The courage demonstrated by RAF veteran Alfred (Alf) Huberman, who has died just short of his 100th birthday, shaped his whole life.
The highly decorated airman made 38 bombing operations against targets in Nazi Germany and occupied Europe.
The missions were so dangerous that 56,000 men, roughly half of those who signed up for the RAF’s Bomber Command, died in the conflict.
Huberman was a rear gunner, known as a “tail-end Charlie” in a Lancaster, and had to be constantly alert for enemy aircraft because the pilot could see only what was ahead of him. In recent years he was noted for helping to raise funds for the Bomber Command Memorial in London’s Green Park, and he was also chair of the Air Gunners Association.
Alf Huberman was the oldest and last surviving of three sons born to a traditional, Jewish family in Upton Park, east London, a stone’s throw from the old West Ham football ground. He supported “the Hammers” all his life.
He was a tough East End boy who loved boxing and was part of the 1936 Battle of Cable Street. He and his mates rolled marbles under the police horses so they would lose their footing and stop the demonstration going ahead.
Once Huberman learned what was happening to the Jews in Europe, he wanted to do everything possible to stop it. At 17, he enrolled in the RAF. He told his parents he was on ground training so as not to worry them.
His father still had family in Poland who suddenly stopped communicating, and ended up as Holocaust victims. He wore an ID tag around his neck which marked “Jew” as his faith. Many airmen took them off when flying over Germany in case they were taken prisoner, but Alf insisted: “I was born a Jew and will die as a Jew.”
After the war Huberman studied at St Martin’s School of Art and became a top fashion designer. He met his future wife, Thelma Segal, at a dance and married her at New West End Synagogue in Bayswater in 1951. They had five children.
But when his second eldest daughter, Sandy, was widowed at 23, he stepped in to play the father figure to her two children, and actually raised seven children.
Together with his father-in-law Aubrey Segal, he established a successful fashion house manufacturing ladies’ coats with a showroom in Great Portland Street, supplying all the major department stores. It was a family business that employed brothers, uncles, aunts and others.
Only retiring in his late eighties, Huberman worked closely with Bee Gees singer Robin Gibb to have a monument built in Green Park to honour those who had fought in Bomber Command.
As a trustee of the fund, he visited the offices of the RAF Museum in Colindale, north-west London every day and opened more than 8,000 letters containing donations, many bringing him to tears. He would recount to his family over Friday night dinners how pensioners, with almost no money, sent in their last pounds to help.
The monument was finally unveiled in June, 2012, in no small part down to him. He was also featured at the RAF Museum’s Hidden Heroes Exhibition in 2018 celebrating the Jewish contribution to Bomber Command, and the fact that six per cent of the Jewish population had signed up for the RAF during the Second World War.
Huberman enjoyed shopping , playing cards, watching horse-racing and placing bets. He knew the details of every horse and racetrack and was always the one to ask for a tip for the Derby!
He was a classical music and opera lover and was delighted that his daughter Sandy and granddaughter Annalie shared this passion. He also never tired of watching repeats of TV shows, Sergeant Bilko and Dad’s Army.
He is survived by his wife Thelma, children Corinne, Peter, Michelle and Paul, five granddaughters and two great-granddaughters. His daughter Sandy predeceased him in 2016.
Alfred Huberman: born June 15, 1923. Died February 22, 2023