The Bomber Command Annual Commemorative Day was held in Canberra in June this year. I attended the ceremony which was at the beautiful cylindrical metallic memorial at the Australian War Memorial. It evokes the tails of planes, but it also has a modern edge about it. It is a beautiful piece of art and a beautiful memorial. At that ceremony there were also a number of deeply moving speeches, and members of Bomber Command, their families and friends had an opportunity to get together and relive the old times and share memories. It was a wonderfully moving but also inclusive, warm and friendly service.
The ceremony now ranks as the third most attended ceremony at the Australian War Memorial, after Anzac Day and Remembrance Day. People were certainly out in full force on the day I attended. Ceremonies commemorating Bomber Command were held in all states of Australia as well in the UK, New Zealand and Canada. The ceremony is a time to remember World War II and the air missions flown over occupied Europe. The British wing of the Allied war effort was known as Bomber Command, and the Bomber Command Annual Commemorative Day recognises their valiant efforts. Bomber Command played an absolutely critical role in defeating Nazi Germany. As British Prime Minister Winston Churchill said in 1940:
The fighters are our salvation but the bombers alone provide the means of victory.
These were missions that tragically killed over 44,000 men and the tragic loss of life reflects the bravery and sacrifice of the men who flew these missions. About 10,000 Australian airmen served with the Royal Air Force's Bomber Command during the World War II, and of these almost 3,500 were killed in action and some 650 died in training accidents.
By the middle of the war Bomber Command crews had just a one in four chance of surviving 30 missions. The crews of Bomber Command were mostly volunteers and they were mostly very young men. Most of these men were barely 20 years old, and there were crewmen who had just turned 18. They flew extremely dangerous missions over occupied and heavily defended parts of Europe. The role they played in disrupting the shipping and troop movements of the Nazis was a significant factor in the survival of Great Britain and arguably the free world in the 1940s.
It is now 70 years since many young men flew as pilots, navigators, gunners and air crewman in a battle that was pivotal to the outcome of the Second World War. When our Bomber Command veterans went to London to pay tribute to their mates who lost their lives in missions over Germany, it was an emotional and memorable experience. I understand that over 100 Australian veterans travelled to London to attend the 70th anniversary commemorations and that they were supported by the government.
We owe a tremendous debt to the thousands of Australian men who gave their lives in defending us in World War II. I honour those brave and very young bomber commanders. Lest we forget.