This year the Bomber Command ceremony was aptly followed by the unveiling of the iconic Bouncing Bomb display at the Aviation Heritage Museum on Sunday 27 May.
The ceremony is held to acknowledge and commemorate those who served in Bomber Command during WWII. CEO John Murray providing the address, of which excerpts follow.
“During May, we as a nation have been recognizing the value and efforts of volunteers that support our communities. The most committed of volunteers may be argued, are those who put themselves in the face of danger for their country.
Bomber Command Aircrew consisted of some 125,000 volunteers predominantly made up of British, Australian and Canadian airmen but having representatives from 60 Commonwealth and Allied countries. Approximately 10,000 of these were Australian.
These volunteers endured some of the most terrifying combat conditions of WWII. Indeed, Bomber Command was the only British fighting force that took the war directly to Germany, destroying vital infrastructure and supply lines – but at a very heavy price.
The average age of the aircrew was just 22 and the youngest were only 18. Three out of every five airmen became casualties. Of the 125,000 aircrew who served, 72% were killed, seriously injured or taken Prisoner of War.
The losses of Bomber Command were greater than those of any other service – accounting for 10% of all British fatalities – yet, perversely, its members were, until the summer of 2012, the only WWII servicemen not to have been publicly honored by their own country.
The reflections of two brothers from Albany, Murray and Eric Maxton who flew together in a Lancaster aircraft with the RAAF Bomber Command in 1944 is consistent with the experience of the British personnel who served in Bomber Command.
They were the only brothers to fly combat missions in the same aircraft, a practice forbidden at the time but excused by RAAF Bomber Command because of a shortage of skilled air crew.
But the welcome they received when they returned to Australia shocked them.
Murray said far from being greeted with open arms by the public, they were vilified in ways remarkably similar to the experience of Vietnam veterans.
Australians were unhappy that RAAF airmen in bomber command had fought the European theatre of war and not stayed to fight the Japanese.
For Eric Jnr and Murray there was a personal sense of rejection after they had put their lives on the line.
"When we came back from the war in the first place we were treated as murderers because we had bombed these German cities and killed so many people, but that wasn't our fault," states Murray.
Bomber Command developed and pioneered new technologies that together with Allied contributions of both men and material allowed a huge expansion of bombing operations after 1942, contributing to the eventual victory in Europe.
One of the most notable was the science and technology used by the Dambusters 75 years ago and has been immortalised by folklore as a result of their attack on the dams of the Ruhr.
As part of the Allies bombing campaign against Germany during the war, the Dambusters were an elite Lancaster bomber unit and the raid was led by Wing Commander Guy Gibson VC. How much impact the Dambusters raid had is still debated but what cannot be denied is the bravery of the men involved in the raid and the unique contribution made by Dr Barnes Wallis who developed the unique bouncing bomb that was used on the raid.
It was Bomber Command that also delivered the world’s first airborne humanitarian mission, Operation Manna, delivering over 7,000 tons of food parcels in 10 days over the west of Holland, where one million people were registered as starving.
They also acted as a vital element to Operation Exodus that saw the repatriation of over 70,000 POW’s from internment camps across Europe.
Recognition must also be given to the civilians who suffered as a result of the Command’s campaigns.
It is impossible to say enough about what these brave men and women achieved during the war or the price they paid for it. We owe it to them, and to ourselves, to remember them and their sacrifice.
Acknowledgement: John Murray