Munro, a New Zealander who will celebrate his 96th birthday in April, is the last surviving pilot who took off for the raid against German dams in May 1943 which was later immortalised in the film The Dam Busters. Forced to turn back after flak destroyed the internal and external communications in his Lancaster, he became a key figure in the history of 617 Squadron. He took part in a series of important precision raids and on the eve of D-Day played a central role in an operation which fooled the Germans into thinking that an invasion fleet was sailing towards the Pas de Calais rather than Normandy.
“My reasons for donating my medals and my flying log books to the RAF Benevolent Fund and, more particularly, the Bomber Command Memorial, were prompted by my visit to the memorial in May 2013,” says Munro. “I could not help but think of the cost of its ongoing maintenance and, with the feelings of the descendants of those 55,573 in mind, believe that every effort should be made to maintain the memorial in the best possible condition”. He adds that it was “a travesty” that the memorial was not unveiled until 2012 – 67 years after the end of the Second World War. At the heart of the Portland stone memorial is a bronze sculpture by Philip Jackson depicting a seven-strong bomber crew after returning from a mission.
The RAF Benevolent Fund is the guardian of the memorial, which costs about £50,000 a year to maintain. “It is our great honour to maintain the memorial for future generations, as a lasting symbol of all that the young men in Bomber Command did in defence of our freedom,” says Mike Neville, Director of Fundraising for the Fund. “We are enormously grateful to Les Munro for the donation of his medals and logbooks, which will help the RAF Benevolent Fund preserve the memorial and the legacy of Bomber Command, so that the sacrifices made by these brave young men will not be forgotten.”
Christopher Hill, Director of Client Liaison at Dix Noonan Webb, says: “It has been a real pleasure to meet Les Munro, a remarkable man whose spirit of adventure has never left him. It is entirely typical of him that he is selling his medals, log books and other memorabilia to help ensure that the memory of his dead comrades will never fade.”
Les Munro was born in Gisborne, New Zealand on 5 April 1919 and was managing a farm when he joined the Royal New Zealand Air Force in July 1941. Arriving in Britain a year later, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for bravery during 21 bombing missions with 97 Squadron. Transferring to the newly-formed 617 Squadron, he learned to fly Lancasters at below treetop height in preparation for the raid on the dams. However as the squadron flew to attack the dams on the night of 16-17 May 1943 a flak shell severed the intercom and electrical lines in Munro’s Lancaster over the Netherlands. Unable to speak to each other or other planes, Munro’s crew realized that they would be, in the words of one of them, “a menace to the rest” on a quick-moving, low-level operation. Reluctantly they turned for home.
Wing Commander Leonard Cheshire VC, who later commanded 617 Squadron, described Munro and a small group of experienced comrades as “the backbone of the squadron”. They bombed V1, V2 and V3 rocket sites, destroyed E- and U-Boat pens, and attacked factories and tunnels that were vital to the German war effort. Munro was awarded the Distinguished Service Order in April 1944. Shortly afterwards he took part in the surgically precise and skilled Operation Taxable, dropping aluminium strips on the eve of D-Day to fool German radar operators into thinking that an invasion fleet was heading for the Pas de Calais.
After the Second World War Munro returned to New Zealand where he worked as a farms valuer and became involved in local and regional politics. As one of only two New Zealanders on the dams raid, he received many invitations to reunions and events such as the Australasian premier of The Dam Busters. He has been consulted on a new version of the film planned by Peter Jackson, director of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Munro now lives in Tauranga in North Island.
In addition to the DSO and the DFC, Munro was appointed to the Queen’s Service Order in New Zealand in 1991 and the Companionship of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 1997. These will be sold along with his campaign stars and medals, his New Zealand 1990 Commemoration Medal, logbooks and other ephemera including a menu signed by all the surviving Dambusters after the raid.
The RAF Benevolent Fund is the RAF's leading welfare charity, providing financial, practical and emotional support to all members of the RAF family. It works on behalf of serving and former members of the RAF, as well as their partners and dependants, whenever needed. It helps members of the RAF family deal with a wide range of issues: from childcare and relationship difficulties to injury and disability, and from financial hardship and debt to illness and bereavement.
Dix Noonan Webb Ltd is one of the world’s leading specialist auctioneers and valuers of coins, tokens, medals, militaria and paper money of all types. Established in 1990, the company boasts over 250 years' combined experience in this field and stages regular auctions throughout the year.
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