THE MIGHTY 8
Now the summer is over, or did it actually start? Unless that is you were the IntO for 8 Squadron in Trapani.
Been a very busy few months for the Squadron, with the stand up of OP ELLAMY in late February, sending us all packing to the lovely island of Cyprus, well you can’t really complain about that one. Shortly followed by the move in mid April to support OP UNIFIED PROTECTOR. Yet again on another sunny island in the Mediterranean. Since then it has been the yo-yo of home and away, balancing the delicate task of operations, family commitments and of course the inevitable school holidays.
Images Of The Past
On the 9th July Flt Lt Phil Palastanga and MACr Tony ‘TF’ Farmer attended the unveiling ceremony of Shackleton WR963 at the Coventry Airbase Museum. WR963 is an ex 8 squadron Shackleton which was purchased by the Shackleton Preservation Trust in 1991 and it was delivered to Coventry on the 9th July 1991. The Trust has restored the aircraft to a Maritime role and to mark the 20th anniversary of its delivery the trust has dedicated one side of the cockpit in memory of the late Wing Commander Dave Henken, a previous 8 squadron Commanding Officer. We were invited as current serving 8 squadron personnel who had also previously flown on the aircraft when it was in service at RAF Lossiemouth. Mrs Liz Henken and family were also at the ceremony and the attached photo shows Mrs Henken, Flt Lt Palastanga and TF below the nose of the aircraft after carrying out the unveiling.
On 21 Jul 11, Master Air Crew Si Radley and Jan Shaw spent the day with class 10 of Queens Park School Park, 8 squadron’s chosen charity; (Mentality & physical disabled children 3 – 19 yrs. Class 10 age group is 16-19 yrs). The day started by taking the students to the Odeon Cinema (10 students & 2 teachers), we had arranged for the students to have their own private showing of the “Green Lantern”. The students enjoyed having their own private cinema especially as a few of them had never been to the pictures before.
Once the excitement of the cinema had died down, we them took them to lunch. Lunch was at “Lloyds”, each student perused the menu & chose their own food and drink. A great day was had by all, again especially as this was, for the majority their first time in a “public house” and for 5 of the students this was their penultimate day at QPS. The expense of the day was met by money raised by 8 squadron charities.
8 Squadron Engineering Staff Ride Exercise LEO Charlton Ypres battlefields and St Omer Aerodrome
On the 9 May 2011, Cpl Andy Greasley led a team of 10 engineers from 8 squadron RAF Waddington on a 5 day staff ride trip to Belgium. The aim of the staff ride was to explore the roles on the Western Front roles played by 8 squadron and the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) during WWI.
Exercise LEO Charlton was named after the first OC 8 squadron, Major Lionel Charlton. Major Charlton was responsible for 8 squadron’s first ever deployment to St Omer, France on 15 April 1915. Our
aim was to follow the route of this deployment visiting the site of St Omer and then moving on to the other areas of operation for 8 squadron. Each member of the team was given a topic to research and present to the other team members at sites on the Western front. These tasks were also related to current day operations carried out by the RAF and were largely aimed at educating the Aircraft Technicians (Mechanical) in past, present and future of the RAFs capabilities.
Monday was an early start for everyone, meeting at 0700, carrying out the daily inspection on the mini bus and hitting the road soon after. Everyone left Waddington in high spirits and we were on course to make the ferry at Dover in good time. Everything was going smoothly and people were enjoying the classic hits on SAC Sean “Coopdog” Cooper’s MP3 player. Due to traffic after an RTA on route we were late to arrive at Dover resulting in a later crossing than planned. After arriving at our hotel in France in the early evening, we enjoyed a sociable beverage in the hotel garden grounds followed by a relaxing evening meal in the busy town centre of Lille. Given an early start was planned the next day we retired early.
St Omer and La Coupole:
Following a fine continental breakfast, the Minibus ride to St Omer began with some poorly laid road signs enabling us to become geographically embarrassed multiple times around the town before we eventually ended up at the train station. After a half English, half French conversation with a Belgian taxi driver, we finally found out we were only 2 minutes away from the aerodrome and we eagerly headed to the site of the WW1 airbase.
“On Monday 8 October 1914, the Royal Flying Corps arrived at St Omer and took up residence here at the aerodrome next to the local racecourse.
Within a few days the four Sqns- 2,3,4 and 5 had arrived and for four years St Omer was to be a central hub for the RFC. Most Sqns only used the St Omer as a transit camp whilst on their way to other locations, but the importance of the site grew as logistical support became its primary function.
The GOC RFC; Major-General Hugh Trenchard held his headquarters here up until the end of March 1916 and it returned again for a few months in 1917. The Pilot’s Pool was to remain at St Omer until the closing stages of the war.”
As we pulled up in the car park, which is currently in use as a small aerodrome, the commemorative memorial to the British flying services came in to view with the ever recognisable ” PER ARDUA AD ASTRA” being displayed at the entrance to the airfield.
SAC Stephen “Fingers” Mckelvey promptly led the presentations by laying a commemorative wreath displaying 8 Sqns crest and followed by giving a talk on how the Memorial was dedicated to all those serving on the Western Front and especially the airmen and women who operated from or passed through this airfield. Four presentations were then given by the group sharing their research into St Omer and its importance as a forward operating base, how we operated in the First World War and the early days of the RFC. We also looked at 8 Sqns relationship with the western front, where we operated and the roles we undertook at the time. This was also consolidated by relating these topics to how we operate now under current Air Power doctrine.
After the presentations, and following a brief lunch in the town centre of St Omer, we made our way to La Coupole. The museum was originally built during World War II as a rocket launch facility where the V2 bombs were designed to be launched from, however due to constant RAF bombing, it was never completed or used operationally. Inside was an array of aircraft and weapons ranging from WWI all the way up to present day and everyone one showed a great appreciation of the weaponry and method of war changes throughout the years.
Passchendale and Tyne cots
On Wednesday we made our way to Ypres and first of all Passchendale Museum, Passchendale and Zonnebeke are two small villages, a stone’s throw from Ypres. During the British attack of 1917, we suffered 500 000 casualties in 100 days for a territory gain of only 5 miles. Passchendale became an international symbol of senseless military violence in its most cruel form. In the Memorial Museum the memory of the battle is kept alive through images and movies, a large collection of historical artefacts and several life-like dioramas. We were made aware of the ever present threat of snipers here whilst enjoying a round of lattes in the museum grounds, as we all sat around the table, the glasses unexplainably exploded before our eyes covering some of us in Coffee!! Presentations were then given educating the group on the RFC during the Battle of Ypres and
how their roles changed.
Polygon Woods and Menin Gate
Division on 28 September 1918. Polygon Wood Cemetery is an irregular front-line cemetery made between August 1917 and April 1918, and used again in September 1918. The cemetery contains 103 Commonwealth burials of the First World War, 17 of them unidentified. 60 of those buried here served with the New Zealand forces. Further in the woods there is also a maze of underground concrete structures which were used as bunkers during the conflict. Two small British bunkers and a large German bunker put into perspective the conditions that the troops faced whilst fighting. Lastly we visited the amazing Ypres Menin Gate; The Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing is one of four British and Commonwealth memorials to the missing in the battlefield area of the Ypres Salient in Belgian Flanders. The memorial bears the names of 54,389 Officers and men from United Kingdom and Commonwealth Forces (except New Zealand and Newfoundland) who fell in the Ypres Salient before 16 August 1917 and who have no known grave. Here we had our last presentations delivered and had a look around the vast memorial to the fallen unknown heroes. Thursday night then proceeded with a joint celebration of our achievements of the week and also to celebrate the promotion of Sergeant Paul Bycroft to Chief Technician. As so often happens to Brits abroad, we took up residence in the local Irish bar where we enhanced international relations with some very interesting locals!!
On Friday everyone was up early and embarked on the long journey back to the UK, although the group was fatigued, high spirits were maintained given the interesting and valuable information we had picked up on the trip. Aboard the ferry, as we pulled up into Dover a great finish to the week was had by Coopdog due to a phone call from the sports lottery informing him of his £1500 windfall.
As we returned to Waddington, one phrase seemed appropriate to sum the trip up: “It’s been emotional”. What started out as ten individuals ranging in rank from Senior Aircraftmen to Chief Technicians had turned into a well bonded team of intrepid adventurers who had ventured out to seek knowledge, explore new pastures and ultimately to improve our personal development. As a group we followed the first footsteps of 8 Sqn, learned all about their early methods and about Air Reconnaissance throughout the years through exploration and detailed presentations. It was these presentations that Corporal Andy Greasley had set each team member 2 weeks previously that provided the basis for knowledge about the trip and enabled each team member, some for the first time, to deliver a stand up speech in front their peers. We all benefited in the difference in age and background of the team to ensure a more interesting outlook on all topics as we congregated in the evenings to put the world to rights. Most of all, we returned as a group of friends, bound by new friendships and experiences shared together from the sometimes disturbing scenes of history we had sought to find.
By Flight Lieutenant Jimmy Sockell