St James’ Branch GP90 Report The Great Pilgrimage 90 (GP90) took place from Monday 5th August to Thursday 8th August 2018 and culminated in the parade of over 1100 RBL standards and the same number of wreath bearers to the Menin Gate at Ypres. The St James branch sent two representatives, John Robson Standard Bearer and Treasurer and Tod O’Brien Branch Secretary to the event. The trip was organised in conjunction with Leger Holidays and the members received excellent communications and administration from the RBL and Leger prior to the departure. The journey took the form of coach travel throughout via Dover to Calais and during the two days prior to the parade members were treated to two days of battlefield and cemetery visits. Day 1. We visited Thiepval cemetery, Delville Wood the scene of a desperate South African engagement and the memorial to the fallen and Vimy Ridge memorial. These were deeply emotional visits. Not until one sees the rows and rows of tombstones and names of the fallen etched into the walls in their thousands can one truly appreciate the scale and sense of the loss. Wall after wall of memorials, to the long forgotten regiments of the line. Every name was a person. Every person had a family and friends. The immense destruction of human life is truly unforgiveable. Then onto Arras and the Vimy Ridge memorial. Truly humbling. Day 2. We visited the Passchandaele museum followed by Tyne Cot cemetery. After the first day I thought we had been shocked. Tyne Cot numbed me into disbelief. 12 thousand graves and 35 thousand names in the memorial walls for those who had no last resting place. This was beyond the use of words to describe the enormity of what had happened in these rolling pastures and sunlit woodlands. So peaceful now and yet less than three or four generations ago had seen such carnage and destruction as never seen before. Flanders field visitor centre run by young Canadian interns. Ever smiling, ever helpful to assist in understanding the loss and sadness. For me one poignant moment reading the famous poem of Canadian John Macrae, Surgeon in the field. In Flanders fields, the poppies blow Between the crosses, row on row, That mark our place; and in the sky The larks, still bravely singing, fly Scarce heard amid the guns below. We are the Dead. Short days ago We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, Loved and were loved, and now we lie, In Flanders fields. Take up our quarrel with the foe: To you from failing hands we throw The torch; be yours to hold it high. If ye break faith with us who die We shall not sleep, though poppies grow In Flanders fields. We may or may not concur with the sentiments of his last verse but can certainly understand it as soldiers, airmen and sailors. At Tyne Cot we also met several young interns from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. (CWC) Young people from the U.K. who volunteer to assist visitors to find relatives, research the cemetery and are always helpful and smiling. To any young person I would certainly recommend this as an internship prior to university or embarking into the workplace. A meaningful and humbling experience for anyone. I encouraged them to join the RBL. I hope they do. Lastly Hill 60. The scene of the tunnelling by the allied tunnellers, who worked tirelessly to overcome the enemy emplacements, which were so hard to break down through conventional attacks and who inevitably saved lots of allied lives. Day 3. This was the culmination of our pilgrimage, where over 1100 standards of the Royal British Legion Branches and the same number of wreath bearers paraded in Ypres town centre to the Menin Gate. Famous for it’s continuing homage daily to the fallen. It was a proud moment to see all the blue and gold standards flying in the brilliant sunshine through the narrow cobbled streets of Ypres and the red poppies shining brightly on the wreaths as we made our way to the Menin Gate. It didn’t feel sad or emotional, but everyone was full of pride at being part of such a commemoration and was welcomed with open arms by the local people. Perhaps though there are some lessons for us as an organisation that holds the covenant for all Armed Forces beneficiaries so dear to our hearts. There was much discussion in our group at our hotel as to what had been achieved for the Royal British Legion. There must have been at least a £1000,000 spent on this project. There were no members of the Royal family at the service. The commemoration at Amiens on the same day seemed to overshadow the Ypres event. Hence there was no national media coverage, although there were lots on social media. It felt to me as though we had been a little cheated of recognition by the mainstream media and the Patrons of our charity. Did we attract any new younger members? Surely a part of the strategy of such a huge cost of such an event will have been to bring us to the attention and piqued the interest of a new tranche of younger members. I fear without the necessary patronage and media coverage this will be very unlikely. We are likely, as the generations who fought a hundred years ago to secure our freedom, to become an anomaly and associated with a forgotten period as it fades into the distance and memory of the public consciousness. As the Royal British Legion we need to do more to raise our profile and become much more relevant to today’s more recent conflicts and the real trials and tribulations of the thousands who have fought and are still fighting for our peace and security. If there is a torch to be passed, as John Macrae the famous poet intimated, it is the one that the Royal British Legion now needs to grasp firmly and make relevant to all our communities and refresh our importance to the country and not just at Remembrance. Tod O’Brien. Secretary. St James’ Branch
“Our Man” from St James’s received a “bucket list” gift from his family eighteen months ago, a flight in a Spitfire at the Imperial War Museum, Duxford on Armed Forces Day. To celebrate RAF 100, this is his report on what was a very surprising day. Ed. Inspirational A drive eastwards into Cambridgeshire is a very pleasant experience, especially early in the morning on a Saturday in mid-June. With memorials and remembrance being closer to the public consciousness than ever, a trip into the eastern UK offers some inspirational opportunities to embrace remembrance whilst acknowledging that no-one escapes its effect or has nothing to contribute in the support of our Armed Forces and Allies. Cambridgeshire has a long and proud history as a location for the Military and our Allies, including, their commemoration and remembrance. Non more so than my first surprise, coming across the magnificent Cambridge American Cemetery at Coton. Donated by Cambridge University, this site was dedicated on July 16th 1956 (60th Anniversary next month) to provide a burial ground for American personnel in perpetuity. My early arrival meant it was closed, nonetheless, worth the return journey in the near future. Warbird Heaven Arrival at IWM Duxford was a quiet affair, (it opens at 10.00 AM) only staff and student warbird pilots are allowed in early. I was given my orders by a very happy man at the gate. “Great day for it, turn left, go to the end of the hangar, turn right, drive to the control tower, park up, Nicky will meet you.” She did, and was as happily efficient as all our previous communications had suggested, when she laid out the schedule of the morning. My second surprise came during the briefings, when every new risk I was about take was explained and followed by Nicky saying, “you can of course opt out at any stage, right up to sitting in the aircraft!” I didn’t, and was fitted for my flightsuit, shown how to adjust it to my waist then ushered off to see “my kite” and pilot. In all honesty, I had already seen “my kite” along with other members of the Classic Wings fleet. A D.H. Chipmunk, Dragon Rapides, Tiger Moths, a T6 Harvard and, of course, the Spitfire; an aircraft that was first seen by the Great British public on 27th June 1936 at RAF Hendon (80 years ago on Monday). The T9 Spitfire ticked all my particular boxes, it had seen action, it had all the right elliptical curves, beautiful camouflage scheme, a Merlin engine and, most importantly, a rear seat for me. Time to meet the pilot. Legend Rarely, do you meet someone, who you can have complete confidence in from the start. My third surprise came in the inspirational form of Anna Walker who is somewhat of a legend in warbird circles, a pilot as a teenager, a certified display pilot, experienced in aerobatic and formation flying, film and TV work, the list is very long and distinguished. My fourth, came in the knowledge that she is an expert on The Air Transport Auxiliary and believed to be the only female Hawker Hurricane pilot since the 1940’s. Safe hands indeed. Anna did my pre-flight briefing at the Spitfire including, what not and what to touch, what we would be doing and what we wouldn’t and, my absolute favourite, it would be my choice as to whether the flight would include a victory roll. I decided it… Warbirds are go From closing the canopy, it was very powerful experience, the sound of a Merlin engine 20ft away and any view with a Spitfire wing in the foreground is enough to make anyone cheer loudly and drown out the engine. Once airborne, the exhilaration was interrupted by a list of questions, how did WW2 pilots cope, how did they manage to spot other aircraft and were they always in a state of such heightened senses? The answers came in a radio call from Anna asking me if I would like to take control? I took control (marginally), I coped (a sunny day over England for pure pleasure), I spotted a few (nowhere near as many as Anna) and I have never felt so chuffed with the world and life. High over the tree lined avenues leading to the Wimpole Estate, we completed two life affirming wingovers and then came the decision…. my victory roll, we did it, it felt glorious and despite wanting to shout and cheer, I was speechless. Anna explained calmly that it was time to return to Duxford and that we would be doing one final flypast and wing waggle over the airfield. My last, in a day of surprises, was perfect; as we joined the circuit I could see two Tiger Moths on the move and my warbird pilot told the air-traffic controller to keep them still or we would open fire! He chuckled and as we started our flypast I heard in my headset very quietly,“dakadakadakadaka” I think! A lot of what followed was a bit of a blur. I remember chatting to some of the Classic Wings team and seeing the passion, pride and love they have for these marvellous machines; reminding me, that is important to remember how the brave members of our services went into battle and the enormous character that was needed. My enormous thanks go to Nicky Jiggins and the Classic Wings Team, aviatrix extraordinaire Anna Walker and Cambridgeshire for getting on my “bucket list.” “Our Man” I have heard that “Our Man” will only believe this all happened when the DVD arrives. Ed.
Today, 2609 people, from all over the area surrounding Galanos House and the market town of Southam; gathered at Southam College to attempt to break the Guinness World Record for the Largest Human Flower. Subject to verification from Guinness World Records, participants aged five years to over 100 years of age, from the Military, surrounding schools, Rotary, Royal British Legion Riders, RBL Branches and the WI; supported residents, volunteers, staff and friends of Galanos House in making the attempt possible. Thanks go to so many people for their support, particularly to Southam College. More to follow soon. Editor