Dame Judi Dench described herself as being "very proud" to be the first patron of a new campaign to preserve the Bomber Command Memorial for generations to come.
The actress stood alongside Bomber Command veterans at the bronze sculpture of a seven-man bomber crew that forms the centrepiece of the memorial in Green Park, London, as she announced her patronage of the Upkeep Club.
Named after the bouncing bomb used in the 1943 Dambuster Raid, Upkeep aims to raise £1.5 million for the memorial, which remembers the sacrifice and bravery of the 55,573 RAF crew who lost their lives in the Second World War. It was unveiled by the Queen last summer and its guardians are now the RAF Benevolent Fund, who have launched the new appeal.
Dame Judi said: "I'm very proud indeed to be a patron of the Upkeep Club. This really beautiful statue is in a way overdue. It commemorates so many people, young men, who were killed, and we need people to remember. It's a lovely place to be. It's a perfect setting for it and I'm very honoured."
Her late husband Michael was in the RAF, but Dame Judi joked: "I don't think he ever took off, alas. Well, he did in my eyes - but not in that other way."
Dame Judi, currently appearing in West End play Peter and Alice, admired the £7 million Portland stone memorial and said it had become a place of pilgrimage for those connected to the "Bomber Boys".
"Veterans and widows, often having travelled thousands of miles, are reminded of treasured friendships and past romance, so prematurely ended, so fondly recalled," she said. "Through membership of the Upkeep Club, people can directly support the commemoration of those who died for our individual and national freedoms."