Memorial to Bomber Command unveiled

Lancaster Bomber
Lancaster taking-off on bombing raid Photo:

A memorial will be officially unveiled tomorrow in honour of Britain's second world war bombing crews, many of whom flew from our region. The memorial is seen as controversial by some as Bomber Command missions were responsible for the deaths of 500,000 German civilians.

*In *June 1942 - in retaliation for Luftwaffe raids over England - Bomber Command is ordered to strike back on an unprecedented scale.

The young men sent to the skies were mainly based in the East. Dennis Steiner from Peterborough was amongst them.

"It was an adventure, that may be a funny thing to say but for a young man of 17 or 18, but it was an adventure and a chance to fly but of course at the end of the day there was a price to be paid for that adventure."

– Dennis Steiner

The price was high - nearly half the 120,000 men who served in bomber command died in action - a worse survival rate than infantry in the First World War trenches.

"We had an anti aircraft shell fly through the petrol tank. You may ask why didn't it explode I've asked myself many times. Within inches was the main spar of the wing if it had hit any of those I wouldn't be talking to you right now."

With primitive navigation bombing targets in cities was a controversial tactic.

"Bomber" Harris
Air Chief Marshall Harris ordered bombing raids

That job left cities like Dresden and Cologne flattened - and half a million German civilians dead.

"We were well briefed on the targets and why we were being sent there. Some people have expressed that they had concerns, but basically, we had a job to do and we did it."

– Dennis Steiner

At the end of the war those casualties became a political embarassment and as a result the memory of the hard work and sacrifices made by Bomber Command crews here in the East was allowed to crumble and fade.

No where is that clearer than Little Snoring airfield in Norfolk. Tom Cushing owns the airfield now - he believes Bomber Command has been ignored unfairly.

"Churchill in his speech at the end of the war didn't even mention Bomber Command. They made a big fuss about Dresden but remember the Germans at the time were sending Doodlebugs onto London and they certainly werent picking their targets were they."

– Tom Cushing - Owner, Little Snoring Airfield

70 years on Mr Steiner is delighted his colleagues sacrifices are now being remembered - but is sad that for so many it's too late.

"Regretfully we are all of an age, we are all in our late 80s or nineties and time has taken its toll on us."

Which is why today's ceremony has been so important for those survivors - a debt finally acknowledged by a nation they served at such cost in its darkest hour.