'Freedom cost us a lot', a 91-year-old veteran from Miramar said today as veterans in the 80s and 90s were finally honoured for their part in the war.
Veterans have spoken of their pride and sadness attending the unveiling of a memorial to the thousands killed during the bombing raids over Europe in World War II.
The 32-strong group, aged between 87 and 94, all served in the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) with Bomber Command.
They flew to London for the unveiling of the Bomber Command Memorial in London by Queen Elizabeth.
Wellingtonian Bruce Cunningham, 91, was a Flying officer in 514 Squadron RAF and a Lancaster pilot. He was later a prisoner of war in Sagan East Germany from 1944-1945.
He said it had been a long wait for recognition.
"This should have been done years ago, but that's life, just one of those things."
"To me the memorial recognises that freedom cost us a lot. We acknowledge that it's easy to lose. You forget the price. We take it for granted in New Zealand we can do as we want. In some countries you can't. It is a great honour to be present at the actual dedication and unveiling of the memorial to the 55,000."
The ceremony, in Green Park, was also attended by the Duke of Edinburgh, delegations from Canada and Australia and the thousands of other guests.
Many of the veterans had tears in their eyes as they remembered lost comrades.
The three and a half hour ceremony was wrapped up by a flypast of a Lancaster bomber and Tornado GR4s, and a poppy drop above London.
Jack (Waky) Wakefield, of Blenheim, aged 90, said: "This memorial is not for us, it's for our friends and the 55,000 who paid the supreme sacrifice, we represent them."
"What it means, apart from remembering great losses, is that one of the pleasures for me is the Queen being here. She was here during the Blitz and she was a service lady. And also the Duke of Edinburgh was on HMS Kelly and had it shot from under him. They have great knowledge of what we were doing."
Wakefield flew in a Blenheim 90 and served from 1940-44 with 75 NZ Squadron (Wellington) and 38 Squadron (Wellington) as a rear gunner.
He said he made the trip to "honour the 19 air gunners out of 23 who never returned".
He said the visit brought back memories of the extremely cold winter of 1940-41 and "the flak snaking up towards us and being held by search lights", as well as seeing "the odd aircraft exploding and burning pieces fluttering downwards".
"I remember climbing from East Anglia on the 1000 Bomber Raids. Aircraft of many types filled my heart with hope and pride. For me that was the turning point towards victory at great cost over six years."
He said the disciplines of service taught people how to support their families in an era when there was not much money around.
"What amazed me is we left New Zealand as boys and in about three months we were men in every sense. And we did the job. It's disgusting today to see 19 year olds with their cap on back to front riding a bloody skateboard."
Wakefield said the London visit had brought together the surviving veterans. "Most of us have done more talking in the last three weeks than the previous 70 years. We've been royally treated on this trip."
Serving Squadron Leader Bryce Meredith said: "This memorial gives something there for the families of those people to go to. That's important - each one of those had mothers, fathers, cousins, aunts."
"These guys have told us stories a lot of them have never mentioned before. As the younger generation we don't know what they went through. Some of the stories are beyond belief, some came back without a scratch and some went to hell and back."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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