Bomber Harry needs £400k to unveil Bomber Command memorial
A SECOND World War veteran could be landed with a £400,000 bill for tomorrow's royal unveiling of the new Bomber Command memorial.
Warrant Officer Harry Irons DFC survived 60 missions flying over Germany.
Although the Department for Culture, Media and Sport contributed a £1 million grant to the £6.5 million it cost to build the memorial at the beginning of the year, the former rear gunner is enraged that he and four former airmen could be left with the substantial cost of laying on Thursday's event, attended by the Queen and Prince Philip.
Donations to the memorial came from a number of sources including the Daily Telegraph and the late Bee Gee Robin Gibb.
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But Mr Irons and his fellow trustees believed the Ministry of Defence would be footing the bill – although no formal agreement had been made.
Despite another £200,000 donation from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport on Friday, the total debt still stands at £300,000, excluding a potential £115,000 VAT bill.
The 88-year-old of Lower Bedford Road, Romford, is among four other trustees who could even lose their homes if the money is not found.
The monument in Green Park, London, commemorates the 55,573 airman of Bomber Command who died flying missions against Germany and its allies.
The charity has spent five years raising £6.5 million for the memorial, built from Portland stone and featuring a bronze centrepiece of the seven crew of a heavy bomber.
Harry said: "We didn't expect this. We were told the MoD was taking over the running and we expected that would mean covering the cost of the unveiling.
"To be honest, I'm not worried about it – I think the money will come.
"The Government should step in, but Bomber Command has never had any respect from the Government.
"We were treated very badly ever after the war ended. The MoD has always been biased against Bomber Command, the Government has always ignored us."
Harry joined the RAF in 1940 at the age of 16 as a rear gunner, flying in Lancasters with No. 9 Squadron. He later flew in Halifax bombers with No. 158 Squadron, completing 60 sorties.
For years Harry travelled to Dronten in the Netherlands, which has its own tribute to those British airmen who died flying over it. Five years ago the team decided London needed its own memorial.
The veterans are now looking at other sources, including the National Lottery, for the extra money to fund the opening.
In fact it is only now, after years of hard work from veterans like Harry, that their memory has finally been honoured.
Even before the conflict was over, the aircrews had become a political embarrassment, especially after the bombing of Dresden in February of 1945.
Harry counts himself more than fortunate.
He carried out 60 raids, including ones in Dresden and Hamburg, at a time when most bombing crews lasted no more than one mission.
He said: "The losses were terrible. We deserve to be remembered."
Jim Dooley, who has played a major role in the project, said: "For people like Harry who are trustees of the charity, it is very worrying. He has his house on the line."
The MoD said it was not allowed to give to charities.
Andrew Robathan, minister for defence personnel, welfare and veterans, said: "The MoD has worked very closely with the excellent people of the Bomber Command Association to ensure a successful unveiling of the memorial.
"We are delighted that a significant number of RAF personnel will be involved in the event, providing a flypast by five Tornado aircraft and a Lancaster Bomber from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight; ceremonial elements by The Queens' Colour Squadron, University Air Squadrons and the Central Band of the RAF, along with ushers, hosts and catering services."
A Government spokesman said: "The Government does not usually support opening ceremonies for public memorials. However, given the unique circumstances of the Bomber Command Memorial, an exception has been made in this case. The Government will make a contribution towards the opening ceremony to help cover the additional costs of seating and security for the many veterans who wish to see the unveiling of this important memorial. This is in addition to £1 million that the Government has already contributed towards the VAT costs of the construction of the memorial."