Depth Support Squadron Pay Their Respects
During a long weekend in October, ten members of Depth Support Squadron (DSS) were lucky enough to take part in a staff ride focussed on remembering and honouring those that fell in Belgium and Luxembourg during World Wars 1 and 2. The visit encompassed the following:
• A visit to the Menin Gate in Ypres, Belgium, to pay respects to the many that fell there during WW1 and to visit the Flanders Museum.
• Representing the RAF at the invitation of the British Ambassador to Luxembourg, the Honourable Alice Walpole, at a reception to celebrate the 30th Anniversary of the RAFA Branch in Luxembourg and to honour the RAF.
• Provide ceremonial support at the following memorial Services:
The US Army Air Corps memorial Perle, followed by a short visit to the 385th Bomber Group museum, Perle.
The RAF memorial, Rambrouch, followed by a reception at Rambrouch town hall.
• Support to the RAFA Wings charity gala dinner and ball.
Our continental adventure began in true British style with tea and bacon butties at the Station’s SSAFA Big Brew Up. For anyone who has yet to attend such an event I can’t recommend it enough, it’s half an hour of ‘fund raising’ and the excellent bacon baps easily see you through the long slog until lunch. All full up on floury baps we eventually commenced our journey to Ypres, Belgium via minibus and the man-made marvel that is the Channel Tunnel.
As part of our staff ride each person was given a ‘stand’; a subject relevant to our trip to research and present to the rest of the group. These were given throughout the trip and the topics covered were as follows:
1. Ypres – WW 1 & 2 – Chf Tech Steve Cartwright
2. The Menin Gate Memorial – Chf Tech Jack Frost
3. Trench warfare and the use of aviation – Sgt Roddie Davies
4. Overview of RAFA and their involvement with the RAF today – SAC Daniele Soulby
5. USAF 385th Bomber Group involvement during WWII & RAF/USAF Bombing Strategy – Cpl Rowden
6. History behind the Rambrouch RAF Memorial – SAC “Mac” McNamara
7. Battle of the Bulge Overview – Cpl Tomkinson
8. General Patton & Leadership Style – Flt Lt James Kingswood
After arriving at our hotel in Ypres we had time to freshen up before the Last Post Ceremony at the Menin Gate memorial. At 8pm, the road through the gate is closed and volunteer buglers sound the Last Post. This followed by a minutes silence and the Réveille, much like every remembrance Sunday in the UK. Unlike the UK this event takes place each and every day and has done since 11th November 1929. The only interruption to the ceremony was between 1940 and 1944 due to the Nazi occupation of Ypres.
The Menin Gate memorial commemorates almost 55,000 of the British and Commonwealth soldiers that lost their lives in the Ypres Salient during WW1 but whose bodies have not been found. Nearly every vertical surface of the stone archway is covered with panels carved with the name, rank and regiment of each missing soldier.
On our visit to the Gate, there was an extended ceremony which included wreath laying and the words of the exhortation;
“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.”
As we stood amongst the silent crowd surrounded by the stone carved names of thousands of lost soldiers the words from Laurence Binyon’s poem “For the Fallen” had never sounded more relevant or more poignant. After the ceremony we had the opportunity to explore the memorial with many of us looking for our own surnames amongst the vast panels of names.
We completed our experience of Ypres with a visit to the In Flanders Fields Museum. The museum uses traditional glass partitioned displays of weapons and equipment and models of trench systems alongside hi-tech video screens and displays to convey the history and experiences of life and death in the trenches.
There was a great deal to see and experience but unfortunately our time was cut short as we had a further journey to complete to Luxembourg.
After another minibus journey we arrived at our hotel to freshen up and this time get into our No.1s and Medals. Our destination was the residence of the British Ambassador to Luxembourg to attend the reception. Upon arrival at the residence we were greeted by the Chairman of RAFA in Luxembourg, Brian Darke and finally by the Ambassador herself. If TV has taught us anything it’s that the British diplomatic community is fuelled by Ferrero Rocher chocolates. With this in mind C/T Frost was proud to present the Ambassador with a box of the nutty chocolate treats to ‘spoil us’ with later in the evening.
However, as the evening progressed and the tray piled full of Ferrero Rocher failed to appear we came to realise that the TV ad may have lied to us. Thankfully one or two glasses of champagne and an array of canapés made up for our chocolate disappointment.
The third day of our RAFA Memorial weekend began bright and early and once again saw us in our No.1 Uniforms, this time bound for the USAF 385th Bomber Group Memorial at Perle. Allied aircraft flew over Luxembourg en-route to bombing raids in Germany with many crash landing on their return flights. The memorial commemorates 2 USAF B17s that collided near Perle with the loss of 18 crew. At the event we were joined by personnel from RAF Cosford, RAF Benson, the US Air Force and the Luxembourg Army. Whilst waiting for the memorial service to start we were approached by an elderly gentleman who was taking photos. He told us about his experience as a child in Nazi occupied Luxembourg. He recounted with joy how the sound of allied aircraft passing over Perle on their way to Germany brought hope to the civilian population and made them feel that occupied Luxembourg had not been forgotten by the allies. The gentleman’s story reminded us that the effects of WW2 were not only felt by aircrew but also by the civilians that lived each day under Nazi occupation.
After the remembrance ceremony and wreath laying we visited the USAF 385th Bomber Group museum located in Perle. The museum contained items and aircraft parts recovered from B17 crash sites as well as items and uniforms donated by the USAF 385th Bomber Group veterans and other allied Air Forces. The museum provided an insight into the lives of the bomber crews and to the civilians that assisted downed aircrew throughout Luxembourg. None of us will forget the speech given by the museum curator, who was a young boy during WW2, and his final comment which was:
‘It is because of people like you (RAF & USAF) that we no longer had to say ‘Heil Hitler’ every day and live in permanent fear.’
Our final act of remembrance for the day was more personal as it was to pay our respects to the crew of an RAF Halifax bomber that crashed near the town of Rambrouch. Three of the seven crew died in the crash and are buried at a memorial in the town. It may be surprising to learn that all of the crew on board the Halifax were SNCOs rather than officers, but this was not unusual during WW2.
As a result of attending both memorials, we learnt a great deal about the relationship between Luxembourg and the allied Air Forces that flew overhead. The people of Luxembourg hold the RAF and other air forces in high regard as symbols of hope during the occupation and for contributing to their eventual liberation. They show thanks by creating and maintaining memorials to those aircrew that never made it home, and in the case of the gentleman in Perle even expressing that gratitude in person. The allied air forces in return owe a huge debt to the people of Luxembourg who aided surviving downed aircrew, often at great personal risk.
The final event of the weekend was the RAFA Wings Ball hosted rather conveniently in our hotel. The evening consisted of a champagne reception, a meal and live music to dance the night away. The continental air and the esprit de corps gave rise to some previously hidden showbiz talent ranging from the armourer’s singing skills to Sqn Ldr Hall and Flt Lt Kingswood’s suave moves on the dance floor. If there was ever a forces version of Strictly Come Dancing our very own DSS commissioned officers could be prime contenders. Overall, the ball was a great success with 3800 Euro raised for RAFA.
I believe I can speak for everyone from Team DSS when I say that the Memorial weekend was a great success and a fantastic experience. Visiting the memorials and speaking to the people of Luxembourg and Belgium gave a greater knowledge and appreciation of the effects of two world wars. As well as remembering the past we were also proud to have contributed to the present and future by supporting RAFA with their fundraising. On a personal note I will also treasure the look of confusion from the USAF personnel sitting on our table at the RAFA Ball when the Armourers began to sing……………….. ‘A…
OC DSS’s comment:
I would specifically like to thank this team for going above and beyond during this trip. I had promised them that the part they would play throughout the weekend would just require them to stand and pay respects at each memorial. It quickly became apparent that the RAFA team had other ideas and we were asked to take part in unrehearsed parades, act as standard bearers for veterans who, through illness, could not carry them and wreath bearers to the Ambassador and to the air officers present. The prize for stepping out of his comfort zone the most goes to FS John Kemsley who found himself standing in as a Parade WO and marching some 50 military personnel from a variety of stns, forces and nations through the centre of Rambrouch. Throughout they all acquitted themselves extremely well and they were all fine ambassadors for the RAF.
Thanks: Thanks go to Mr Brian Darke and the RAFA Luxembourg Branch for inviting the DSS team to this prestigious event and to the Honourable Alice Walpole for her invite to her residence.
FS TMF Comments
Hints and tips on how to organise a trip like this:
1. Get the finance sorted early, know your limits.
2. Confirm Hotel reservations and then confirm them again.
3. Allow plenty of time to process your Admin Order.
4. Be prepared to take on short notice requests.
5. Be proud of the uniform you wear, on this journey the interest shown from all generations in who we
were and what we do was awesome.