An army veteran from East Finchley raised thousands of pounds to help pay for the country’s first RAF Bomber Command memorial, due to be unveiled this week.
Dennis Gimes, of High Road, has been involved in the Bomber Command Association (BCA) since 2009 when he became inspired by the story of the 55,573 pilots who never made it home from the Second World War.
The 64-year-old, who spent 10 years in the army from the age of 17, has dedicated the last three years of his life to raising money for a memorial to the once-shunned RAF regiment.
The government was reluctant to formally recognise members of regiment following the ill-fated bombing of the German city of Dresden, in which 25,000 civilians were killed.
But following a long campaign by members of the BCA, based at the RAF Museum in Grahame Park Way, Hendon, a large monument recognising the services of the men will be unveiled by the Queen in Hyde Park Corner on Thursday.
Grandfather Mr Gimes said: “I’ve had a good life, I’ve never wanted for anything, and it is all because of what these men sacrificed.
“I heard their story and I fell in love with those old boys so I thought I just had to do something for them.
“What happened at Dresden was awful, there is no justifying that, but these lads have never been recognised with any medals or publicity. The Bomber Command sank more ships than the Royal Navy – they were a significant part of the Second World War.”
Former Metropolitan Police officer Mr Gimes has personally raised more than £10,000 for the memorial.
He has also helped raise awareness by persuading numerous celebrities and politicians to have their photographs taken with the official Bomber Command teddy bear.
A-list names snapped with the soft toy include Ewan McGregor, Ray Winstone, Brian May and Dame Vera Lynn.
The memorial will be unveiled in front of thousands of Bomber Command veterans and their families in Green Park at midday on Thursday.
The ceremony will end with a flypast by five RAF GR4 Tornado bomber aircraft crewed by today’s Royal Air Force.
This will be followed by a flypast by the RAF’s last flying Lancaster Bomber, which will drop poppies over Green Park as a message of remembrance for the 55,573 Bomber aircrew lost.
Mr Gimes said: “The memorial is nothing to do with the rights and wrongs of killing. It is about honouring those brave men, some of which were as young as 18, who didn’t come back.
“It is a massive thank you to all those wonderful men. They knew their chances of surviving were slim and for a 22-year-old to have the bravery to do that is amazing.”
For Mr Gimes, who learned how to read and write on an education course during his stint in the army, the memorial unveiling is another opportunity to thank the armed forces to which he says he owes so much.
“For a young man coming out of school and not being able to read or write, I never would have thought I’d be doing what I’m doing today. This is what I live for now and it is worth every moment.”