Bomber veteran given a ‘back seat’

Brayford Bomber Command veteran will have to watch London memorial ceremony to fallen comrades on big screen.

A NORTH Devon veteran who survived some of the worst Hitler could throw at him has spoken of his disgust at having to travel all the way to London for the unveiling of the Bomber Command Memorial – only to watch it on a giant screen.

Tomorrow (Thursday) 88-year-old Dick Raymond will be at the official ceremony for the new memorial, attended by Her Majesty the Queen and commemorating the 55,573 airmen who died during the Second World War.

After surviving the explosion of his Lancaster bomber, being shot down over Holland, life as a POW and a forced march across Eastern Europe, the former flight engineer was looking forward to seeing those who sacrificed their lives in the skies above Europe finally receiving the recognition they deserved.

But instead of watching events from within the Memorial enclosure at Green Park as he had expected, he and another 5,500 veterans and relatives of the fallen will only be able to view it on a big screen in the nearby ‘Salute’ area.

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“I think it is disgusting,” said the former member of 83 Squadron, who lives at High Bray in Brayford, familiar to local people for running Raymond and Sons bakers in Barnstaple for many years.

“We so called veterans, those who have survived, are getting a back seat watching it on a screen – we could have stayed at home and watched it on the television.”

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Both areas will be seated and the Bomber Command Association, which spent five years campaigning and fund-raising for the memorial, carried out a random ballot to see which of 6,700 ticket holders would get to sit inside the enclosure.

Dick had applied for three tickets, to include his son Peter and their neighbour, but only received two after the BCA said the event was oversubscribed. The trio still plan to travel to London together and meet up after the ceremony. Only one other North Devon veteran is thought to be attending.

“The BCA is an organisation run by volunteers and normally they have a routine job to carry out whereas something like this is massive,” said Dick.

“I think they should have charged a nominal price for a ticket and employed professionals to do it.

“But I do think the memorial is important recognition of Bomber Command at long last and it’s quite a magnificent building from what I can see.”

The noon ceremony will see the Queen unveil a nine foot high bronze sculpture depicting seven aircrew. The exhortation will be read before the act of remembrance and the ceremony will end with a fly past of five RAF Tornado bomber aircraft followed by the RAF’s last flying Lancaster, which will drop poppies over the park.

A BCA spokesperson told the Gazette they were sorry Mr Raymond was disappointed with his ticketing arrangements, but that the Salute area would be fully seated, with entertainment including military bands and offer a better view of the fly past. They said veterans there would still be able to use the VIP tent.

The association has come under fire in the media over ticketing, but in a statement it said the event was ‘heavily over-subscribed’.

It said it had prioritised veterans or widows, siblings and children of those who died, with the number of ‘invited guests’ kept to a minimum.

Veterans will be attending from the Commonwealth and around the world and the event has been expanded twice to accommodate increased numbers.

Following ‘carpet bombing’ of German cities such as Cologne and Dresden, the wartime role of RAF Bomber Command has been questioned in modern times and the memorial has taken many years.

Veterans have never received a Bomber Command medal for service, despite almost half of its 120,000 aircrew losing their lives during the war.

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