Romford veteran Harry Irons faces �300k bill for Bomber Command memorial unveiling in Green Park
A Romford veteran whose four-year fight for a memorial to the men of the RAF Bomber Command finally came to an end this week is facing a �300,000 charge for its unveiling.
The multi-million-pound sculpture was made public yesterday (Thursday) in Green Park, Westminster, before members of the Royal Family – the first time Bomber Command has been nationally recognised.
But despite a �200,000 donation from the Government, Mr Irons and his colleagues at the RAF Club committee have still been left with the majority of the event’s expenses, which include security costs.
“It came as a shock,” said Mr Irons, 88. “When the Ministry of Defence took over we thought if there were any other debts they would pay them.
“The government put us in that position in the first place – and I think they ought to pay.”
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The RAF donated aircraft and staff to the ceremony, as well as staff and catering at a total cost of �375,000.
Mr Irons, of Lower Bedfords Road, was a rear gunner in 9 Bomber Squadron and 158 Squadron. Bomber Command suffered heavy casualties during the Second World War – once losing 100 men in one night – but the devastation wrought by their bombs made the government wary of celebrating them once the war was over.
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“The way they treated us after the war was diabolical,” said Mr Irons. “They couldn’t even give us a lousy medal.
“The boys suffered terrible deaths but the government forgot about us completely.
“I’m very proud you can go up to Green Park now and pay homage. Those boys were great. It’s what they deserve.”
But only after four years’ hard work has the RAF Club seen its vision realised.
“We decided that was where we were going to have the memorial, and we had a whip round and got about �200 – so we decided to ring up an architect and ask the price for a memorial,” he said.
“He was talking about �3.5m – and we only had a couple of hundred in the pot.”
Once the money started coming in from book signings, newspaper campaigns and famous supporters like late Bee Gees member Robin Gibb, the committee hit another obstacle.
“Westminster said we could have a memorial in Green Park, but the land didn’t belong to them – and that shook us rigid because that’s Mayfair and land around there is gold dust.”
Fortunately, they found support from the landowner, Transport for London. “We went up to the offices,” he explained, “and they said, ‘for Bomber Command, that’s yours’.”
With Bomber Command finally recognised, Mr Irons is lending his support to a new campaign – the Big Lottery Fund’s “Heroes Return” programme, which pays for veterans to visit sites where they served, and allowed him to travel to Normandy, which he bombed in preparation for the D-Day landings.
“It was a marvellous trip,” he said. “The people made us feel so welcome. I visited all the sites and paid my respects at cemeteries around Normandy.”
To find out more about Heroes Return, contact 0845 00 00 121.