Here lay the names of 150,000 RAF Personnel.

If you are in London, maybe taking in a show or visiting one of the many museums London has to offer, perhaps visiting the RAF Museum at Hendon or as I was, the Imperial War Museum in Lambeth, this is an ideal place to stop off and take time out. Its stained outer walls and hectic surroundings hint at nothing inside this remarkable building.

St. Clement Danes Church – London

St. Clement Danes church stands almost oddly in the centre of London in the Strand, surrounded on all sides by traffic; like an island it offers sanctuary and peace yet its history is far from peaceful.

St. Clement Danes - Church of the RAF

The view toward the Altar. The floor contains nearly 900 Squadron badges of the Royal Air Force.

It reputedly dates back to the Ninth Century AD following the expulsion of the Danes from the City of London, in the late 870s, by King Alfred. As a gesture, he allowed Danes who had English wives to remain nearby, allowing them to dedicate the local church to St. Clement of the Danes. Ever since this time, a church has remained, albeit in part, on this very site.

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The ‘Rosette’ of Commonwealth Air Force Badges embedded into the floor.

In the 1300s and then again in the late 1600s it was rebuilt, the second time influenced by the great Sir Christopher Wren – notable for his designs of buildings both in and outside of London. Regarded as being Britain’s most influential architect of all time, he designed many famous buildings such as the Library at Trinity College and the Royal Hospital at Chelsea. Wren also redesigned both Kensington and Hampton Court Palaces – his influences stretched far and wide.

Of course Wren’s ultimate master-piece was St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, a structure that reflected both his skill, vision and personality.

During the Great Fire of London in 1666, eighty-seven churches were destroyed in London, but only fifty-two were subsequently rebuilt. Whilst not directly damaged by the fire, St. Clement Danes was included in that list due to its very poor condition and Wren was invited to undertake the huge task.

St. Clement Danes - Church of the RAF

The Memorial to all the Polish airmen who served with the Royal Air Force during World War II.

It then stood just short of 300 years before incendiary bombs of the Luftwaffe destroyed it in May 1941. Leaving nothing but a few walls and the tower, Wren’s design had been reduced to ashes and rubble.

For over ten years it lay in ruins, until it was decided to raise funds and rebuild it. In 1958, following a national appeal by the Royal Air Force, St. Clement Danes was officially opened and dedicated as the Central Church of the Royal Air Force in memory of all those who fought and died whilst in RAF service, and to ‘serve as a perpetual shrine of remembrance’ to them all.

In completing the restoration, every branch of the RAF was included. At the entrance of the church, is the rosette of the Commonwealth made up of all the Air Forces badges of the Commonwealth countries, each of which flew with RAF crews during the conflicts. Beyond the rosette, the floor from the north aisle to the south aisle of the Nave contains nearly 900 squadron badges each one made in Welsh Slate and embedded into the floor.

Around the walls of the church, four on each side and two to the front, are ten Books of Remembrance from 1915 to the present day, in which are listed 150,000 names of those who died whilst in RAF service. A further book on the west wall, contains a further 16,000 names of USAAF personnel killed whilst based in the United Kingdom during the Second World War.

St. Clement Danes - Church of the RAF

Ten Books of Remembrance contain 150,000 names of those who died in RAF Service 1915 – the present day. A further book contains 16,000 names of USAAF airmen who were killed.

On either side of the Altar, are boards and badges dedicated to every branch of the RAF. Two boards list the names of those who were awarded the Victoria Cross and others the George Cross. Other slate badges represent the various units to serve and support the main fighter and bomber groups, including: RAF Training units, Fighter Control units, Maintenance units, University Air Squadrons, Medical units, Communication squadrons, Groups, Colleges and Sectors.

In the North Aisle, a further memorial, also embedded into the floor, remembers those who escaped the Nazi tyranny in Poland and joined the RAF to carry on the fight during World War II. Each Polish Squadron is represented in a beautifully designed memorial around which is written:

“I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course’ I have kept the faith”

Smaller dedications can also be found around the church, such as the Mosquito Aircrew Association, dedicated to both air and ground crews of the mighty ‘Wooden-Wonder’. Some of these memorials are in the form of gifts of thanks many of which come from other nations as their own tribute to those who came from so far away to give their lives in the name of freedom and democracy.

So next time you’re in London, take time out from the hustle and bustle of the West-end, make your way to the Strand ( a fifteen minute bus journey from the IWM) and visit this peaceful retreat.

St. Clement Danes is open every day to the public, so that those who gave the ultimate sacrifice may live on for eternity.

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The Korean War Memorial, London

On July 27th 1953, the Korean War, a very much ‘forgotten’ war, came to an end. For over 50 years, the 81,084 British Troops who were sent there feel they have had little official recognition from the authorities or public.

The Memorial stands overlooking the Thames.

However, on the 3rd December 2014,  320 veterans and 180 other guests, watched as HRH the Duke of Gloucester unveiled a new memorial on the Embankment next to the Royal Air Force, Fleet Air Arm and Battle of Britain memorials.

The memorial, which was a gift from the Republic of Korea in honour of the British Troops sent there, stands six metres high and was carved by Philip Jackson – famed for carvings of Sports personalities, artists and the Gurkha Memorial. It shows a Bronze statue of a soldier, head bowed, standing on a base of Welsh Slate in front of an obelisk of Portland Stone. Dressed in winter wear, the statue reflects the tiredness of constant rain, and the never-ending battle against both a determined enemy and the elements.

Behind the weary soldier are several carvings, including a mountainous landscape representing Korea’s environment, along with a number of inscriptions. On the base, to the front, reads (in both English and Korean)

“With gratitude for the sacrifice made by the British Armed Forces in defence of freedom and democracy in the Republic of Korea.”

To the North side of the memorial is a further inscription:

“The Korean War was the first UN action against aggression. The UN forces that fought the North Korean invasion were drawn from 21 countries. Although exhausted and impoverished after the Second World War, Britain responded immediately by providing strong naval, army and air forces and became the second largest contributor after the United States. A distant obligation honourably discharged.”

On the south side of the obelisk, below the Union Flag, it reads:

“In this fierce and brutal conflict those who fought included many Second World War veterans reinforced by reservists and young national servicemen. The land battle was fought against numerically superior communist forces, the terrain was mountainous and the weather extreme. 81,084 British servicemen served in the theatre of operations. 1,106 were killed in action, thousands were wounded and 1,060 suffered as prisoners of war.”

The Korean War was the first UN action and took troops from 21 different countries, many of whom had only just started to recover from the Second World War. For their action, two British Soldiers were awarded the highest military honour – the Victoria Cross – but yet despite this, it still remains very much a ‘forgotten war’.

HMS Triumph

HMS Triumph as she appeared in my father’s photo album on return from Korea.

Much of the fighting took place around the 38th Parallel, a point that once stabilised, became not only the border between North and South Korea, but the Russians and the West in what would be a long and at times trying Cold War.

The memorial stands facing the Thames, amongst a number of other memorials outside the Ministry of Defence building on the north embankment and forms a group of Korean memorials. These include a plaque in the crypt of St Paul’s, and two other memorials in the National Arboretum in Staffordshire and in Bathgate, Scotland.

This memorial stands as a reminder of a short war, but for those who took part, it is a timely reminder of the sacrifice that they and their colleagues made.

The unveiling of the memorial.


A website dedicated to the Korean War Veterans can be found here.

Other major memorials can be found here and RAF / USAAF memorials here.

Fleet Air Arm Memorial, London

The Fleet Air Arm memorial, on the banks of the Thames, is one of many that stand together at this spot. The Battle of Britain, the Korean War and Royal Air Force memorials all being in very close proximity, outside the Ministry of Defence building in Victoria Embankment Gardens.

Forming one of many Fleet Air Arm memorials across the country, it joins others such as those at that the National Memorial Arboretum and Lee on Solent.

A more modest memorial, this one was designed by the architect James Butler RA, who has created a number of other statues and monuments in and around London. 

Initially, the figure looks like an angel, but is thought to resemble Daedalus, the Greek inventor –  father to Icarus, who flew too close to the sun and fell to his death.

The statue, which was unveiled on the 1st of June 2000 by his Royal Highness The Prince of Wales, stands looking down, perhaps Daedalus watching his son fall from the skies. Crafted with a pilot’s body and flying suit, but with the bare arms of a ‘God’, it wears a fallen oxygen mask that reveals a face with a look of horror, as if witnessing some awful event beneath.

The winged guardian stands on a single stone column that protrudes from a boat-like base, around which are engraved the names of the many conflicts and battles that the Fleet Air Arm have been involved in. Ranging from 1914 right up to modern conflicts such as the Falklands and the Gulf War, it shows how important the Fleet Air Arm has been to both the safety of this nation and world peace in general.

There are further inscriptions around the other sides of the base. On the front, in gilded letters, are the words ‘Fleet Air Arm’, with the crested insignia, and to the side the words:

‘To the everlasting memory of all the men and women from the United Kingdom the British Commonwealth and the many Allied Nations who have given their lives whilst serving in the Royal Naval Air Service and the Fleet Air Arm’.

Also on the base is a quote from Psalm 18:10, “He rode upon a cherub and did fly yea he did fly upon the wings of the wind”.

One of many memorials standing at this location, the Fleet Air Arm winged  guardian, watches closely over the crowds below, standing as a tribute to those who gave their lives and whose bodies now rest in the deep waters of the worlds oceans.

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The Fleet Air Arm Memorial on a wet and windy day in February.

Other ‘major’ memorials can be found here, with specific airfield memorials here.

Royal Air Force Memorial, Embankment, London

London has many stunning memorials and monuments scattered about its streets and gardens. The Royal Air Force memorial is just one of many visited over recent months.

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The Royal Air Force memorial stands on the Embankment overlooking the Thames.

The Royal Air Force memorial is located on the banks of London’s River Thames, between Embankment and Westminster tube stations.

Overlooking the river, it was designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield, sculpted by William Reid Dick, and  completed on 13th July 1923.

The memorial consists of a bronze globe on which stands a gilded eagle with its wings spread as if about to take off. The main tapering column is of Portland stone and this forms the official Royal Air Force memorial.

The initial idea for a memorial was raised by Maj.Gen.J.M.Salmond, in a letter to the Air Ministry on 27th November 1918. Following this a committee was set up and discussions continued around the raising of funds and more importantly, how it should be spent. The leads in this committee were Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Trenchard and Lord Hugh Cecil. Eventually, on 21st January 1920, an appeal was launched with an article in the Times newspaper and the money gradually gathered.

There then followed many discussions about a suitable location for the memorial and eventually, the current location was agreed and permission given for its erection. The Architect, Sir Reginald Blomfield, decided upon William Reid Dick as the sculptor, plans were drawn up and building work started.

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A Bronze gilded Eagle stands as if about to fly.

It wasn’t until 16th July 1923, that the memorial would be both finished and unveiled. In the presence of Sir Hugh Trenchard, and many other dignitaries, the Prince of Wales gave a moving speech highlighting the sacrifice of those who gave their lives in this new form of warfare.

Following the Second World War, further inscriptions were added and the updated memorial unveiled by Lord Trenchard on Battle of Britain Sunday, 15th September 1946. The tradition of placing a pilot’s brevet shaped wreath at its base has continued ever since.

There are a number of inscriptions around the column and base, each one referring to the dedication and loss of the men and women from the entire British commonwealth who gave their lives in both World Wars.

Even on a wet winters day, this is a stunning memorial and a beautiful tribute to those brave people.

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The Eagle looks across the Thames to the London Eye,

For more information about its history go to the RAF Benevolent Fund website here. A pdf is available.

Other major memorials appear in the blog here and for specific airfield memorials here.

In Honour of the 55,573 Young Men Who Never Returned

RAF Bomber Command – Green Park,

London

The Bomber Command memorial was erected in honour of the 55,573 crew members of the RAF Bomber Command who died during the Second World War. It stands as a reminder of the young men, whose average age was only 22, and who never returned to their beloved homes. It was unveiled by the Queen, on June 28th 2012, when a Lancaster bomber of the BBMF flew over dropping thousands of poppies.

RAF Bomber Command Memorial

RAF Bomber Command Memorial

The monument can be found in London adjacent to Green Park. It stands proudly watching over the grassed picnic area where picnickers, shoppers and tourists sit. The main part of the monument is a bronze sculpture consisting of seven members of a typical bomber command aircrew.

Perhaps not obviously noticed, some of the crew are looking to the sky, some with hands to shield from the morning sun, as if looking for missing friends. Others are looking downward, perhaps in despair or fear for those not yet home. The stance of the statues suggests a crew recently returned from a mission who have just disembarked from their damaged aircraft. Tired, bewildered and overwhelmed by what they have witnessed, they have been created in precise and superb detail.

The Pilot stands central and to the rear of the group; the navigator to the left, followed by the flight engineer, mid-upper gunner, bomb aimer, rear gunner and then the wireless operator to the right. Their faces reflecting the feelings and emotions that these young men felt. The base of the statues were ‘littered’ with photos of loved ones and messages from around the world. A moving tribute.

RAF Bomber Command Crest "Strike hard, Strike Sure"

RAF Bomber Command Crest “Strike Hard, Strike Sure”

Outside and on the walls of the memorial, are two crests; on the left, the RAF crest “Per Ardua ad Astra” meaning “Through adversity to the Stars“. The crest has its origins going back to August 1st 1918 and has been the symbol of the RAF ever since. On the right, is the crest of Bomber Command whose motto is “Strike Hard, Strike Sure“. Both beautifully carved into the undoubtedly beautiful Portland Stone.

A number of quotes, including one from Winston Churchill, “The Fighters are our salvation, but the bombers alone provide the means of victory” surround the memorial giving  it strength. A further quote, to the rear of the memorial reflects the losses of all nations, who on the ground, lost lives as a result of bombing campaigns on both sides – a reflection of reconciliation and peaceful times ahead.

The roof above the memorial is open. This allows you to see the figures against a backdrop of sky, whether at day or night, rather than the bustling city behind.  A view more representative of the times they lived and flew in.

The remainder of the roof is similar to the kriss cross design of the Vickers Wellington, one of the RAF’s bombers during World War II. The design is both eye-catching and unique, not only to the memorial but the Wellington from which it came.

The building of the memorial, which is truly a mix of emotion, international representation, and a build that reflects the lives of those affected by the war, is considered as closure for many; a symbol of what the young crews had to endure on long missions over occupied Europe. It also serves to act as a lesson to the those who were too young to know what the war meant to those who fought and died in it. It is A beautiful place to sit and give thanks to those 55,573 brave young men who never lived to experience peacetime again.

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RAF Bomber Command Memorial – Note the Roof Design.

The official Bomber Command Memorial website is here. An app is also available for a small fee that goes part way to supporting the maintenance of the memorial, it gives greater detail to the construction and design of the memorial, along with an audio script and stories from survivors of Bomber Command.

A history of the RAF Crest and its derivations can be found by clicking here.

By clicking here, you can see and hear some stories of those to whom the monument is honouring.

  “The Fighters are our salvation, but the bombers alone provide the means of victory

Winston Churchill, 1940

To see more memorials from airfields around the country please click here