On Plymouth Hoe, one of the worlds most famous landmarks, and alongside the Armada Monument with it's statue of Sir Francis Drake, itself commemorating another most perilous time in history, there stands a column of granite.
Surmounting this column stands a bronze figure, sculpted by Pam Taylor, of a typical aircrew member in full flying kit, staring cleared eyed and resolutely out over Plymouth Sound, (which coincidentally, but appropriately, was used as an 'airfield' by RAF and RAAF Sunderland crews of Coastal Command during WWII).
Anonymously christened the 'Unknown Airman', he is seldom alone, and at almost any hour of the day visitors can be seen reading the names of all the allied countries, the tributes and various facts and figures engraved on the plinth he so proudly guards.
The idea for the monument was conceived in the early 1980's by ex RAF Warrant Officer Henry James (Jim) Davis, who served as a rear gunner with 90 squadron of Bomber command and the elite 'Pathfinder 'force during WWII. Jim realised that there was no single monument in existence which collectively commemorated those men………., and women, of all the allied air forces who had given their lives, either in the air or on the ground.
In 1984, Jim enlisted the enthusiastic support of Air Vice Marshal Don 'Pathfinder' Bennett, under whose typically energetic direction they rapidly developed the idea into a firm proposal and subsequently persuaded Plymouth City Council to support them. This they did by allocating the magnificent site on Plymouth Hoe and by arranging that the office of Lord Mayor of Plymouth would forthwith become patron to the monument.
Following the untimely death of Don Bennett, whose ashes were subsequently interred beneath the monument, there were many who were sceptical that the necessary funding could be raised to complete the task, but with the help of the local business community, Plymouth City Council and several very generous personal contributions they were, and the idea born in the early part of the decade was brought to completion in it's last year.
The unveiling of the monument and it's dedication took place on 3rd. September 1989, the 50th. anniversary of the outbreak of WWII, in the presence of 300 invited guests including official representatives of 15 of the allied air forces: Australia, Belgium, Canada, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Greece, India, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Pakistan, Poland, South Africa, the United States and the former USSR.
After unveiling the monument, Air Marshal Sir John Curtiss KCB, KBE, FRAeS paid tribute to the decisive role played, in all theatres, by members of the allied air forces and referred particularly to the efforts of Bomber Command and the US 8th. Air Force in carrying the war to the enemy. In paying tribute to the ground crews, Sir John said that without them the gallant allied airmen would have been unable to fly or fight and that it was therefore only right that the monument should also commemorate them
He went on to say that no one who has been involved in war had any illusions about it's beastliness, it's terrible waste and destruction and that no one with such experiences would ever want to resort to war again unless there was no alternative. In 1939 there was no alternative, and the awful losses and destruction that ensued was the price that we had to pay to preserve our freedom and way of life.