The International Bomber Command Centre in Lincoln was officially opened on Thursday 12 April. We decided it might be a good place to take Dougie’s parents for a day out and planned our visit for two days later, Saturday 14 April. Waking up that morning to the news of the allied strikes against Syria, I felt like changing my mind. But then I thought it was probably even more important to educate myself, given the circumstances. Nevertheless, we drove to Canwick Hill in a sombre mood.
The centre serves as a point for recognition, remembrance and reconciliation. Far from glorifying war, it gives thanks to the men and women, from 62 nations, who were part of Bomber Command during World War II. It seeks to educate, providing a comprehensive record of the campaign.
At the heart of the centre is the Memorial Spire, a Shard-like sculpture made of weathering steel. The UK’s tallest war memorial, it stands 102 ft tall, the exact measurement of the wingspan of an Avro Lancaster Bomber. Its base is 16ft wide, the width of a Lancaster Bomber’s wing.
Surrounding the spire are the 23 Walls of Names. The name of everyone who lost their lives is laser cut into curved steel panels, with space for poppies to be placed in remembrance. As every life lost was equal in sacrifice, no mention of rank is included, just simple surnames and initials. Almost 58,000 people died serving Bomber Command, the highest losses of any unit during the conflict. The average age of those who died is 23, the youngest being just 14. They struggled for recognition for many years, because of the decision to target civilian populations during the campaign.
Either side of the walls are two peace gardens set in 10 acres of landscaped gardens. 27 lime trees represent the geographical location of each of Lincolnshire’s wartime stations from 1 and 5 Groups. Leading up from the main centre to the spire is a Ribbon of Remembrance: people are invited to dedicate their own memorial stone to commemorate a relative or friend. Made from Yorkstone Scoutmoor stone, these individual memorials create a path alongside the lawns of the garden.
The striking Chadwick Centre houses exhibition galleries with interactive displays. The information is suited to children and adults and technology helps to bring the information to life. Here you can discover what it was like to be involved in a sortie and you can hear individual stories from those involved in all aspects of the missions.
At regular times during the day, the main gallery becomes dark and a bombing raid is recreated so visitors can gain some sense of the horror felt by those on the ground. The centre serves as an archive facility: much work has been done to ensure the accounts from veterans have been recorded for posterity.
It was interesting for us to learn that Dresden, which suffered so much during the bombing raids, is twinned with Coventry, which also suffered in the Blitz. My son Rory lives in Coventry now, and I have seen the bombed-out shell of the old cathedral there, so it’s heartening to know that the people of both cities come together regularly on the anniversary of the Dresden bombing, in a show of peace and solidarity.
The Peace Gardens, Spire and Walls are free to visit but there is a charge for the Chadwick Centre galleries: £8.50 for adults, £5.50 for children, £7.20 concessions. It’s cheaper to buy these online in advance of your visit, saving from 80p to £1 per ticket. We didn’t take a free guided tour of the gardens but I would recommend it, reading reviews from others. I think we missed a trick not taking the chance to learn about the IBBC in an engaging, personal way.
The Hub Café provides cakes, sandwiches and hot food throughout the day but it was busy when we were there so we didn’t try it. There’s a small shop in the centre too with items including a number of books for those wishing to learn more about the role of Bomber Command during the war.
Tony Worth CVO, Lord Lieutenant of Lincolnshire, was the driving force behind the IBBC and a resident of Holbeach, the town where I live. He sadly died last year before the official opening but I’m sure his family and friends are extremely proud that his vision has become a reality. The one million men and women who served or supported Bomber Command are now recognised and those who lost their lives will always be remembered.