LONDON – Queen Elizabeth II unveiled a new memorial for the Royal Air Force's bomber command on Thursday, honoring tens of thousands of airmen who died in World War II.
The massive bronze statue placed along the edge of London's Green Park has been a long time in coming. The bomber command had been omitted from earlier memorials, in part because many civilians on the European continent died in the bombing raids.
But many high profile supporters, including the late Bee Gee Robin Gibb, had campaigned for the airmen. Many argued that the actions of the airmen — conducted in a time of war — honored their country in equal measure to that of any other service.
Thousands of them came to the ceremony, nodding at the accounts of their missions as their medals glinted in the brilliant sunshine. The queen paused to speak with many of the men and their families, offering a smile and white gloved hand.
Dudley Hannaford, 88, who came from Sydney for the service, described the ceremony as "absolutely wonderful."
"It makes me think of release and victory," he said. "I only played a very small part in that, but it is something to be very thankful for."
The German city of Dresden — where 25,000 civilians died in bombing raids — initially objected to the memorial. But the objections were eased by the placing of an inscription commemorating all the lives lost in the bombings of 1939-45.
Heike Grossmann, spokeswoman for the mayor of Dresden, stressed the close relations between Britain and Germany now.
"The inscription is a further gesture of reconciliation between Britain and Germany," Grossmann said.
The service was followed by a flyover of the Royal Air Force's last flying Lancaster Bomber, which dropped poppies in a message of remembrance for those who died.