Doesn't time fly? I can't believe that another year has sped by since our last re-union at Down Ampney but for Pat and I it has been a very busy year with lots of happenings.
I was very pleased to be invited again to join the London Taxis trip round Holland to mark the anniversary of their liberation. This was even better than last year when I had to travel to London to join up with the taxi group because this year a couple of Birmingham taxis were involved so I was picked up at my front door and taken straight to Harwich where we boarded the ferry and spent the night. The next morning we joined the long procession of 68 taxis as we made our way to several stopping places where we received a wonderful ovation and reception. Throughout the whole journey all the traffic was stopped by motor cycle police to allow us a clear passage. One of our prolonged stops was at the Overloon museum where a nice lunch was provided and we had time to visit the very impressive War Museum which held the most awe-inspiring collection of the larger items of warfare equipment like huge artillery pieces, range finding equipment etc. If any of our members visit this area I really recommend a visit to this museum of warfare equipment. Another great surprise organised for us - when we boarded a large steamer which took us a long journey up the river to the Nijmegen bridge, we had lunch to the sound of an orchestra playing in the dining room. An amusing incident occurred whilst we were at anchor at Nijmegen bridge for it had been arranged for the Battle of Britain Lancaster to rendezvous with us at the bridge. We were at anchor near the bridge for over half an hour until eventually in the distance we saw the Lancaster approaching to an ironic cheer from the Army types on the tour. The Lancaster disappeared behind a small wooded hill and to the RAF's dismay it lost its way for we did not get the fly past. The Army and Navy types' comments to the effect that the Lancaster was unable to find the enormous bridge at Nijmegen were rather scathing. Nevertheless it was a most memorable occasion and we were all so grateful to the committee who organised it. This superb visit came to an end at a place called Wageningen where a large grandstand had been erected for us and where a huge procession of marching bands had been assembled. In the warm spring sunshine an army of Dutch ladies brought an unending supply of drinks and nibbles before a long procession of marching bands passed in front of us on their way round Wageningen. There must have been eight to ten marching bands from all kinds of services, mainly military. The Dutch certainly know how to celebrate their Liberation Day. On our way via the ferry we held a small wreath laying ceremony. When we arrived back in England once again the obliging taxi driver dropped me at my front door. I reflected on what a wonderful experience it was again, especially when the "goodbyes" included "See you again next year".
The next highlight came when I had a phone call to see if I could join a group of ex Service veterans to talk to groups of school children in their schools about our service during the war, which was being sponsored by the National Lotteries - Heroes Return. After filming us talking at the different schools, the Lottery decided to send the whole group, camera team included, to Normandy to observe the D Day anniversary. Unfortunately all the hotels were full for the actual weekend so we had to go the week before. I personally found it very emotional to see the vast flat sandy beaches that the invading forces had to cross enfiladed by numerous machine gun positions and even more so to see the cemetery full of our soldiers, many of whom were in their late teens. A very sobering thought. Our hotel was near the cathedral at Bayeux where we rang the huge bell. Again we were besieged with local school children and made very welcome. When we arrived in Normandy the first place we made for was the Canadian cemetery for shortly after D Day the newly formed Canadian Dakota Squadron based at Blakehill Farm had to fly a casualty retrieval flight to Normandy but they did not have any Casualty Air Evacuation nurses so we lent them one of ours, LACW Margaret Campbell. Unfortunately on this mission their Dakota was shot down and the crew and Margaret were buried in a Canadian war cemetery. After some touring of the Normandy countryside we eventually found the cemetery and placed a Scottish flag, which had been sent to me by her relatives in the Hebrides, onto her grave.
Another interesting visit was to the Pegasus Bridge museum very near to the Pegasus Bridges which were captured by 120 Ox & Bucks soldiers on the night of D Day. So accurate was this drop at midnight that the lead Glider pilot Jim Wallwork was less than 500 yards from the bridges. This was a truly awe inspiring visit to see the actual places where the invasion of Europe actually occurred.
So now we are heading for our 40th anniversary at Down Ampney and we are hopeful that we will have a nice turnout. Whilst at Down Ampney please make a point of visiting our superb Garden of Remembrance at the back of the church, wonderfully laid out by the Air Despatch Regt from RAF Brize Norton.
Pat and I recently had a meeting with the Rev John Swanton and David Job, Chairman of the Village Hall Committee, where we were given details of the arrangements being made for our re-union and Remembrance Service in the church to mark the 70th anniversary of D Day and Arnhem, special anniversaries. The service will be on Sunday September 14th at 10.30 a.m. As it is the 70th anniversary of Market Garden and 40 years since the memorial window was dedicated we are hoping that many of you will be able to attend. Following the service in the church we will, as usual, lay a wreath on our memorial at the entrance of the old airfield. There will be lunch available in the village hall but on this occasion as we are expecting more people than usual it would be advisable to let us know who will be having lunch for it will enable the village ladies to cater accordingly. The phone number to book lunch is 02476462659 or email email@example.com. Some rooms have been booked at the nearby Blunsden House hotel. Our contact is Sharon on phone no. 01793 721701.
In Holland the Market Garden weekend, the 70th anniversary, will be on September 20th/21st. There will be a Remembrance Service at the Arnhem Aircrew Memorial in the grounds of the Hartenstein Airborne Museum at 2 p.m. on Saturday the 20th, supported by a contingent of RAF personnel with a Pipe Band from RAF Waddington accompanied by a group from the Dutch Air Force. We are hopeful that the weather is good enough for a Dakota fly past. On the same subject, I was contacted by the C.O. of 24 Squadron based at RAF Brize Norton to say that they would like to lay on a fly past over our memorial/village hall with their Hercules at a pre-arranged time to suit our members.
If you have any queries about either of these two events do please contact us. Hope to see you at Down Ampney.
Alan and Pat