2015 has been a whirlwind for the International Bomber Command Centre, with two major events and an array of other elements to organise.
April saw the creation of the Bomber Command Digital Archive which is being managed by the project’s partners, the University of Lincoln. Over 20,000 items have already digitised, all from private donors, and 130 oral history interviews have been recorded. This archive will provide the background for the exhibition and education programme.
Public donations funded the construction of the spire and this was erected on the May 10. This funding also covered the costs of the construction of the first phase of the memorial walls, which now carry the names of 26,296 young men who perished whilst serving in 1 and 5 Groups, both headquartered in the county.
The 31m spire, now the tallest war memorial in the UK, took only 7 hours to erect. This was the first publicly visible part of the project, a proud moment!
The next task was to ensure that we could invite every living veteran to the unveiling event in October. Thanks to the help of the media the campaign got widespread coverage and over 500 new veterans made contact!
A team of volunteers got down to the task of stuffing 6,000 invitation letters for sending around the world.
On October 2, after months of hard work from a very small but passionate and dedicated team and the support of local and national businesses, the day for the unveiling dawned with clear blue skies.
The construction site had been transformed with large white tents, seating areas, plasma screens and catering units and there was a fantastic buzz as teams of IBCC and RAF volunteers helped with the final preparations ahead of the first of the 2,600 guests arriving.
The day saw 312 veterans attending, the youngest was 91 and the oldest 102, and they came from all over the world. We believe it was the single largest gathering of Bomber Boys since 1946. We were blessed with glorious weather and the 400 blankets we organised for the veterans languished in a trailer, unused.
In the words of one of the veterans “This weather isn’t luck – it’s the souls of 55,573 Bomber Boys shining down on us”.
The event was compered by TV historian, Dan Snow, and the official unveiling was carried out by the Rt Hon The Earl Howe, Minster of State in the Lords in the Ministry of Defence and featured performances from the Lincolnshire Massed Male Voice Choirs, RAF College Cranwell band and The University of Lincoln Drama Group.
Looking forward to 2016, the main drive will be to raise the outstanding funds to get the project finished. The project is already engaging with a wide range of community groups including a number of schools but the Chadwick Centre will provide all the facilities to host these groups in all weathers and provide a much deeper understanding of the story of the Command, told using the first hand testimonies of those involved.
The trust are aiming to get the centre built by summer 2017, but in order to do this need to raise a further £3.5 million. It will be a challenge but the team are ready and able to ensure that it succeeds.
My New Year’s Resolution
To secure all the funding needed to finish the IBCC.
Nicky Barr is Director at the International Bomber Command Centre.