Photo: Wing Commander Jim Wright DFC.
2275 words / 11 minute read
10 January 2008
Wing Commander A J Wright DFC RAF(Ret) to Sir Martin Gilbert via his website:
With support from many in Canada, OZ, NZ and UK, but lacking the official help needed from the Bomber Command Association (BCA) I am leading a movement wishing to have the efforts of BC in WW2 recognised by the award, even 60 years late, of a campaign medal/clasp/rosette for aircrew first, followed by ground crews. I cannot reconcile Churchill’s written admiration for Harris and his personnel and his declaration that BC helped to win the war with the failure to then see Harris join his peers in the House of Lords and a suitable campaign medal awarded as these were to others.
Can you help to explain? And would you be willing to support our movement and its aim? I really do feel that it would be a good thing, morally and politically for the Government to admit that it is time for this injustice to be corrected and that the British and Commonwealth Prime Ministers would gain much credit today for such an action when our present day armed forces need some display of public affection for their service and sacrifice. How better to achieve this by first giving recognition to yesteryear’s armed forces?
Best wishes. Jim Wright
11 January 2008, Sir Martin Gilbert wrote:
I support your aim in its entirety. How best can I help you?
Perhaps I could publish a small pamphlet on Churchill and Bombing Policy, a lecture I have given a few times, and dedicate it to Bomber Command. You could then use it and distribute it (I would be happy to print the pamphlet for you), in support of your most worthwhile cause.
Dear Sir Martin,
I am astonished but most grateful that you should even bother to reply and then not only express total support but offer to help.
How can you help? Well I would be delighted if you could produce a pamphlet as you suggest especially if it explains why a campaign medal was not awarded to BC aircrew and to BC ground crew as one would have thought reasonable at the end of the war and why you agree that this injustice can be corrected today. If you can spare the time to do this and let me see the draft by email I would indeed be pleased. …
Sincere best wishes,
Wg Cdr A J Wright DFC RAF (Ret)
18 January 2008, Sir Martin Gilbert wrote:
Dear Jim Wright,
I should have the pamphlet printed by Friday next week. Would it help to send a copy to each of these MPs.
I am happy to pay for printing and postage to all the MPs in the list – and anyone else you suggest. I would sign each copy to them personally.
This is the least I can do in such an important cause.
I would like two figures: killed, and POWs. Is there also a severely injured number known?
Dear Sir Martin,
Thank you for allowing me to use your name and comments in the forthcoming email I wish to circulate. And I really do appreciate your offer to pay for the costs and postage of your article and dedication. I will come back to you with suggestions and addresses ASAP.
From Bill Chorley’s Vol 9 seen this afternoon.( I wish I was more competent so that I could convert all the information I photocopied by scan for you to interpret yourself. But this below is the best I can do.)
The Air Ministry was able to compile the following figures up to 31 May 1947. On Page 483, Appendix 1 “A Table of Casualty Statistics” Bill Chorley states:
KIA or died while POW: 47,268
Killed in flying or ground accidents: 8,195
Killed in ground-battle action: 37
Total fatal casualties to aircrew: 55,500
Prisoners of war, including many wounded: 9,838 (Clutton-Brook gives 10,999)
Wounded in aircraft which returned from operations: 4,200
Wounded in flying or ground accidents in UK: 4,203
Total wounded other than POW: 8,403
Total aircrew casualties: 73,741
Note: These figures come from Page 708 of Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt’s BC War Diaries for period 3 September 1939-7/8 May 1945 and originate from a letter to Martin from the AHB branch 25th June 1969 and British Official History Vol IV, pp 440-44 of Appendix 41.
There are various anomalies as Bill carefully describes to account for discrepancies between the various sources. For example he refers to Oliver Clutton-Brook’s “Footprints on the Sands of Time”, first appendix which identifies 10,999 BC airmen who became POW: some for the duration and a handful just for a matter of days. This exceeds the figures above by 1,167.
As for a breakdown by nationality (still on P483) he gives:
RAAF (Australian) 4,050
RNZAF (New Zealand): 1,679 (Bill’s own search gives 1,703)
?: 929 ( sorry, poor printout..unable to identify)
Discrepancy between this and 55,500 from Air Ministry and 55,573 can be explained by inclusion in latter of 73 airmen who died from natural causes. Also he notes that 91 airwomen (WAAF) died on duty.
Will this suffice?
25 January 2008, Sir Martin Gilbert wrote:
I have bought the envelopes and stamps, and hope to start writing and posting out on Monday.
Can you remind me also (in the consolidated list) of your own full postal address: the first copy ought to go to you.
I will do handwritten letters to the people I know, and typed letters (on my best notepaper) to those I do not know.
27 January 2008, Martin Gilbert wrote:
Before I print, I would like to be able to add how many wartime Bomber Command airmen are still alive. Even an approximate figure would be important, I think. Can you help on this?
That is a difficult one. Airmen covers airmen and airwomen (WAAF) in BC in WW2? and these can be split into aircrew and ground personnel? If we say that 125,000 aircrew were trained for BC and 57,000 were casualties, we are left with 68,000 who survived at end of casualty figures date 1947: and then we need to hazard a guess at how many of these survive today?
Most were young men and are aged 83 or more today. But they were basically fit, unless injured, and people are living longer, hence Pappy Elliott and Doug Hudson, both enjoyed being POW as well as their flying operations and yet they are still alive into their 90’s. I’m 85+1/2 and do not intend to kick the bucket for a while. Rank does not come into the equation. Largely NCO’s and officers.
Could you accept a guess at 30,000 surviving aircrew scattered throughout the world? Ground personnel? Wow! That needs more thought but it will be a considerably larger number because we now have to consider all airmen and all officer ranks and on every BC operational station I would guess there were 2,500. Multiply that by the number of stations? and include the training units also within BC? And allow for ancillary units like Group and Command HQ and hospitals and signals units? My guess is that the ground element involved would be 10x the air element which would be 300,000. But I would like to think also of those KIA and that total of overall casualties according to Chorley was? And their NOK would like to have any campaign medal to which their fathers/uncles were entitled?
Can I come back on this? Have to eat now. Any thoughts on this so far? Might need sharper brains than mine.
I will be back.
29 January 2008, Martin Gilbert wrote:
Thank you for this. The printer will be printing the pamphlet this afternoon.
I will try to get the first copy in the post to you tomorrow morning (first class of course).
We will speak on the phone today.
Have you ever written you own memoirs in any form?
It took many months of email exchanges before I could bring myself to call a General, with 16,000 hours of flying in his log book, Bill. So please forgive my reluctance to call an eminent writer, of international standing, simply Martin after email exchanges of less than a month!
That is good news and I am curious and impatient for it’s arrival.
I expect to take my wife out for domestic shopping between, say, 1130-1300. She is of an older generation of ladies at 87 who never learned how to drive a car and who, on marriage, devoted their lives to looking after and caring for their husbands and their children. She is not well now and can no longer accompany me on my various jaunts. We are lucky to have our middle, bachelor son actually living with us and he takes good care of us both and takes care of his Mum if I’m away. Otherwise we would by now be in a retirement environment and I would be unable to devote so much of my time to this sort of activity.
A splendid breed. So different today. I would like to see a return to those old-fashioned standards but I accept that this will not happen. I see that there is a move to give sex education lessons to children under the age of 10. Where on earth are we going?
No. So many have done so and they have so much more to write about than I have. In any case where does one find the time?
Back from shopping and feeling a little tired. A small sandwich late lunch will come shortly. But your comments caught my eye. I was reminded of an incident from my own schooldays around 1936. My best friend and I were on our way to school one morning and, as 14 year old boys, active youngsters, we were larking about and swinging from the lower branch of a tree in a small copse at the side of a pavement when our history master passed by. Without hesitation he said “Detention and 100 lines please on why we should not damage public property” or words to that effect. Suitably crestfallen we respectfully followed in his footsteps to school.
It was only a run of the mill sort of secondary high school. Not a public school. Our master did what he did without anyone questioning his right to draw our attention as schoolboys to improper behaviour in a public place outside the school. As schoolboys we were obedient and accepted his punishment without question. Our parents, if they had heard of the incident would have sided with the teacher. Today?
Must go. A call to late lunch! She who must be obeyed!
Sir Martin Gilbert wrote:
Dear Jim, Martin and Jim seem good to me. We will speak later today, I am just back home from shopping with my wife!
At 71, I too hanker after the old standards. Here in London schoolboys from the best schools walk around with their shirts hanging out over their trousers. They all do it.
In 1946, we had to doff our school caps when passing Edith Cavell’s statue outside the National Portrait Gallery. These days no schoolboys wear caps. So it goes.
1 February 2008
I am greatly honoured to be the recipient of Copy No 1 of your latest work “Churchill and British Bombing Policy – 1914-1945”. I can only say that the combination of this pamphlet and your accompanying letter (but see Draft Para1 line 2 “in Britain”) will, in my opinion, have the comparable effect of a 22,000 lb Tallboy bomb of the type used on Tirpitz in 1944: and gain the seal of approval of those in high places, against all the odds, for their action to remedy the long-standing injustice caused by the lack of recognition of BC service and sacrifice.
It is not the medal or clasp or rosette or memorial that matters so much as the lack of Recognition which has irritated survivors.
I much admire the content of both the pamphlet and the letter. The last sentence of that letter will have more influence on the people to whom it is addressed than many thousands of letters or emails they might receive from ordinary mortals due to the effect of your signature, and my friends and I are most grateful for your total declared support for our cause.
You have set yourself a heavy burden trying to send this handsome pamphlet with the signed personal letters, not only to all those on the consolidated list I gave you but to those you have additionally selected yourself. I find these additional names to be of great interest and when you have finished your task I would seek your permission to disclose these to my friends in Canada, OZ, NZ and UK because they will appreciate this.
With sincere best wishes,
Martin and Jim’s correspondence continued until Sir Martin was taken ill in 2012. Jim attended Sir Martin’s memorial service in 2015, with his son Neil pushing his wheelchair. It was my honour to continue to be in touch with Jim until 2019.
In June, Neil wrote to say that Jim had died on June 2nd. Neil wrote: “Of course he had been hoping to reach the age of 100, and missed it by just 55 days.” Neil added: “Martin had kindly supported him in his long and eventually fruitless struggle with HM Government for the award of a campaign medal for Bomber Command.
Read Sir Martin’s pamphlet HERE
Read: Second World War Atlas