Blog Post #1
Bomber Command Memorial
The Bomber Command Memorial was the most unique testimonial we visited in London. The memorial consisted of a tall statue of seven RAF fighter pilots preparing to go on a mission, surrounded by a Parthenon-esque building. The Imperial War Museum, Bletchley Park, and all the other places we visited were huge museums or giant landscapes. The Bomber Command Memorial, by contrast, was compact in size and presentation. but it packed a measure of history equal to its more expansive cousins. .
The memorial remembers the 55,573 Allied airmen who lost their lives while fighting under British command during World War II. It does a great job of remembering them, focusing on the soldiers who died rather than what they achieved. In the presence of the statue, one gains a sense of the bravery these men demonstrated by entering into air combat missions at a time of extraordinary casualty rates. The average bomber crew lasted only 12-13 missions before being killed, while they needed to complete 25 missions in order to rotate home. With chances like that, the pilots who served must have been incredibly brave to face such daunting odds. The great detail in the statue’s human features reminds one that these were young men that were thrown into war, leaving behind mourning family and friends.
The memorial bears an inscription reading: “The bombers alone provide means of victory” – Winston Churchill, 1940. This quotation refers to Bomber Command’s plan to bomb civilians and thereby break German morale and win the war. These words sound triumphal, and suggest that the 55,573 airmen gave their lives to secure the Allied victory. It is important to note, however, that Churchill spoke them years before anyone would know how effective the plan would be.
As it turned out, the original plan did not break German morale or produce an easy or early victory, and it caused enormous losses of lives and resources. Some critics conclude that it killed innumerable German fighter pilots and civilians for little to no Allied gain, and even that Allied bombings could have been construed as atrocities under modern conventions of war. In stark contrast to Churchill’s words inscribed on the memorial, Bomber Command’s legacy thus was murky.
While the 1940 inscription might have been a bit different from the historical reality, I took interest in another inscription: “This memorial also commemorates those of all nations who lost their lives in the bombing of 1939-1945.” In addition to the airmen who died, the memorial thus remembers those civilians on both sides who died in the bombings as well. Looking at the statue, I am humbled at the sheer bravery of these airmen, and saddened at the tragic enormity of their losses.