Medals presented to the nation
After the ceremony the medals are shown to the guests beneath MOTAT’s Lancaster, the type of bomber flown by 617 Squadron. From left: Lord Ashcroft; Prime Minister John Key, willingly present despite the government showing no support in helping to retain the medals he is holding; Les Munro with his recently presented Légion d’Honneur; and MOTAT CEO Michael Frawley.
The medals that Sqn Ldr Les Munro, the last surviving pilot of 617 Squadron’s famous Operation Chastise of 16–17 May 1943, earned during his WWII career with Bomber Command, were presented to MOTAT on behalf of the nation in a ceremony on 15 April.
He explained to a large gathering of Bomber Command veterans, families and media that he felt compelled to put his treasured memorabilia, including his medals and logbooks, up for auction to help raise a £2m endowment fund for the RAF Benevolent Fund, charged with the continued maintenance of the Bomber Command Memorial, opened in London in 2013.
“Why should I worry about this?” he asked. “I remembered 617 Squadron lost 130 men in the 15½ months I spent with them. That’s an abnormal loss, greatly in excess of what a normal squadron would lose.”
He paid tribute to the 1679 New Zealanders who travelled 12,000 miles to fight for freedom and democracy, losing their lives in pursuit of those objectives. “I also thought of the $30,000-plus that our own Bomber Command Association donated to the erection of that memorial, and that our own veterans have an interest in its preservation.”
The medals and memorabilia were set to be auctioned at the London establishment of Dix Noonan Webb, but British philanthropist Lord Michael Ashcroft, already a major benefactor to the memorial, stepped in and offered to donate £75,000 to the fund, with the auction house waiving all its fees and out of pocket expenses on the understanding that MOTAT, where the medals will go on display, would make a further donation of £10,000.
Lord Ashcroft explained how his lifelong interest in medals had been sparked as a boy, hearing of his father’s experiences in the D-Day landings in Normandy. He now owns the world’s largest collection of Victoria Crosses, on display in the Imperial War Museum, and is the author of books on the subject.
- Report and photographs by John King.
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