A memorial at RAF Scampton, the home of the famous “Dambusters” World War II bomber squadron has been removed and replaced with a new memorial.
The memorial was for the Dambusters’ dog who died on the day they made their famous raid with Barnes Willis’ bouncing bombs.
At issue was the name of the dog which is now considered an offensive racial slur. The memorial was replaced with a new one that does not mention the name of the dog.
The Royal Air Force stated that they did not wish to prominently feature an offensive term that was not in keeping with the RAF’s beliefs.
Sir Edward Leigh, Conservative MP from Gainsborough, said that the action made him fearful of how easy it is to rewrite history.
The dog was a mascot and a drinking buddy of the airmen, said to be able to consume litres of beer before passing out. He was hit by a car on May 16, 1943, the same day the Dambusters flew their famous mission. His death was kept from the crew for fear that they would see it as a bad sign.
Kris Hendrix is the campaigns manager at the RAF museum. He said that standards have changed over the years. While the name of the dog was not seen as being offensive to Britons during the war, the public perception of the word has changed over time.
Leigh wrote to the station commander of RAF Scampton to express his displeasure at the removal of the memorial. He stated in the letter that he is uncomfortable with erasing or rewriting history. He prefers that all of history be preserved to be taught, explained and used to learn lessons.
A petition calling for the name of the dog to be restored to the gravestone has gathered over 25,000 signatures.
Historian James Holland praised the change on the gravestone. He said that removing the name would help people focus on the heroism of its owner rather than perceived racism due to the name of the dog.
He said it was better not to get distracted by the fact that his dog had a “pejorative name” and miss out on the accomplishments of the famed crew.
The original marker is being stored in a safe location while the air historical branch determines the next steps for it.
Meanwhile the RAF is continuing its review of historical assets and further changes may be on the way.
The famous mission, in which the 617 squadron used a new, bouncing bomb designed by Barnes Willis to avoid German defenses and destroy the dams, is the subject of a 1955 film called “The Dambusters.”
When the film was aired for the 75th anniversary of the raid, the dog’s name was not censored. It has, however been censored in previous British broadcasts. In America, the name is often dubbed as “Trigger.”
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Peter Jackson is working on a remake of the 1955 Dambusters film. The name of the dog will be changed in his version. Stephen Fry wrote the screenplay and said that it was never a question because you cannot “ever have a dog called the N-word.”