Next month will see the dedication of a memorial in Green Park to the heroes of RAF Bomber Command. At its heart will be a bronze sculpture by Philip Jackson, depicting a wartime aircrew, though not a British one as it happens.
On the night of May 12, 1944, a Royal Canadian Air Force Halifax was shot down on its mission to destroy railyards at Louvain in Belgium. It crashed into a swamp in Schendelbeke, remaining there until 1997 when a nephew of the Canadian pilot, Wilbur Bentz, organised the recovery of the wreckage, with the remains of three missing crew (including Bentz) still at their stations. Five others scattered from the wreckage had been retrieved and buried back in 1944.
These eight were among the 17,100 Canadians who served in Bomber Command's 6 Group. Almost 11,000 of them died in the name of king and empire. Aluminium from the airframe of this Halifax is incorporated into the Green Park memorial, and further recovered metal is being used to cast medals for surviving RCAF air and ground crew.
Backed by the patriotic readers of the Daily Telegraph (and the Bee Gees singer Robin Gibb), the Bomber Command memorial is long overdue. Although a statue of its most outstanding commander, Sir Arthur Harris, stands guard at St Clement Danes, he declined a peerage because his men never received a distinct campaign medal. This reflects a certain British squeamishness about a campaign that resulted in the deaths of around 600,000 German civilians: Bomber Command dropped 657,674 tons of bombs on Germany from 1939 to 1945.
Hitler's Germany embarked on the conquest of Europe, flouting every international law, and with the intention of reducing its citizens to helotry. It had no scruples in pulverising Rotterdam, Warsaw, Belgrade or Kharkov. The collective racial fantasy of German politicians, soldiers, professors, industrialists and ordinary workers inflicted misery and death on tens of millions of people.