Ottawa creates new honour for Bomber Command vets

Ottawa is creating a new military honour to pay tribute to Canadians who served in Bomber Command during the Second World War.

Story of Bomber Command remains contentious issue among historians

A Lancaster Bomber banks over Dover in south eastern England in 2009. (Luke MacGregor/Reuters)

The federal government is creating a new military honour to pay tribute to Canadian veterans who served in Bomber Command during the Second World War. Defence Minister Peter MacKay and Veterans Affairs Minister Stephen Blaney made the announcement today in Ottawa.

A special bar is being created which veterans who served in Bomber Command will wear on the ribbon of the Canadian Volunteer Service Medal. The medal was granted to personnel who volunteered for service in the Canada’s land, naval and air forces and who served 18 months or more between Sept. 3, 1939 and March 1, 1947.

The government says the new bar is meant to honour all Canadians who fought in Bomber Command during the Second World War, but in particular the more than 10,000 Canadians who died in service. More than 55,000 Allied air crew members were killed carrying out raids over Germany.

Blaney said the bar is being designed and will be ready by the end of the year. Surviving veterans can apply for it, as can the families of any of the 50,000 Canadians who served in the campaign.

The new honour comes 67 years after the end of the war. MacKay today acknowledged this tribute is "long overdue."

"It is unfortunate it has taken this long," MacKay said. "[Creating the honour] is complex and there is certainly, as is always the case, politics involved in that."

The story of Bomber Command remains a contentious issue among historians. Allied air raids killed more than 600,000 Germans. The morality of mass bombing raids has been debated since the war’s end.

'A bit late'

John Bower-Binns flew 37 missions with Bomber Command and was on hand for today's announcement.

"I think it's a bit late," he said.

"Bomber Command took a very active role in the war. And for a long time, we weren't very well recognized. They thought we were a bunch of criminals for bombing cities."

Questions over Bomber Command led to a controversy at the Canadian War Museum in 2007. Veterans groups criticized the wording of a display on the history of Bomber Command. They claimed it made Allied air crews appear to be war criminals.

A Senate committee investigated. It found the wording of the display to be factually accurate but urged the museum to change it nonetheless. The museum’s directors relented, putting together a longer, more detailed display that veterans considered more balanced.

A group of 42 Canadian Bomber Command veterans will travel to London, England, this week for the unveiling of a new memorial to Allied air crews. The Queen will officially open the Bomber Command Memorial in Green Park, near Buckingham Palace.