Ex Vigilant Albatross

From the 24 to the 27 Sep 18, TDF took 10 individuals on the first overseas FD trip for a long while, to France and Belgium.

The aim was to enhance knowledge of air power, command, leadership and create a strong ethos by visiting historical sites from WW1 and WW2. Each service person delivered a stand analysing the conduct of operations during WW1 and WW2 then led a discussion comparing these experiences with current and future operations.

Upon arrival in France on the first day, we visited Saint-Omer and witnessed the location of the Royal Flying Corps in it’s early years. The group discussion that followed analysed the importance of an independent Air Force in today’s world standing in the location that it first began. The group then pushed on to Spanbroekmolen Mine Crater in the Belgian province of West Flanders where Sgt Chantler delivered his stand on the largest mine blown during the Battle of Messines. This site is now known as the Pool of Peace and with good reason; the view was spectacular and the calm ambience was undeniable. We later retired to the stunning Hotel Callecannes for an evening of exquisite food, drink and lots of laughter.

Following departure from the hotel on day two, all participants headed to Sanctuary Wood Museum (Hill 62) where Fg Off Mawby used the location of the Third Battle of Ypres and the preserved trenches as the sobering setting to discuss the evolution of ISTAR capabilities and trench warfare during the battle. Walking through the trenches with colleagues of today gave me a great sense of gratitude to our forbearers and the conditions in which they fought so bravely. Fg Off Elliott led our next discussion at Tyne Cot Cemetery where we used a game to demonstrate the enormous number of casualties and deaths incurred during the Great War. Upon entering the cemetery, the reality of this took my breath away. Gazing upon each headstone of ‘the unknown soldiers’ stirred intense emotion within me that will be unforgettable.

The second evening was a favourite of mine, as I had the honour of laying a wreath at the Menin Gate in Ypres. Every night since 1928 the Buglers play the Last Post at 2000hrs in the incredible structure that houses the names of 54,395 Commonwealth Soldiers whose graves are unknown. Laying a wreath here on behalf of RAF Waddington was a very proud moment and it was a pleasure to participate in the ceremony. We concluded this day with a meal in Ypres, surrounded by the stunning architecture of the City and it gave us the perfect opportunity to sample some Belgian cuisine and reflect on the day.

Bright and early Wednesday morning we enjoyed the Hotel breakfast and set off to Fort Eben Emael on the Belgian – Dutch border, where we were met by a knowledgeable and enthusiastic tour guide. The fortress had been preserved so well that upon entering, it felt like we had taken a step back in time! We were guided through the history of the battle between German and Belgian forces; seeing the exact point of entry that the Germans penetrated the fort.
We followed this eye-opening experience with a trip to Veldwezelt Bridge where WO2 Ellis explained how the first RAF VCs of WW2 were awarded for the attack on the vital bridges across the Albert Canal. We took a lunch outside a Brasserie in the sunshine before heading on to Waterloo. Although our time in Waterloo was brief, we had the chance to view the striking monument and discuss leadership throughout the Battle of Waterloo.

Our final day of the trip saw us heading towards the Eurotunnel but not before visiting the beaches of Dunkirk. With the devastatingly stunning coastal view in front of us, Sgt Greenhalgh reviewed the reasons behind the RAF being dubbed the Royal Absent Force during the Dunkirk evacuation. This sparked a debate and everyone began to consider our history and the decisions made during this time. The museum at Dunkirk offered a feast for the eyes with the artefacts reclaimed from the sea and personal effects found along the beaches. This experience was awe-inspiring and gave us all food for thought on the journey back to RAF Waddington.

The trip for me was a remarkable experience that has left a lasting impression in my mind and on my heart. Reinforcing the importance of the RAF history and remembrance of those who made the ultimate sacrifice. I returned to work with a huge sense of pride and understanding of my purpose and my place within this ever-evolving organisation. Equally, this opportunity offered me the chance to travel to a new country and meet people that I otherwise may never have crossed paths with.

C E Newton
SAC 7676