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London: The Bomber Command Memorial – Introduction

Emmett Sullivan speaks to Group Captain Mike Neville about the Bomber Command Memorial.
EMMETT SULLIVAN: Behind me is the Bomber Command Memorial, which was established in 2012. I think there are two key inscriptions along the side of the interior. The first indicates Churchill’s view in 1940, that although the fighters were the country’s salvation, the bombers provided the means for victory. The second is right across the top behind the statue of the seven Bomber Command crew. And it indicates that this is a memorial, also, for all those who died as a result of bombing in all nations during 1939 to 1945.
At least in part, the 70-years delay from the beginning of the strategic bombing campaign and a memorial that directly recognises the contribution of the 55,000 men who lost their lives flying over occupied territory to take the fight to the Axis Powers gives an indication of, if you like, the concerns of Britain at present. From the very end of the war, there was a retreat from the position of supporting Bomber Command.
Churchill’s distancing himself from the actual actions of Bomber Command, the lack of a campaign medal, the US Strategic Bombing Survey under the auspices of a number of leading economists– including John Kenneth Galbraith– suggested that the resources devoted to the bombing campaign could not have been justified when the damage to Germany was assessed. I think the country, as a whole, was at something of a quandary about the moral position about the bombing of civilians. It was always put forward as a strategic campaign, area bombing. But, ultimately, the numbers who died within the major cities is what has been reported and reflected on thereafter. Now, this memorial deals with the men who flew the bombing raids.
And I think there needs to be a little bit of distance put between the decisions of politicians to order bombing and those men who flew over occupied territory bravely, night after night to deliver their bomb loads. We’re very grateful for Group Captain Mike Neville from the RAF Benevolent Fund being able to join us today. And, Mike, could you tell us a little bit about your life in the RAF?
GROUP CAPTAIN MIKE NEVILLE: Yeah, so I joined the Air Force in 1985 after doing a biology degree. So what did that have to do with Air Force? Well, I really don’t know. And I don’t know today, either. But I joined. And within two years, I was posted to Royal Air Force Lyneham as a young chap on 24th Squadron. I did three years on that squadron and took part in the First Gulf War, the liberation of Kuwait, and then went across to 70th Squadron.
And it was there that I first met my first experience, really, with loss in the Air Force– loss of my friends– when an aircraft and a crew of nine on a pretty routine training mission crashed up in Scotland. And all nine boys on board were killed. But if we fast forward, I then did tours overseas, which were lovely, before coming back to RAF Lyneham and eventually becoming Officer Commanding Number 47 Squadron, which is the squadron that flew C130 aircraft– Hercules aircraft– in support of the British Army. And it’s was here that, really, I met my second experience of tragedy when one of my aircraft with crew of 10 on board was tragically shot down over Iraq.
And all the 10 boys on board perished. After that, very kindly the Air Force promoted me. And I went on to become Station Commander at RAF Lyneham. And it was here that I saw over 200 repatriations of our fallen servicemen and women from Iraq and Afghanistan. It was no surprise, really, that, from my Air Force career, I then went into the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund because I’d seen what RAF Benevolent Fund had done for all of my families. And I use the word absolutely genuinely and honestly. They are my families because, when you’re in the Air Force, you’re very much part of a family. And the Ben Fund really helps those families.
And so I’m just delighted to be here. And I’m delighted to be able to help on this project.

Group Captain Mike Neville

We are indebted to Group Captain Mike Neville from the RAF Benevolent Fund for his willingness to speak to us about the Bomber Command Memorial. If you would like to find out more about Mike and his activities, The Huffington Post has a page collating his contributions to their publication.

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