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Bourne’s Nicky van der Drift, Chief Executive of Lincolnshire Bomber Command Centre, talks about the facility and her mission





It has now been over six years since the International Bomber Command Centre near Lincoln officially opened — and it’s been quite the journey for chief executive Nicky van der Drift.

But for Bourne’s Nicky, it was also a personal mission to help the centre to take off — as she was keen to see through the vision of the man who brought her on board to the project in the first place.

Nicky, who has a background in project management, worked with Holbeach Hurn’s Tony Worth, the former Lord Lieutenant of Lincolnshire, the man who had the idea to build the Bomber Command Memorial.

Bourne's Nicky van der Drift is chief executive of the International Bomber Command Centre near Lincoln
Bourne's Nicky van der Drift is chief executive of the International Bomber Command Centre near Lincoln
LASTING LEGACY: Former High Sheriff and Lord Lieutenant of Lincolnshire, Tony Worth CVO. Photo: SG150513-225NG.
LASTING LEGACY: Former High Sheriff and Lord Lieutenant of Lincolnshire, Tony Worth CVO. Photo: SG150513-225NG.

Unfortunately, Tony was diagnosed with cancer and died shortly before the centre opened in 2017.

Nicky had previously worked with Tony on several projects including some for the Country Land and Business Association. She also worked with Tony in 2012 on the Queen’s Jubilee Lincolnshire event at Burghley House where he initially told her about the project.

“At the time he thought it would cost £1m and take a year, he asked me to come on board,” said Nicky.

The centre honours the role of those at Bomber Command
The centre honours the role of those at Bomber Command
International Bomber Command Centre near Lincoln
International Bomber Command Centre near Lincoln

“I said yes then, if I am honest, I went home and googled Bomber Command because I had never heard of it.

“His faith in me was monumental.

“Tony’s faith gave me wings.

“His grandfather was one of the first people in the RAF and rose to become the head of the Mediterranean command during the Second World War.

“Tony’s father and two maternal uncles had served in the command and his uncles never came home.

“He didn’t believe that Bomber Command wasn’t properly memorialised and didn’t think their sacrifices were acknowledged. As someone that was the Lord Lieutenant of Lincolnshire and lived in the county for all his life, he didn’t think that the contribution made by the area was properly recognised.

“He was the best of mentors, he was a humble man.

“It has been a massive learning curve, I’d never built a memorial or a building or run a team of this complexity.

“I have learnt so much about not only bomber command but aviation history in general, it has been an incredible privilege.

“The light bulb moment for me when I understood how important it was when I met a veteran named John Casey.

“He had been a tail gunner in the war, and after talking to him I suddenly realised that a lot of the veterans hadn’t had the opportunity to tell their stories.

“I then felt a huge responsibility to help facilitate this happening.

“When they came back into civilian life, Britain was in crisis economically.

“The rebuilding programme was huge and a lot of people were worn out so they didn’t talk about it.

“There was also a stigma around the war.

“RAF Bomber Command was left out of Churchill’s victory speech and the bombing of German cities, which resulted in many civilian deaths, meant its people were not hailed as war heroes.”

International Bomber Command Centre near Lincoln
International Bomber Command Centre near Lincoln
The memorial on the site carries the thousands of names of those in RAF Bomber Command and an education centre tells their stories.
The memorial on the site carries the thousands of names of those in RAF Bomber Command and an education centre tells their stories.

This was despite all 125,000 aircrew who served being volunteers, with more than two-thirds killed, seriously injured or taken as prisoners of war.

The average age of their deaths was just 23.

“The films in our exhibitions shed a large amount of light on what it was like back then,” said Nicky.

“What we have found is that these oral histories are so important.

“We have done about 3,000 of them from voices on all sides and that is an important aspect to mention.”

The histories give accounts of life in Bomber Command, which operated the Royal Air Force’s bomber forces from 1936 to 1968.

“Our reconciliation makes us stand out to the point that the German government have given permission for the attache here permission to support us in whatever way he can and for me that is huge,” added Nicky.

“That is better than any awards we have received because it shows that we are doing it correctly.”

Depicting the story of Bomber Command
Depicting the story of Bomber Command
International Bomber Command Centre near Lincoln
International Bomber Command Centre near Lincoln

The memorial on the site carries the thousands of names of those in RAF Bomber Command and an education centre tells their stories.

Nicky said that the centre provides vital information to the public.

“What we do here is we don’t want to change people’s opinion, we don’t want to say this is what you should think, we want to give people the necessary tools to go away and make a more informed decision.

“Quite often when veterans are being interviewed, it is cathartic.

“It is in their words, it is their first hand testimony and that is the basis of the entire exhibition here.

“Here we have the world’s most comprehensive digital repository on bomber command.

“We have a collections team that take in photos, logbooks and other items who digitise them and preserve them.

“We took in 182 new collections last year and they are still coming in at that rate.

“A few months ago we had five trunks of uniforms and other items, all had been in someone’s father’s attic and they were immaculate.

“The digital archive now has 260,000 items, they are not all yet published, our push is to first preserve them and process later.

“All of this processing work is done by volunteers.

“To put this into context, a three-hour oral history interview which is recorded by a volunteer we have trained can take up to 72 hours to transcribe, do the meta data and complete it to go live.

“That is for just one person.

“It will go through seven or eight volunteers to make this happen as they have skills in different areas.

“We have just over 400 volunteers in nine countries, most of whom work on digital preservation.”

Nicky was awarded an OBE for her work and was told of the award last year. She was nominated by Air Chief Marshal Sir Michael James Graydon.

A former pupil of Bourne Grammar School, Nicky, who is married with four children said that it was a great honour but also a team effort.

“I was surprised because I do what I do because I love what I do.

“I feel privileged to do what I do, but I am just a figurehead,” she said.

“This is one for the team.

“If it wasn’t for them, the staff, my team, the families of the veterans and the veterans themselves I wouldn’t have been in the position to be up for the award in the first place.

“It is the icing on the cake.”

It was formally opened in April 2018 — with 4,500 visitors including 308 veterans from across the world in the opening ceremony that formed part of the RAF 100-year commemorations.

Nicky explained: “Australia paid for 17 of their veterans and their carers to come over for the ceremony.

“Unfortunately for them, it was the coldest April day we had experienced in 76 years and you couldn’t see the spire for the mist and the rain. We had them rugged up in blankets!”

Nicky loves her job, which has grown to be a huge part of her life.

“I’ve been doing this since January 2012 and it literally is everything to me,” she said.

“I am invested into every single square inch of the project and I see it as my legacy piece.

“I can’t ever see me leaving it.

“The team joke that I will be carried out of here in a wooden box.

“My family all know that this is the key to me.

“I am so blessed, I have the most amazing team and they are all so passionate.

“They are brilliant.

“They take it so personally and are invested.

“It has brought together this community of people who want to preserve the history and tell these stories. It is this community’s duty to undo the wrong that has previously been done.

“When all is said and done, those boys were up there risking their lives for us and our freedom.”



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