Les Munro, the only surviving pilot from the Dam Buster raids, has presented his medals to New Zealand in a special hand-over ceremony in Auckland.
Munro, who celebrated his 96th birthday last Sunday, had originally intended to put the medals up for auction to fund the upkeep of the Bomber Command memorial in London’s Green Park.
However, British businessman Lord Ashcroft in March made a donation to the RAF Benevolent Fund in return for Munro withdrawing his medals from auction and giving them to the Museum of Transport and Technology (Motat) in Auckland.
That presentation took place on Wednesday at Motat where the veteran squadron leader’s medals, flight logbooks and associated memorabilia will be kept.
Those in attendance included Lord Ashcroft, Prime Minister John Key, members of the RAF Bomber Command and Kevin Lynch, the British Consul General.
The ceremony took place under a lit-up Lancaster bomber aircraft, which was used by the RAF in World War II.
It was a fitting location for the medals to be kept as Munro piloted a Lancaster during the World War II raids in May 1943.
“I flew all but one of my operations in a Lancaster,” Munro said.
“So I am comforted by the thought of my medals will be situated within proximity of the plane.
“I appreciate very much indeed they will have some relationship.”
Lord Ashcroft presented Munro with the medals at Wednesday’s ceremony, after personally collecting them from a London auction house and delivering them to New Zealand.
In his speech, Lord Ashcroft talked of his personal involvement with returning the medals to Munro.
“I’m sorry if I sound a little emotional,” he said.
“I am a hard-headed business man but this is my passion.”
Key acknowledged Lord Ashcroft calling him a “true unsung hero of New Zealand”.
“Without that donation I don’t think there would have been any chance the medals would have actually stayed in New Zealand,” Key said.
Indeed, big thanks to Lord Ashcroft.
There is a video at Stuff with an interview of Les Munro. He may be 96, but he is in fine form, and talks passionately about why he wanted to help the Bomber Command Memorial. A very fine New Zealander.
NZ Herald also reports:
Mr Munro said he had felt compelled to put his treasured war memorabilia up for auction to raise money to help with the maintenance of the Bomber Command Memorial in London after visiting the site in 2013.
“Why should I worry about this?,” he asked the gathered crowd, including 12 veterans of the RAF Bomber Command. “And then I remembered the 617 Squadron lost 130 men on the 15 and a half months that I spent with them. That’s an abnormal loss for an ordinary squadron, greatly in excess of what a normal squadron would lose.
“I then thought of the 1679 New Zealanders that travelled 12,000 miles to fight for King and country, for freedom and democracy, and gave 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 the preservation of that memorial.”
It was his “underlying concern” that the memorial would suffer through lack of investment in maintenance, and that future generations, in particular Kiwi visitors to London, would not get the chance to see it in good condition.
I’ll go see it next time I am in London. I also suggest watching the video on the Herald’s site.
Also of note:
Squadron Leader Les Munro is the last remaining Dambuster from the original mission. He was last night awarded the French Legion of Honour for his bravery and commitment in World War II, adding to his list of honours.
Vive la France.