It took nearly 70 years from the time they fought — and, by the tens of thousands, died — in the skies over Europe, but the veterans of air battles in the Second World War finally were honoured by a official monument in England in 2012. Then, in September of this year, a group of surviving Canadians whose exploits are recognized on that monument — including St. Marys-born Robert “Bob” Bradley — were awarded a special “Bomber Command” medal to attach to their own Canadian Volunteer Service medal.
Bradley, speaking last week by phone from his current home in Ottawa, was thrilled to describe his participation in both commemoration events. And he says the recognition was long overdue — partly because the number of survivors of conflicts like the Battle of Britain are dwindling, but mainly because the men who lost their lives when Allied planes were shot down deserved to be memorialized long, long ago.
The names of two St. Marys and area natives — Ross Nairn and Tyler Mossip — are among the approximately 10,000 dead Canadians listed on the Bomber Command memorial in London’s Green Park. Bradley saw those names when he was among 42 Canadian Second World War veterans flown to England in June 2012, for the unveiling of the monument. Speaking with the Journal Argus, Bradley — who was just 19 when the war ended — clearly recalls meeting both Nairn and Mossip at different points during his training and deployment. Neither one made it home.
At the Green Park ceremony, “I sat about six feet away from the Queen,” Bradley recalled. “That was quite an honour to be chosen at one of 42 Canadian vets to attend.”
In the opinion of the St. Marys native, the Bomber Command memorial was so long in coming, because so many war historians felt a level of shame at the number of civilian casualties caused by Allied air raids. Bradley says because of this, the British felt the need to seek permission from the German government to erect the memorial.
But Bradley feels no shame at his role, as a mid-upper gunner in the seven-member crew of a Royal Air Force (RAF) Lancaster airplane. (Instead of being posted with the Royal Canadian Air Force, many Canadians ended up posted with the RAF, Bradley explained.) While Allied bombers were inadvertently striking civilian targets over Germany, German planes were dropping bombs in England, causing a similar scale of damage. It was war, he said.
“Let me tell you something. You’re 25,000 feet in the air. You drop some bombs on a target. They’re not all going to hit that target. Some are going to stray. There’s nothing you can do about that.”
He adds that the Green Park memorial “isn’t about glorification . . . It’s about recognition for the sacrifices made by the air crews, including many Canadians.”
Bradley credits Robin Gibb, the late co-leader of superstar pop music group the Bee Gees, for pushing the British government relentlessly to recognize Bomber Command veterans. Sadly, Gibb died just a few weeks before the memorial was unveiled.
For Bradley, the creation of the monument and his opportunity to travel to England to see it unveiled was a proud, proud moment. Then last month, he was able to have that feeling once again, this time on Canadian soil, as Veterans Affairs Canada granted new Bomber Command medals to this country’s survivors.
Bradley was among 14 veterans who were in Ottawa on Sept. 15 for the parade to recognized the 73rd anniversary of the Battle of Britain. As with the Green Park memorial, this honour came only after many years of lobbying on behalf of the air crew members — both living and dead.
All that lobbying finally paid off, and Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino presented the medals at last month’s parade.
“Canadians who served in Bomber Command did so at a very heavy cost,” Fantino said in a news release at the time. “Approximately 10,000 of them paid the ultimate price over the skies in Europe, in prisoner of war camps, or in training accidents.”
Watch the Journal Argus in a few weeks’ time for an in-depth look at the Second World War service of Robert “Bob” Bradley