The notions of honor, loyalty, decency, and patriotism were still woven deep into Britain’s national fabric during World War II. Douglas Radcliffe, 89, who volunteered for the RAF in 1941 when he was only 17, never forgot those obligations to oneself and ones country. When he learned that someone had defaced the Bomber Command Memorial in London’s Green Park, spraying the word Islam across two parts of it, Radcliffe made a stand – literally. Radcliffe, who served as Secretary of the Bomber Command Association, announced that he intended to stand in front of the memorial until the graffiti was removed. Radcliffe won, with authorities moving post haste to remove the graffiti.
The attack on the Memorial capped a violent and ugly week in Britain, one that began when two Islamists smashed into Drummer Lee Rigby outside of the Woolwich military base south of London. They then jumped out of the car, stabbed him viciously and, finally, beheaded him. Crowds of Londoners watched in horror, but made no move either to stop or to apprehend the men. Only three women acted, with two defying the murderers to care for and pray over Rigby’s remains, while the third attempted to distract them so as to prevent another attack.
In the wake of the attack, riots spread across England, with a nationalist organization called the English Defence League (“EDL”) marching through the streets and, allegedly, attacking Muslims. EDL members also attacked mosques and other Islamic institutions, firing bombing them, spraying them with graffiti, generally being as destructive as possible. The marches turned ugly when self-identified “anti-Fascist” groups engaged in running street battles with members of the EDL.
The aftermath of the attack on Rigby revealed that the two killers were part of an organized Al Qaeda terrorist movement. The British authorities have since arrested ten people believed to be associated with the jihadist attack against Rigby.
At some point, unknown thugs sprayed the word “Islam” across the RAF Bomber Command Memorial, which honors members of the Bomber Command and animals who died during the Battle of Britain. Police do not know whether Muslims, EDL members, or anti-fascists desecrated the memorial.
Radcliffe didn’t know who did it nor did he care. He knew only that it was an attack against those who served so bravely during World War II — his war. When the Battle of Britain began, in 1940, Radcliffe was a 17-year-old working as a messenger for the BBC. When BBC’s Broadcasting House took a hit, it killed seven young women in the music library. Radcliffe was present when they dug out the bodies, and he decided then and there to join the RAF. It was the RAF that Churchill spoke of when he said “Never was so much owed by so many to so few.” They defended London during the Blitz, but at a terrible cost to themselves in terms of lives lost.
Once in the RAF, Radcliffe served a wireless operator on bombing and supply flights, first out of England and then in North Africa. When his plane crashed in North Africa, he ended up in hospital to recover from shoulder and back injuries. While he was there, every member of his original crew was killed. Radcliffe served for the war’s duration, getting mustered out after the war ended.
Radcliffe knows what it is to fight, and he knows what it’s like to see comrades and colleagues die. He was outraged when the memorial honoring the dead – honoring his peers – was defaced. And unlike today’s British, who swing wildly between apathy and violence, Radcliffe found a happy medium: peaceful protest that nevertheless makes a very strong statement. He announced that he would stand at the memorial until the government cleaned it up.
Radcliff’s courage – because, for an 89-year-old man standing in the elements is an act of great courage – got results. The British government announced immediately that it would restore the memorial the next day.
We applaud Douglas Radcliffe , MBE, for his principled and courageous stand, and for his service so long again in the fight against totalitarianism. Modern British citizens could learn a lot from him.