Today saw the unveiling of a memorial to Bomber Command, to men who lost their lives around 70 years ago, during the Second World War. Some readers will be fully aware why it’s taken so long to erect this memorial, and why Bomber Command’s wartime role was, still is, controversial. The controversy, and the suffering – on both sides – is clearly and thoughtfully presented on the BBC website: Bomber Command fliers in their own words.
The memorial is in London, so its unveiling today isn’t in an obvious way a York story. Though the York Press brought to our attention the case of a veteran of Bomber Command, from nearby Tadcaster, who had been unable to get tickets for the event.
The comments under the story illustrated that the debate continues.
Some refer to them as ‘the heroes of Bomber Command’. Others argue that there’s nothing heroic in bombing civilians. It has to be said that I’ve never heard these men refer to themselves as heroes. They were just doing their job.
They were young, shockingly young in many cases. They saw horrific things. Around half of Bomber Command lost their lives – those who survived lost many friends. The memorial at last acknowledges them and the colleagues they lost.
I’ve wondered if the discomfort and controversy over the role of Bomber Command is why it wasn’t thought appropriate to preserve the former hostel buildings behind the Art Gallery (pictured left), where many of the men who flew the bombers lodged. Perhaps if Spitfire pilots had stayed there it would have been different.
There were many airfields around York, making this a local issue. Elvington (home of the Yorkshire Air Museum) is well-known. Other airfields are forgotten now.
Elvington’s air museum may be a little too militaristic for some. At East Moor and Tholthorpe and many other locations throughout our county there are bits of old runway and peripheral concrete and old airfield buildings crumbling away, poignant and quiet. I’ve visited many of them, cycled to them and walked around them.
Even if we remain ambivalent, and don’t want to call those men heroes, we can recognise the suffering they endured, as well as the suffering they inflicted. There is, after all, no ‘morality’ in war.
‘Most people accept these men were asked to do terrible things and endure terrible things’
– Patrick Bishop