A VETERAN was today attending the unveiling of a memorial to tens of thousands of airmen who lost their lives during the Second World War.
Flight Lieutenant John Hall travelled from his Sunderland home to London for the emotional ceremony.
He will see The Queen officially reveal the stone and bronze tribute to the 55,573 heroes of Bomber Command.
“The memorial is long overdue,” said the 91-year-old, from Grindon.
“The work that these lads did and the sacrifices they made have never been recognised until now.
“They have been lauded at different times but the higher-ups have always turned their backs on them.”
When a Lancaster bomber showers Green Park with poppies, it will be the first chance in almost 70 years for surviving crew to formally recognise their fallen friends.
Almost half of the 125,000 Bomber Command lost their lives, more than today’s entire RAF personnel, yet their courage dodging night fighters and anti-aircraft fire has never been officially marked until now.
It was their military commanders’ policy of large-scale area bombing near the end of the war that drew criticism, stalling progress on a memorial for decades and overshadowing their sacrifices.
Hitler’s Luftwaffe had already launched an aerial bombardment campaign on civilians in Poland in 1939, and tried to terrorise London into submission during the Blitz.
The young volunteers of Bomber Command, most barely out of school, destroyed German cities with “thousand-bomber raids”.
Mr Hall, a former Lancaster bomber rear gunner who still holds his rank as an honorary title, took part in the March 1944 raid on Nuremberg, when 795 bombers were sent to the industrial town – 95 failed to return.
More airmen were killed that night than in the entire Battle of Britain.
“It was a full moon and you could see anti-aircraft fire, German fighters, flak all around and bombers in flames going down left right and centre,” he said. “It was hell on earth.
“I lost so many friends during the war. I still can’t stand the sound of the Last Post.
“It will be an emotional day for me.”
Last year, fund-raisers reached their £5.6million target to build the memorial after a three-year campaign led by Bee Gee Robin Gibb, the Bomber Command Association and Heritage Foundation.
Building work on the open-air pavilion in Green Park, began a short time later and was completed earlier this year.
Awarding-winning architect Liam O’Connor designed the building, which houses the sculpture created by Philip Jackson.