By Lord Ashcroft KCMG PC
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Revulsion and anger were my immediate feelings when I learnt a couple of weeks ago that the Bomber Command Memorial in central London had been vandalised.
The courageous members of Bomber Command had to wait 67 years for a wrong to be righted: the Queen only unveiled the new memorial in Green Park on June 28 of last year.
Now, just 11 months later and less than a week after the brutal murder of Drummer Lee Rigby on the streets of London, graffiti had been daubed on the memorial. The word “Islam” was sprayed in red paint on both the Bomber Command Memorial and the Animals in War Memorial in nearby Hyde Park.
I want, as I am sure the majority of us do, those responsible for both acts of vandalism to be brought to justice and it is for this reason that Crimestoppers, the crime-fighting charity that I founded 25 years ago, is today offering a substantial reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the culprits.
I do not know whether those responsible for the vandalism were motivated by religious hatred or another sense of misguided resentment. What I do know is that they are cowards who should be brought to justice for their shameful and heartless actions.
As one of the principal donors of the appeal fund for the new Bomber Command Memorial – I gave more than £1 million to the cause – I was present last summer when the Queen unveiled the £7 million monument. I felt proud and humbled by the occasion and the fact that the gallantry of a special group of airmen from the Second World War had finally been recognised.
The memorial’s unveiling was an emotional moment and I felt equally moved when I learnt that Douglas Radcliffe MBE, 89, the secretary of the Bomber Command Association, had put on his war medals and travelled to Green Park in order to protect the memorial from further damage.
Speaking of his sadness at the vandalism, Mr Radcliffe, who served as a warrant officer during the war, said: “Thousands of young men died to give whoever put that graffiti there the freedom to live in this country and honour it, so I can't believe that somebody would do this.”
How true Mr Radcliffe’s words are: Bomber Command consisted of some 125,000 volunteers from Britain, the Commonwealth and Allied countries that had to endure some of the most terrifying combat conditions of the Second World War. Indeed, Bomber Command was the only British fighting force that took the war directly to Germany, destroying vital infrastructure and supply lines – but at a very heavy price.
The average age of the aircrew was just 22 and the youngest were only 18. Three out of every five airmen became casualties and the more detailed statistics tell their own story: 55,573 men were killed, 8,403 were wounded and 9,838 were captured and held as Prisoners of War.
The Bomber Command Memorial consists of a nine feet high bronze sculpture of a seven-man air crew and bears the inscription “We remember those of all countries who died in 39-45.” This is intended as a gesture of reconciliation towards German cities that had been subjected to heavy bombing in raids during the war.
These are highly-charged days in the wake of Drummer Rigby’s death. It is a time when tolerance and understanding are needed towards another individual’s nationality, religion or creed. I also abhor the fact that several mosques have been attacked up and down the country in recent days.
However, for now our priority should be to catch those responsible for vandalising the two London memorials. I would ask anyone with any information about the incidents to contact Crimestoppers. Not only may they be entitled to a reward but, equally importantly, their anonymity will be guaranteed.
* To be eligible for the reward, information must be provided anonymously to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111. Information can be given via a secure online form found on www.crimestoppers-uk.org, but will not be eligible for a reward. Information given directly to the police will also not be eligible for the reward.