Feature: Honour at last for Romford war veteran, Harry Irons, but too late for many
PUBLISHED: 12:00 16 March 2013
Tuesday should be a day of celebration for Hornchurch war veteran Harry Irons as his long campaign for the heroes of Bomber Command to be recognised finally comes to an end.
Instead, Harry, 89 will be thinking of his best friend, Jim Broadbank, who was with him on Lancaster bombers in No 9 Squadron, but hasn’t lived to see the day.
He said: “Jim, like all the members of Bomber Command, was looking forward to getting his medal.
“It hasn’t come in time for him, but his next of kin will get it in the post and I am very pleased about that, because there were lots of boys that went and gave so much, but never came back.”
In February, the Ministry of Defence announced that Bomber Command veterans would be recognised for their bravery and service with an award and a medal.
Harry was going to be one of the first of them to receive the medal next Tuesday at a special ceremony at 10 Downing Street, but he is unable to attend because of a family bereavement.
In any case, Harry says, the medals should have come “years ago”.
He added: “When you think of all the footballers and celebrities that get medals, what we went through just doesn’t compare.”
Harry joined up aged just 16 and became a rear gunner with No 9 Squadron.
Bomber Command suffered heavy casualties in the Second World War.
Harry completed an amazing 60 operational sorties over Europe. He also flew Halifaxes with 158 Squadron.
“The average trip for Bomber Command was two or three. I did 60,” he said.
After taking on the Nazis, the men had another fight on their hands when they returned and found that they were not treated as heroes by the government.
He said: “After the war, the air force took a lot of MPs on planes over the German cities and I think when they saw the devastation, they were shocked.
“Churchill refused to recognise us, even though he was the one that gave the orders for mass bombings.”
Six years ago, Harry started a campaign for a permanent memorial to Bomber Command in Green Park.
After years of trying, Harry and fellow veterans saw their dream realised when a multimillion-pound sculpture was unveiled in June last year.
He said: “I was happy about the memorial because men were getting shot down everywhere.
“The losses were devastating throughout the war. That is why when we finished, we were surprised that we were ignored.”
Harry will give a talk at Hornchurch Library in North Street next Saturday, March 23, at 2pm.
Appearing with him will be aviation artist Barry Weekley, RAF Hornchurch historian Richard Smith and archaeologist Colin Lee.
Tickets cost £5 from Richard Smith on 01708 523409.