Bruce Buckham, who died on 6 August 2011 aged 92, was “the kind of war hero that kids used to love reading about in comics.” That is how Kevin Meade described him when he interviewed him for the ANZAC Day issue of The Australian in 2008.
As a 26 year old former BHP clerk from Sydney who joined the Royal Australian Air Force, Flight Lieutenant Bruce Buckham was assigned to 463 Squadron, one of four Australian squadrons attached to Bomber Command which flew the legendary four-engine Lancasters into German-occupied Europe. (See the excellent obituary by Mark Baker published in The Sydney Morning Herald on 17 August, 2011)
In flying 76 bombing missions over Germany and the rest of Nazi-occupied Europe during the Second World War, Flight Lieutenant Bruce Buckham sank the German floating fortress the Tirpitz, wiped out a top secret factory he believed the Nazis were using to develop their own version of the atomic bomb and set a record by flying more than 15 hours non-stop.
He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order and the Distinguished Flying Cross for his bravery in World War II.
Asked by Kevin Meade whether he was ever scared when he was flying into relentless barrages of anti-aircraft fire and in dodging German fighter planes, he answered:
"Often – before we got our briefings to go on missions, crew members used to come up to me and say, 'Oh, boss, aren't you scared about this?"'
"I'd say 'Oh, no, it might be a bit hard but all you've got to do is just do your job'. They didn't know that internally I felt as much fright and fear as they did."
..but why have our governments so failed them?…
(Continued below) There was one honour he believed he and his comrades in arms have been unjustly denied since the war. He told Mr. Meade that Australian, British and Canadian crews who served with Bomber Command in Britain during World War II had long been calling for their own campaign medal, but the governments of the three countries have persistently ignored or denied their requests.
Laurie Woods, the leader of the Australian push for the honour, told Mr. Meade in 2008 :
"We have always believed there should be a Bomber Command campaign medal."
Mr Woods, the Queensland president of the 460 Squadron Association, flew 35 missions as a bomb aimer with Bomber Command and won the Distinguished Flying Cross for taking the controls of a Lancaster bomber over occupied Europe after its pilot was wounded and flying the aircraft safely back to England.
"We took part in one of the most important campaigns of World War II," Mr Woods said.
"During that campaign, every second person who was flying in Bomber Command was killed. There were 3486 Australians killed out of 8000 who served with Bomber Command.
“It's a disgrace that we have never received proper recognition."
We agree. It is a disgrace. Surely it is not too difficult to propare a recommendation for a medal? Why has it taken over sixty years to do that?