As I sat down to write this newsletter I am reminded of the popular song "Now the end is near" for I fear that after a passage of time since 1974 when the window was dedicated and our first reunion at Down Ampney, this may be the last newsletter.
I understand from the vicar that a service will continue to be arranged in September as a Remembrance for those who served at Down Ampney and for their relatives. The service this year will be on Sunday September 13th at 11 o'clock. The village hall will be open before the service, and after for coffee, tea and biscuits; there will not be a lunch served this year.
The 70th anniversary of Operation Market Garden and the 40th year since the dedication of the stained glass window was met at Down Ampney by sunshine and the church bells ringing out a welcome to the many who filled the church. The vicar, the Very Reverend John Swanton, welcomed all to the church with many guests including a representative of the Lord Lieutenant, Chairman of the Cotswold District Council, many officers from Brize Norton, the Military Attache from the Dutch Embassy and a contingent of serving men and women from the Air Despatch Regiment. The Standards of the Air Despatch Regiment and Army Air Corps were received into the church. A most poignant moment was when the VC and medals of Flt Lt David Lord VC DFC were brought into the church by the Curator of the Lord Ashcroft Collection as the CO of the Air Despatch Regiment read the citation.
The sermon was given by Captain the Reverend Carl Kinghan from N. Ireland, who for the last thirty years has given us much to think about amongst the laughter. The wreath laying at the window and Act of Remembrance, and naming of those departed in the last year was taken by the Senior Chaplain from Brize Norton. The Last Post was sounded by David Grace of the Salvation Army, having done this for the 40 years since our inception.
At the airfield memorial wreaths were laid and the Last Post and Reveille were sounded. There was a hope that a Hercules fly past was possible but due to the RAF's high commitments this was not possible.
Lunch was provided for all in the Village Hall and bar, prepared and served by the ladies and gentlemen of the village - a most generous and appreciated act in this 40th year. Many thanks go to everyone. During the lunch a local choir entertained us with the wartime songs everyone knew and sang along with them.
The Curator of the Lord Ashcroft Collection explained the thinking behind the award of a VC and quoted the way in which David Lord had won his VC. Captain Ron Johnson of the Glider Pilot Regiment told of how he was on the ground and watched the aircraft go round again despite being on fire, to drop supplies to the beleaguered men below.
At the end of a most memorable day, thanks must go to everyone involved in the organisation and to those who attended and partook in the Remembrance of those men and two ladies who never returned to Down Ampney airfield.
The following weekend the citizens of Arnhem and surrounding villages held their 70th Remembrance Commemorations and on Friday evening held a service near the John Frost Bridge followed by a silent march to the river for a veterans' boat trip. I didn't make it, for so many Dutch people lined the streets clapping and thanking the men, many veterans didn't make it to the river before the boat left.
Saturday morning was a very wet one and the impressive parachute drop onto Ginkel Heath had to be abandoned much to everyone's disappointment but the Service and wreath laying went ahead as planned.
Saturday at 2 o'clock a service was held at the Arnhem Aircrew Memorial in the grounds of the Hartenstein Museum. This is arranged by Frans Ammerlaan, the officers from RAF Waddington and myself. We were very honoured to be joined by members of the Dutch Air Force who arranged for a fly past. The wreath laying and service was accompanied by the RAF Pipes & Drums "The Blue Bonnets" from RAF Waddington. A contingent of officers, serving men and women from Waddington, made this one more memorable day amongst so many. During the rest of the afternoon a concert was performed in the grounds of the Hartenstein with songs we all knew and were able to sing along to. Refreshments were constantly being provided, you really cannot help feeling like a VIP because everyone is so kind.
On Sunday morning a very moving service was held in the Airborne Cemetery at Oosterbeck. I was very fortunate to receive a special pass for the cemetery. My hosts were escorted to their seats and as I lay a wreath as representative of Down Ampney Association, I sat with all the other personnel who were wreath laying. We awaited the arrival of the Military Bands escorting the many Standards who took positions either side of the Memorial for the service during which the many wreaths are laid. Young people are always part of the service and they lined up behind each gravestone and on the bidding of the Minister were asked to lay their flowers down after reading the inscription on the stone and noting the age of the young man buried there. The Polish community also take part wearing their national costume. The Service in the Airborne Cemetery is a wonderful experience, for the welcome and respect shown to the veterans by the Dutch people.
I went down to the Old Church in Oosterbeck to see the 12' seat dedicated to the Lonsdale Force comprising the South Staffs, Border Regt, Kings Own Scottish Borderers, Royal Artillery, Glider Pilot Regt, Parachute Regt and Reconnaissance Sqd. The seat was in the church for many years but has now been moved outside which was disappointing until I remembered the reason for the seat was for visiting veterans to sit when the church was closed.
Over the years I have been extremely grateful to everyone who has given me their support. An association such as ours has only succeeded because of the original camaraderie forged during the war and when I started the Down Ampney Association Pat and I were taken completely by surprise by the numbers of ex RAF and WAAF who expressed interest and attended the Down Ampney re-unions in such large numbers. At the closing of our operations Pat and I have enjoyed with great pleasure the comradeship forged at Down Ampney in 1943 and also at the many places we have visited as a group. At the end of the day all organisations must come to an end and so it is with ours.
So this newsletter marks the end of these newsletters but on visiting Down Ampney church last September I was pleased to see the church full and left with the conviction that this Remembrance service will go on for a few years yet.
Yours aye Alan and Pat