Chief of Air Force Commemorative Address at the Annual Bomber Command Memorial Service

04 June 2023


Chief of Air Force Commemorative Address

Distinguished guests, Bomber Command veterans and their families and friends, ladies and gentlemen.

Dhawura nguna, dhawura Ngunnawal—we commemorate today on the traditional lands of the Ngunnawal people—Nginggada Dindi, Wanggarralijinyin—and pay our respects to their elders. I extend my respects to Aunty Deb, our Air Force Elder, and to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who serve with pride and distinction in the Royal Australian Air Force.

Good morning everyone. Thank you for joining us today to commemorate the World War II service of the 125 000 members of Bomber Command.

It is a great privilege to speak on an occasion such as this. To express our gratitude and admiration for the members of Bomber Command, and to reflect on their legacy of service and courage in our Air Force today.

It is also an opportunity to acknowledge the families of the 11 000 Australians who flew with Bomber Command, 3 486 of who never came home. Today we share your pride in their achievements and your enduring grief for their loss.

The strategic bombing campaign against Germany was the longest and hardest offensive campaign of the Second World War. The aircraft of Bomber Command commenced their strikes on targets in Germany from the early months of 1940 and remained on operations until the closing weeks of the war.

Day after day, they faced appalling hazards. Day after day, they flew long missions in biting cold; through poor weather and at night; in large, tight, vulnerable formations at risk of mid-air collisions; against a formidable enemy air defence which included swarms of fighter aircraft and anti-aircraft guns, or flak, fired from the hostile ground below.

Such was the nature of these hazards, that of the 125 000 aircrew who flew with bomber command, 55 573 were killed in action (a death rate of more than 44%), a further 8 403 were wounded and 9 838 became prisoners of war.

Day after day, they flew these missions, their lives forsaken to chance.

Yet despite their extraordinary courage and sacrifice, Bomber Command was not well remembered after the war. Their deeds gallant, but their mission controversial.

Sir Winston Churchill eventually captured the gravity of their contribution in his memoires. He wrote about ‘paying a tribute of respect and admiration to the officers and men who fought and died in this fearful battle of the air, the like of which had never before been known, or even with any precision imagined. The moral tests to which the crew of a bomber were subjected reached the extreme limits of human valour and sacrifice. Here chance was carried to its most extreme and violent degree above all else.

They never flinched or failed. It is to their devotion that in no small measure we owe our victory. Let us give them our salute.’

It’s no exaggeration to say the veterans of Bomber Command are revered in our Air Force today. We hope never to revisit the horror of war, though as we strengthen our hand to deter it, we continue to look to their example.

We remember the 11 000 members of the RAAF who served with Bomber Command. Their values—service, courage and excellence—are the same values we strive for in our Air Force today. They remind us what it is to serve with full measure and sacrifice to protect our way of life.

The technology we employ, the domains in which we operate, the complexity of the threats we face have all evolved since World War II. As we seek to eliminate the chance from future conflict, we are reminded too of the need for innovation and audacity. The nature of air warfare hasn’t changed.

This year we mark the 80th anniversary of Operation Chastise or, as it is more commonly known, the Dambusters Raid. This extraordinary achievement—to place a bouncing bomb precisely on target, at night, through heavily defended territory—required the perfect marriage of scientific innovation and professional mastery. Technology and human spirit pushed to their absolute limit, embracing risk, emboldened by purpose.

Twelve aircrew from the Royal Australian Air Force participated in Operation Chastise. All 12 were serving with the famous 617 Squadron because they were masters of their domain, having already performed to the highest standards on 30-odd operational missions over Germany. They flew alongside allies and partners From the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand and all corners of the Commonwealth. An integrated force upholding the finest traditions of our service embracing innovation—in technology and tactics, and demonstrating operational excellence and daring.

This is the Bomber Command legacy we aspire to today.

As we commemorate and remember Australia’s Bomber Command veterans, let their example guide our effort to prepare a ready, resilient and resourceful Air Force. For there could be no greater exemplar of the Air Force we seek to be.

Per Ardua ad Astra.

Thank you.