny, nor has it to this day issued a campaign medal to this arm of the services who took by far, proportionately, the highest number of fatalities. Shameless, in fact, does not even begin to describe how they have behaved.
What, I have to ask myself, is the matter with our ministry? It refused also, through all those same years, to issue a medal to those heroes of the Arctic convoys who made what Churchill described as “the worst journey in the world” – worse even than that terrrible slog through the jungles of Burma to retake that country from the Japanese.
Our Ministry of Defence does not deserve such fighting men. Though it is penny pinching in looking after our boys – not even giving their families decent housing, and sending them into battle ill-equipped – it even argues the toss over piddlingly inexpensive medals.
And it can’t even get its procurement policies right, recently ratchetting up a black hole of debt that was almost as great as the annual defence budget.
The Ministry of Defence should be disbanded and started again with the top 10% of its echelon lopped off and not allowed to re-apply for their jobs.