Captain Moonlight's Notebook: Damned busters

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The Independent Online
IT HAS been a week of 50th anniversaries - war stories really. First, the German bombing of the House of Commons on 10 May, and on the same night Rudolf Hess, Hitler's former deputy, crash-landing in Scotland.

Today it's the the Dambusters', which, I have learnt this week, ranks high in the iconography of Old Etonians, or at least some of them. One group, led by a former Cavalry officer and SAS commando from the Korean war, Sam Scott, 67, is determined to erect a bronze statue of an 'anonymous airman' to commemorate the dead of both world wars. They have picked Faith Winter, the sculptor who gave us the controversial statue of Bomber Harris. And they have chosen as their model Squadron Leader Henry Maudsley, an Etonian whose bomber crashed in the Dambusters' raid.

Mr Scott is a tenacious man who took me to lunch at the Savoy then organised a week-long artillery barrage to make sure I got the message. I received calls from OEs from Scotland to Cornwall saying Sam had asked them to call. In general, they supported the idea of a statue but wondered whether it was too late. Those who remember Maudsley say he was a splendid chap.

A state of guerrilla warfare appears to exist between Mr Scott's lot and the Provost of Eton, Sir Antony Acland, a former ambassador to Washington, along with the college's 11 fellows, who include Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, Lord (Economical with the Truth) Armstrong, former head of the Civil Service, and Lord Ashburton, a Baring brother and chairman of BP.

To a man they oppose Mr Scott's statue on several grounds - that the only statue at Eton is of its founder, Henry VI, and should remain so; that the college's war dead are already appropriately remembered in plaques, memorials and buildings; and that money raised for a statue would be better spent on commemorative bursaries for less fortunate boys. 'Eton is very lucky,' Sir Antony told me, 'but it is a fallacy to think we are rich, with money coming out of our ears.'

Mr Scott and supporters first put forward their proposal for a statue (costing some pounds 75,000) at Fellows Eyot, a meadow by the Thames between the college and its playing fields, in January last year. After 11 months of pestering letters, and three meetings of the fellows to discuss the matter, an exasperated Sir Antony wrote in November that the decision against a statue was final and he considered 'this correspondence at an end'.

Communication certainly stopped, but Mr Scott went public . . . well sort of. He headed for the letters page of The Field where, in March, debate began all over again. Mr Scott now demands a referendum of all Etonians. Sir Antony says the college's Old Boys' Assocation has been consulted and backs the Provost and fellows.

Faced with this stand-off, the Scott squad are attempting to outflank Sir Antony and the fellows by applying to the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead for planning permission to erect their statue on public land near the college. They hope the embarrassment might make Eton change its minds. I can't see that happening. An OE colleague said you have to have all the Establishment on your side to overrule the Provost and fellows.