We Will Remember Them
By Robin Gibb, Jim Dooley, Gordon Rayner, Steve Darlow and Sean Feast
Published by Fighting High Ltd,
ISBN: 978 0 9571163 1 3

Review by Mark Barnes for War History Online

This fantastic book tells the story of the memorial from conception to fruition interlaced with a history of the bomber offensive, some specific events and vignettes of the people; pilots, air gunners, erks and WAAFs. It is a gem.

That the thing took too long to happen – a lifetime – is as embarrassing as it is cruel. But it happened that way. We can’t change facts. I was going to base my review around an assault on the people responsible for the belittling of Bomber Command, from Churchill to the jobsworths of today hindering the memorial. But you know what. I just can’t be bothered. It’s a waste of effort. Here’s why:

I think back to a day sometime ago in the queue for the checkouts at Tesco where I got talking to a frail old man. I have no recollection of how it came up, but it transpired he’d been an air gunner on Lancasters. He stays with me as does his immense dignity and gentleness. He didn’t have long and he knew it; but he had this baring, not smug, no plastic patriotism, just pure class. I imagine he’s gone now.

This memorial, better late than never, is for him; not just for the men who never came home. It’s for all of them. Arthur Harris said of that awkward talisman Guy Gibson that he would be “above the salt” in his particular Valhalla. But from this great distance they all are, aren’t they?

I haven’t seen the memorial yet, a small matter to be corrected next year. It is a triumph for the Bomber Boys, of course, and for the people who made it happen. Here, too, some of them are gone. The musician Robin Gibb didn’t live to see it’s unveiling and how sad that is for he was dynamic in the inception. The 617 Squadron and Battle of Britain veteran Tony Iveson died only this month, his duty done. They both leave a hole. But you can fill it in pride and gratitude for what they achieved.

This book does a lot in a short amount of space. It tells important stories and shines light on the people, some wholly unexpected, who ended a hurt and built a memorial we should all honour. It gives us some of Harris’ Old Lags and they are ours, make no mistake. If you’re lucky enough to meet one and learn something of him, cherish the moment. The Bomber Boys were the Whirlwind but now they are a barely perceptible breeze.  Britain’s victory seems further away than these seventy years suggest. But books like this and the memorial itself keep something of them alive. The Elegy For a Rear Gunner has it right; in a hundred years from now they’ll still be twenty-one. Per Ardua Ad Astra never rang more true.

Mark Barnes

Mark Barnes is a longstanding friend of WHO, providing features, photography and reviews. He has contributed to The Times of London and other publications. He is the author of The Liberation of Europe (pub 2016) and If War Should Come due later in 2020.