The Royal opening of the Bomber Command Memorial in Hyde Park, on 28th June 2012  was a major highlight for the Harrow Apollo Male Choir.

It was a great privilege and honour to be asked by the RAF Benevolent Fund, to contribute, and it turned out to be a day that will live long in our memory – for some of us, more than others.

The event was split into two distinct arenas. The primary focus was at the memorial itself, where the Royal party and invited guests marked the opening with due ceremony. Slightly separate, was a stage where 5,000 veterans, family and friends were entertained. This was the location for the choir’s performance.

The choristers arrived early as instructed. At 8am, the day was already sunny and hot, and as the day progressed, it got hotter still.

However, as time passed there was no sign of our accompanist, Philomena McRae. Then we received a phone call to say Philomena had been taken ill, and would not be able to stage. This could have been a major and embarrassing hitch but fortunately, our deputy accompanist, Avis offered her services – without having practiced any of the pieces prior to the performance. Disaster averted!

The Choir performed in the middle of the day. By this time the stage and the audience were baking under the sun. St John’s Ambulance were kept busy rescuing members of the audience suffering from the effects of the sun. Thankfully the choir was shaded under the trees, and avoided the worst of the sun’s glare.

The highlight was our performance on stage. We were introduced by Carol Vordeman, who picked out Cled Yorwerth for a special mention. The Dutch famine, known as the Hongerwinter (“Hunger winter”), took place in the German-occupied Netherlands, during the winter of 1944–5. At this time Cled was a rear gunner on Lancasters, taking part in Operation Manna, an allied food drop organised to alleviate the suffering of individuals in the Low Countries. It is estimated that as many as 22,000 may have died because of the famine, however 4.5 million people survived, including Carol Vordeman’s father, for which, Carol thanked Cled, as a representative of all those airmen, who took part.

The Choir sang 9 pieces, including The Dam Busters March, and “Here’s to the Heroes,” which were warmly appreciated by the audience.

We made many new friends during the day, and the choir will be forever grateful to Avis, who was amazing for stepping in at such short notice. We wish Philomena a speedy recovery.

Have a look at some photographs from the day in our gallery.

Written by Andrew Machin