Sunday, July 15, 2012

SHAMEFUL TREATMENT OF BOMBER COMMAND VETERANS IN LONDON


My son and I have just attended the three Bomber Command Memorial ceremonies in London.  I am a War Widow.  I have served for almost 15 years as a psychologist in the Army Reserve. My husband was in Bomber Command. He died 20 years ago. My son and I wanted to attend three commemoration ceremonies in London to honour him, the 55,573 lost air crew and the surviving veterans. This experience has detracted from our ability to totally and respectfully remember, as we had wished.

I would like to compile some observations and concerns regarding the events. They have made me feel ashamed of the treatment of some of our veterans who attended. I wish to expose the real stories even though I am very tired and jet lagged because my friends in Australia told me that the press coverage here has been “glossy.”  

The stories I tell are far from glossy!  
                    
There was an official group of veteran delegates who went with DVA. From my knowledge, they were flown business class, were given generous clothes allocations including an Akubra hat that was donated by the Department of Housing. (Due to a shortage virtually none of the “other” veterans got a hat but note that all the DVA staff did have one!) The veteran delegates and all the DVA staff were accommodated in a good hotel. There were DVA staff (about 1:3) allocated “only” for the delegates with no brief to assist with the other veterans. In fact after the Runnymede memorial ceremony, a veteran collapsed and was bleeding profusely. I gave my tissues to help soak up the blood and then ran to ask if there was a doctor. Elizabeth Cosson (whose identity I only knew 3 days later) was VERY inhumane and dismissive in her attitude.  When I asked if there was a doctor there she said to me “They (DVA) had no responsibility except for the official delegation!” The veteran was finally taken to hospital by WO1 Lynne Foster (RSM Ceremonial) who stayed with him for 4 hours while he was triaged and treated. The remaining veterans had no shelter or drinks as they waited for buses. I have a photo of all of the empty bottles of water that were supplied. They fitted onto a plastic chair there were so few. During this period, I and others voiced our concerns and dissatisfaction with the shambolic organisation to Elizabeth Cosson. That was before I knew who she was (i.e. that she is a Major General and is the Managing Director of DVA!) Her only retort to Jane and me was “Why is everyone blaming me?”

THE BUS FIASCO  The bus to the Air Force Memorial at Runnymede left  from Holiday Inn at Kensington at 8.15 am. Our bus had no air-conditioning and in fact the heaters were on and the driver could not turn them off. The driver said he would try to put the air-conditioning on but this was never achieved. My son opened the 2 vents at the top of the roof. This was the only, inadequate ventilation.

The buses were late when we were waiting to travel to Australia House about 1.30. Veterans were waiting in the sun on the roadside. (I have photos) The bus we finally caught had no air vents at all. One lady reported that she could not touch the zipper on her dress as it was too hot. By the time the veterans arrived at Australia House about 2.30pm, they had no drinks or food for about 7 hours. Elizabeth Cosson was sitting behind me in the bus.  A daughter of a veteran was sitting opposite me and later remarked that Elizabeth Cosson seemed to finally realise how physically compromised the veterans were and how upset many of us were about this. At no stage did I ever hear Elizabeth Cosson voice any empathy, understanding or apology or in fact, show humanity.  I heard her ring someone and ask for bottled water to be available for the vets when we arrived at Australia House. THEY WERE  NOT provided. One bus totally broke down so some veterans did not make it to Australia House at all. Despite fewer to cater for, they still “ran out of orange juice!”  One of the organisers of the non-delegate veteran group reported that there were 13 veterans in their bedroom at the hotel at a “sick parade” at the hotel that afternoon. I was told that the doctor who attended (assumedly the “official Australian doctor”) told these veterans that they should have had their own doctor. The organiser also said that we were fortunate that no veteran died on the buses.

THE OFFICIAL MEMORIAL UNVEILING AND DEDICATION SERVICE 28th June 2012  I did not see Elizabeth Cosson here. In fact there were DVA staff in the Memorial area (seated  as evidenced on the photos and on film that). There seemed to be fewer “veterans without akubra hats” in this area. A veteran (non delegate) whom my son and I were supporting told us later that there was a spare seat next to him. He has had bowel cancer and was too unwell to have breakfast that morning before the ceremony. His wife was very worried about him. My son took an umbrella to give to Frank prior to the service starting as there was a light shower of rain. After the service Frank’s wife was very concerned about his condition and wanted to check on him. I asked my son to walk up to the Memorial area to see if he could find Frank. Then I went to some DVA staff on the side of our area. I asked them if there was a phone connection to the Memorial area that could be used to locate Frank. When they asked me what he looked like, I showed them his photo. They then commented that “Everyone has white hair!” I replied “NOT as white as his” but again they were obviously unwilling to assist any veteran except for the veterans in the delegation. Yet again, WO1 Lynne Foster came and said that she would walk Frank’s wife to the Memorial area. The DVA and RAAF staff were both unwilling to assist and discriminatory in the treatment of our veterans. This was at the end of a day which totally contrasted to the Runnymede “fiasco” as at the official ceremony hosted by the RAF, the young Air Force members from Universities throughout the UK were the epitome of helpfulness, caring, patience and consideration. Nothing was a problem for them. They were a credit to the RAF and provided a stark contrast to the DVA staff who seemed just to be “posing” and totally unwilling to render any real assistance. At Runnymede on the Tuesday, my son took a 94 year old veteran to the toilet. Not ONE DVA or RAAF person offered to assist even though the veteran was 94, in a wheel chair and had been recently discharged from hospital.        

After the ceremony, my son and I queued to see the memorial itself. We were in the queue with a RAAF person who was the MC at the service at the Australian War Memorial on the Saturday. We commented 0n the organisational debacle the day at Runnymede and then at Australia house had been. He then “revealed” that he had something to do with the “organisation” and said that they had  “learned lessons from it and e.g. would not use the same bus company again!” Well that was a pretty safe commitment as for these veterans this was no a dress rehearsal. Why would they have “economised” on buses for these veterans – and on food and drinks?

Visit to RAF Museum Hendon Friday 29th An invitation was issued assumedly by DVA to “other” veterans to attend this. The temperature that day had plunged from about 28 the day before to about 16 degrees. The daughter of the 94 year old veteran accompanied her father. Whilst there, she found the DVA staff and veteran delegates inside having a hot meal. She expressed her anger as the “other veterans” were given a bag of sandwiches outside!

SERVICE AT CLEMENTS ST DANES THE RAF CHURCH There was a service here. NONE of the “other” veterans were informed about it, let alone invited to attend.

THE SERVICE AT THE AUSTRALIAN WAR MEMORIAL Saturday 30th June It seems that there was NO EFFECTIVE DATA BASE OF THE “OTHER VETERANS.” Dr Ron Houghton the long term President of Bomber Command Association was staying in the RAF Club across the road. They announced that they were looking for him before the ceremony.  After the ceremony commenced, I saw Dr Houghton in the front of the “other veterans”,  far removed from the official delegates. I pointed out his presence to DVA staff who said he could not lay the wreath as someone else had already taken his place. I again went to the side and told WO1 Lynne Foster and shortly after they miraculously found a “spare wreath” so the man who had been the driving force behind the Bomber Command association did finally get to lay a wreath after a “battle” that should never have had to be waged! That Ron was not noticed is probably because of the following!     NOTE THERE WERE TWO SEATING AREAS AT THIS CEREMONY! ALL THE DELEGATES (WITH HATS) WERE IN THE FRONT 2 ROWS IN FRONT OF THE MEMORIAL. THEN THERE WAS A HUGE GRASSY “NO MAN’S LAND” BEHIND THEM WITH NO SEATING. THEN THE “REST OF THE VETERANS” AND RELATIVES WERE IN AN AREA BEHIND – IT WAS LIKE WE WERE QUARANTINED” (of course it would not have been so the footage could only be of the veteran delegates could it??) Surely it could not have been DVA and the Australian Government selectively  focused on a neatly turned out group of veterans so they could pat their collective backs about and say what a great job they had done! (NB! ONLY VERY belatedly and after the Australian government was shamed into doing something because New Zealand had their act together long before  and were flying veterans and appropriate medical support with them etc!

SUMMARY As a proud Australian, as a War Widow of a Bomber Command pilot, as an officer in the Army Reserve for 14+ years, as the grand daughter of a Boer War and Gallipoli and Western Front veteran, the events of the last week which were presided over and condoned therefore by Elizabeth Cosson, make me ashamed. My son and I wanted to attend these events to honour the memory of my husband and his father. For us it completes the cycle after losing him 20 years ago. I postponed my return flight and paid for an extra single fare home after attending the Australian service. My son and I were honoured and privileged to be able to support any veterans and families that we could.  It is a disgrace that DVA let our “other veterans” down!

My purpose for writing this is to give an insight into what happened behind the scenes and hopefully for REAL AUSTRALIANS to call on DVA, Elizabeth Cosson and the Australian Government to give a full, honest and unembellished account! The glossy photos and choreographed films do NOT tell the real story. The men were ALL pleased to be alive and be there to remember their mates who did not come back. They were the ultimate in courage, unity, team players extraordinaire. To see them now at 90ish, the spirit and dignity is still there. THEY will not complain even if they were affected by feeling excluded. They are icons. DVA is a disgrace.

WO1 Lynne Foster throughout the mismanagement was outstanding. She was compassionate, she showed initiative and exemplary leadership and in so doing provided an example of how ALL the DVA and RAAF staff and particularly Major General Elizabeth Cosson, should have been. She performed her duties magnificently  and went above and beyond this. Thank you WO1 Lynne Foster so much. You were like a shining beacon, a true Australian.

Oh I forgot! ONE DVA member after the final ceremony saw Keith, the 94 year old veteran, sitting in the sun and gave him her Akubra hat to keep. Thank you! Better late than never but at least one of the 60 other veterans who did not get an Akubra, got one to wear home!! The others are still waiting for theirs. Perhaps the “generous” allowance of $5000 to the “other veterans” can be used to buy a hat for themselves. There will not be ANY change from their air fares, hotel costs etc!

The sculptures of the airmen at the Memorial, have been created without rank as the sculptor said that everyone was important  as part of the bomber crew. It is a disgrace to ALL Australians that DVA created a scenario in which the non delegate Australian veterans received discriminatory treatment consistently through the week.

Lest we forget.

(Mrs) Beth Brosgarth                                                                                                                                            49 Pacific Parade, Manly 2095.                                                                                                                              Email beth@brosgarth.com.au.                                                                                                                        Mobile +61412410979

COPY OF EMAIL BY DAUGHTER OF 94 YEAR OLD VETERAN RECEIVED BY BETH 5TH June 2012

Hi Beth

Sorry I couldn't talk for long but my phone credit was nearly all gone. Good letter just one point to make the DHA were going to supply all the non delegates with hats but they didn't send enough and only a few people were lucky enough to receive one, due to short delivery.

I think the DVA should give the Vets some compensation for the stuff ups, coach problem and them getting the bare minimum, no lunches until the penultimate day, and the packed lunch, not to be eaten in the refreshment area because the delegates were invited to a hot lunch. $5000.00 does not cover their trip and they have been made to feel like second class citizens, while no expense was spared with the delegation!

The delegation got wined and dined the whole trip, and for the large majority of those traveling on their own they needed assistance which was provided by the kindness of the able bodied, in the group traveling independently. The delegation didn't need all the minders, they were the fit ones! This was proved by the fact that when I went into the restaurant the minders were having a little lunch party while the delegation went back to the museum area across the road on their own. We were left to support and push wheel chairs for our Veterans in the group. I believe the ratio of delegates to minder was one to three delegates, and yet there were very few who needed extra assistance!

It would have been nice if ALL the Vets had been invited to the River Cruise and lunch on the last day, and been a great finale for ALL the men.

Regards

J

See photos here

4 comments:

  1. Hi Beth,
    My uncle and I were among those stranded on the broken down bus from Runnymede and can vouch for the heat in the bus and at the roadside. I have already written to the Australian High Commissioner and the Minister for Veterans Affairs with comments regarding what I think is absolutely shameful behaviour by the DVA towards the Veterans. I am happy to add to any campaign. It was absolutely disgraceful. If this is a demonstration of the public services' ability to organize then they should all be sacked!

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  2. Hi Beth,
    As an Advocate and veteran myself I find the treatment of these Australian Icons and their families utterly disgusting. This is indicative of the attitude of the DVA to all veterans and their families over the last few years and the standards of care and humanity that used to be associated with DVA no longer exist. I am very sorry that what should have been a very proud moment for you and many others has been spoiled by selfish junket takers who are a waste of taxpayers money. I hope you receive the apology you so richly deserve, but I would not hold my breath.


    Rod Thompson

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  3. Beth, thanks for the enlightening post. I was a Soldier and an Officer in the Army for 21 years before being retired broken to join the unwanted on a TPI pension. All too often I have seen the incompetence of DVA, being treated like a criminal, my wife being told DVA isn't made of money when I needed assistance in the home and seeing their total lack of compassion or even remotely understanding that I didn't choose to be broken and needing continuous medical treatment.

    I remember Liz Cosson from my time at Vic Barracks Melbourne and always thought she was a very professional and competent Officer. Even when she was responsible for leaving her report into the death of Private Kovco in an airport lounge I thought she was being unfairly attacked but perhaps that and other events in her career have hardened her severely. Regardless, she should have been more understanding and if this fiasco can be laid at her feet, then so be it. If she had the opportunity to make things better and failed then she deserves whatever comes her way. I know I could not have stood by while such injustices continued, but then, General rank often has the side effect of removing ones spine. This was an insult to the Veterans of Bomber Command when it should have been an uplifting recognition by a grateful nation. I am sorry it has turned out this way but they are still heroes to me, regardless if DVA found them an unwanted burden on their junket.

    Lest we forget.

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  4. Ms Brosgarth and her corespondent J, are a disgrace to the Bomber Command community!

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