Cumbernauld Legion of Honour recipient Geoffrey Payne is living proof of the close bond between the UK and France – a bond many of us were reminded by recent terror attacks.
Geoffrey, or Geoff as he is known to his friends, was given this high military honour on Friday for his role in liberating France from the Nazis during World War II.
Those days are long gone, as are many who experienced them first hand, which makes it all the more important that we remember those who can tell us what happened.
Geoff served with the RAF as a “tail-end Charlie” – the tail gunner on a Lancaster tail bomber, which was one of the most dangerous jobs in the entire war. Estimates of the life expectancy of a Lancaster rear gunner varied but were never high, perhaps around five flights. Geoff survived 30 missions.
From April to June 1944, as a precursor to the Allied invasion of Europe, Bomber Command carried out an intense campaign of missions, especially targeting railway targets. Geoff flew several of these missions, against targets in Caen, Calais, Le Havre and Le Cap Gris Nez.
The goal was to hinder the movement of enemy forces, so that the troops opposing the beach landings could not be reinforced. Bombers also flew thousands of minelaying sorties to isolate the minelaying corridor and destroyed airfields and artillery batteries.
Without this sustained bombing D-Day would never have been possible. It was so successful that Luftwaffe activity during the Normandy invasion was almost nil.
Despite the courage and sacrifice of these young aviators they have often struggled to gain the recognition earned by the likes of “The Few” fighter pilots in the Battle of Britain.
The reason for this was largely political unease as Bomber Command carried out multiple attacks on cities – most infamously the firebombing of Dresden – though many argued that this should not diminish the sacrifice of those ordered to carry out those raids, or the fact that the vast majority of bombing operations were against indisputably valid strategic targets.
Also, it was the Nazis who instigated systemic campaigns of bombing against civilians, such as the destruction of Clydebank.
Finally, during the Diamond Jubilee of 2012, Queen Elizabeth unveiled a memorial at Piccadilly honouring 55,573 bomber aircrew as well as civilians of all nations killed during raids.