The last surviving Dambusters pilot has withdrawn his war medals from auction, and agreed to gift them to a museum in exchange for a philanthropist's donation.
Les Munro has accepted the offer of British philanthropist Lord Ashcroft to donate $150,000 to assist in the upkeep of the Bomber Command Memorial in London and will gift the medals to Auckland's Museum of Transport and Technology (MOTAT).
Mr Munro was auctioning his decorations and medals in London tomorrow to raise money to help maintain the Green Park memorial.
Dix Noonan Webb, the coins and medals specialists who were scheduled to auction the awards, has decided to waive all fees and out of pocket expenses on the understanding that the Museum makes a further donation of $19,500 the RAF Benevolent Fund.
Mr Munro, 95, will have raised close to $170,000 for the fund to be used specifically for the upkeep of the memorial, which commemorates 55,573 aircrew, including 1,679 New Zealanders, who were killed during the Second World War.
The publicity surrounding the auction of Mr Munro's decorations and medals, has also resulted in donations to the charity from the public.
"I am content that I have achieved my goal of doing all I can to ensure that the men of Bomber Command who lost their lives during the Second World War will be remembered with pride for generations to come," Mr Munro said.
"I have been astonished and very touched by the huge interest that the sale of my medals to raise funds for the upkeep of the memorial has aroused."
"In the end, in consultation with my agents Dix Noonan Webb, I have decided that there was a delicate balance to be achieved between raising funds for the RAF Benevolent Fund and ensuring that my medals are preserved for future generations of New Zealanders to appreciate. Lord Ashcroft's very generous proposal represents the best way of attaining both these objectives. I am extremely grateful to him."
Mike Neville, director of fundraising at the fund, said: "Lord Ashcroft's most generous donation, in support of Les' desire to see his efforts of the Second World War continue to bear fruit today and into the future, is simply terrific.
"We are very pleased for Les and delighted that he has realised his aim of supporting the RAF Benevolent Fund in their duty of maintaining the Bomber Command Memorial. Les' sacrifice and Lord Ashcroft's donation will help assure the long term future of the Memorial."
Arts, Culture and Heritage Minister Maggie Barry said she was "delighted" Mr Munro had accepted Lord Ashcroft's offer.
"Mr Munro is a true New Zealand hero and I congratulate everyone involved in safeguarding this heritage for future generations of Kiwis who can remember the bravery of the men of the Dambusters and Bomber Command," she said.
Michael Frawley, chief executive of MOTAT, welcomed Mr Munro's decision.
"Lord Ashcroft's generous offer has not only ensured the return of these medals to New Zealand but the resultant publicity has also increased public awareness of the bravery and sacrifice of Bomber Command aircrew during WWII," he said.
"The museum has an incredible respect and admiration for Mr Munro and intends to develop an exhibition highlighting the history surrounding him and his NZ Bomber Command comrades to commemorate the huge contribution they made to the war effort."
Lord Ashcroft intends to personally collect the medals and logbooks from the London auctioneers and fly them back to New Zealand.
They will then be delivered to Mr Munro so that he can present them to MOTAT next month.
"We are deeply grateful to Lord Ashcroft and Mr Munro for coming to this arrangement and MOTAT will be honoured to accept these precious items into its collection," said Mr Frawley.
Mr Frawley also announced that he was working with Perpetual Guardian managing director Andrew Barnes, who has established the NZ Bomber Command Fund through the Perpetual Guardian Foundation.
Mr Barnes has set up the fund and donated an initial $30,000 to help preserve the historical legacy of Bomber Command in New Zealand. The fund is open to donation from all New Zealanders.
"We wanted to give all Kiwis the opportunity to contribute to the preservation of this important military history," Mr Barnes said.
"Over time, the fund will support a dedicated pavilion at MOTAT and a series of road shows that highlight the stories and courage of Mr Munro, Len Chambers and the rest of the members of NZ Bomber Command."
Lord Ashcroft was also delighted with the outcome.
"I am delighted with Les Munro's acceptance of this win-win proposal whereby he has realised his altruistic aims of raising substantial funds for the upkeep of the Bomber Command Memorial in London and his medals are gifted to MOTAT for the benefit of the Nation."