A Nelson man was among New Zealand veterans who spoke of their pride and sadness after attending the unveiling of the Bomber Command Memorial in London by the Queen.
Nelson's John Beeching, who flew with the Royal Air Force during World War II before emigrating to New Zealand, watched the dedication and unveiling of the 7m memorial. He was joined by 32 men, aged between 87 and 94, who served in the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) with Bomber Command.
After missing out on the official Kiwi contingent because he did not serve in the RNZAF, the plight of Mr Beeching was highlighted by the Nelson Mail, along with the community and businesses. They pitched in to raise more than $20,000 to send him and his wife to London.
''It was magnificent something worth remembering. I can't thank the people of Nelson enough,'' he said after attending the unveiling this morning.
Her Majesty the Queen and His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh were among the thousands of guests on a sunny day in Green Park, adjacent to Buckingham Palace.
Many of the veterans had tears in their eyes as they remembered lost comrades.
They sat in 25 degree temperatures alongside similar sized Australian and Canadian delegations for the three and a half hour event marked by a flypast of a Lancaster bomber and Tornado GR4s and a poppy drop from the clear blue skies 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."
He added: "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.
"It means everything to me respect to the British crown. I was only a third generation New Zealander and we learnt British history all the heroes. In 1929 we were still flying the Union Jack."
Mr 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 added that 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".
He said: "I remember climbing from East Anglia on the 1000 Bomber Raids. Aircraft of many types filled my head with hope and pride. For me that was the turning point towards victory at great cost over six years."
He added that 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."
Mr Wakefield added that the tour 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."
Bruce Cunningham, of Miramar, Wellington, who is 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 of the long wait for recognition of the bomber squadrons role in the Second World War: "This should have been done years ago, but that's life, just one of those things."
He added: "To me the memorial recognises that freedom cost us a lot. We acknowledge that its 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."
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."
He added: "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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