In the months after the war, there was some concern in the British government about the amount of destruction and civilian casualties caused by Bomber Command in the conflict’s last stages. Despite this, Harris was promoted to Marshal of the Royal Air Force before he retired on 15 September, 1945. In the years after the war, Harris stalwartly defended Bomber Command’s actions, stating that their operations conformed to the rules of the Blitzkrieg begun by Germany.
The following year, Harris became the first British commander-in-chief not to be made a peer, after he refused the honour due to the government’s refusal to create a separate campaign medal for his air crews. Always popular with his men, Harris’ act further cemented the bond. Angered by criticism of Bomber Command’s wartime actions, Harris moved to South Africa in 1948, and served as a manager for the South African Marine Corporation until 1953. Returning home, he was persuaded by Churchill to accept a baronetcy and became the 1st Baronet of Chipping Wycombe. Harris lived in retirement until his death on 5 April, 1984.
It is a scandal that the men who served their country in RAF Bomber Command, between 1939 and 1945, were denied a campaign medal at the end of the Second World War. It only adds insult to injury for the surviving veteran airmen now to be awarded a paltry clasp, instead of the campaign medal they deserve.
Bomber Command, of all the branches of the armed forces, was the one which suffered the greatest losses during World War II. More than 55,500 men lost their lives on active service, out of 125,000 who served. It was the most dangerous thing of all to be in. And yet it is precisely these brave men and their memory, that were singled out to be slighted by the government of their country, which denied them the campaign medal awarded to every other branch of the armed forces.
Even now, the maltreatment continues, for the award of a clasp, instead of a full campaign medal, is nothing less than an insult. No wonder many surviving veterans of wartime Bomber Command are refusing to apply for it.
One may argue, in hindsight, about the pros and cons of the strategy of area bombing. But the fact remains that it was government policy during the war. For Mr Attlee (later raised to the peerage as Earl Attlee – some socialist) who was Deputy Prime Minister from 1940 till the last year of the war and thereafter Prime Minister, to treat as scapegoats the brave men who carried out the policy which he had approved in Cabinet, by hypocritically denying them a campaign medal, was nothing short of despicable moral cowardice.
Not only Attlee, but every subsequent prime minister is also culpable for neglecting to right this wrong.
This black injustice has still to be properly righted, insofar as it can be.
A proper campaign medal must be issued and an award of compensation made, to every surviving airman of wartime Bomber Command, including those who served in the Mediterranean, Middle and Far East theatres.
Let this be done without delay, for time is short in which to honour these brave men as they deserve.
And let it be done without first craving the permission of Germany, as befits an independent sovereign state, whose liberty these courageous patriots risked their lives time after time to defend.
David Cameron can keep his mealy-mouthed apologies. The campaign medal and an award of compensation of, say, two thousand pounds per man, will say it all far more eloquently.
No crocodile tears should be shed over the fate of Dresden, Cologne, Hamburg and Berlin, but let’s remember our British compatriots: men, women, children and babes-in-arms, who were brutally slain, maimed for life and rendered homeless, by the devastation which the Luftwaffe visited on London, Coventry, Plymouth and many other of our towns and cities.
There should be no need also to mention Guernica, Warsaw, Rotterdam and Belgrade, but ignorance is so general these days that perhaps there is.
‘For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind…’ Hosea 8:7.