Hawker Memorial Inauguration – Latest News from Chas

The Latest from Chas Whitaker on this BIG event next month.

Fellow Members of No XXIV Sqn Association and I am sure “Les Copains de Lanoe Hawker” !

Time has marched on and it is now incumbent on me to give you the next update regarding Op11/11/11- the Plan for the Inauguration of the Memorial to Major Lanoe G Hawker VC DSO on 11 Nov 11.

I am circulating this to every member of the No 24 Sqn Association and not just those of you who have already indicated that you will be coming.  I am doing this in case some of you had a computer glitch the first time around or are still not persuaded of the value and enjoyment to be derived from driving from far away in England to some corner of a foreign field (actually the centre of the rural village of Ligny-Thilloy (L-T))!  Quite a number of us already plan to show our respects to the very first Squadron Commander of No 24 Sqn on a (sunny/ warm/blustery/rainy/snowy – delete as appropriate) Friday in just under 4 weeks time!! (If you didn’t receive my first letter which included links to Channel Crossing and Hotel Options, please e-mail me or call me on 0044 7810 505059).

Well, things are coming in to place quite nicely as we enter the L-T Terminal Area, having completed the Field Approach Checks.  Importantly, most of the panics associated with the construction of the Memorial, adjacent to the Village’s own First World War Memorial, have been resolved. Flt Lt  Phil Mobbs, No 24 Sqn’s Project Officer, has lost another stone in weight, but the all important headstone has been engraved (and some of you may have seen it in No 24 Sqn’s spectacular new £10 Million premises at RAF Brize Norton on the occasion of ourAGMand Annual Reunion on 1 Oct).  Phil was still having difficulties with the transport of 3 pallets of cast stone from Leeds to L-T within an affordable budget.  We have been rescued by the Worshipful Company of Carmen, with whom No 24 Sqn has a long standing relationship.  No, this is not an Operatic Society, but a London Livery whose members are serious players in the Road Haulage Association.  I had a ‘down on one-knee’ phone call with the Master of the Livery, Bob Russett, who owns Palletline Logistics of Bristol (and whom you will meet in France on the big day) and he said he’d see us right !  The pallets were duly picked up, transferred to a French company and delivered into L-T on Friday 14 Oct.  And that was all covered by Bob free of charge – so a huge vote of thanks to Bob, Palletline and the Carmen !

And just so you don’t think that this Memorial is made out of Lego (like Phil Mobbs’s mock up model was!) the Mayor of L-T,  Monsieur Dominique Deleplace, has arranged delivery of a ton of gravel and a ton of sand on Monday 17 Oct.   Phil and his two British builders are driving out the same day,  with all the bricks and paraphernalia, to build the memorial on Tuesday 18 and Wednesday 19 Oct.  Hopefully, they will have good weather…….! Thereafter, the Memorial will remain under a veil for 3 weeks until the Inauguration Ceremony at 15:00 on 11 Nov 11.

And there is another extraordinary achievement which we hope will make its presence felt on the day. Courtesy of British Aerospace, who have donated the amazing sum of £5000 to make it possible – and subject to the weather – a replica of the DH-2 in which Major Hawker flew his last mission will appear over L-T at the appointed time to provide a sobering reminder of just what equipment Major Hawker was operating in the battle against the German Fokker Scourge in 1916. The DH-2, flown by Stewart Smith, will have travelled under its own power from its base at Wickenby inLincolnshireto Albert airport (15 mins flying time SW of L-T).  The DH-2 has two tasks on 11 Nov 11, weather permitting.  In the morning, Stewart will fly the aircraft over the Thiepval Memorial at 11:00.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with the history of WW1, Thiepval is the Memorial to the Missing of the Somme. It bears the names of more than 72,000 officers and men of the United Kingdom and South African forces who died in the Somme sector before 20 March 1918 and who have no known grave. Over 90% of those commemorated died between July and November 1916.  It was at the end of this period, on 23 Nov 1916, that Major Lanoe Hawker was shot down and killed.  The DH-2 will fly over his Memorial as part of the Inauguration Ceremony at 15:15.

And there are a number of other planning elements all coming together.  As of your receipt of this missive, and as you will note from the attachment, there are no fewer than 41 members of the Association with wives or partners (and not including advisers with business cards) travelling to Picardie for the Ceremony.  Wg Cdr Tim Jones, OC 24 Sqn, will be there with his wife Susie, his Project Officer Flt Lt Phil Mobbs, and another 14 serving members of his hugely stretched Sqn. No 24 Sqn is involved in both Afghanistanand Libyaand is simulatenously engaged in the transfer from RAF Lyneham to RAF Brize Norton this year.  So Tim is carrying a huge load – without the addition of Op 11/11/11, followed the very next day by the 40th Anniversary (Pisa Accident) Memorial Service inLivorno,Italy.

I can also now confirm that, very significantly, there will be an honour party of 4 officers , including the two Commanding Officers of  711 and 712 Staffeln, from the Richthofen Geschwader based atGAFWittmund inNorth Germany.  They originally planned to fly to the French Air Force Base at Cambrai in two F-4 Phantom jets, but are now travelling by car, which will enable them to bring a Sqn Standard with them.  I am assured that the Commandant of the L’Armée de l’Air Airbase 103 at Cambrai will also attend, accompanied by OC 1/12 Cambresis Mirage Sqn and they will also bring the 1/12 Sqn Standard with them.   So, with No 24 Sqn ‘s Standard also present, this is set to be a poignant reminder that 95 years after Lanoe Hawker died defending France, all three NATO Air Forces are on the same side today.  There are always lighter moments when organising such occasions.  When Lt Col Fensterseifer, OC 711 Sqn, asked me what he should say in his speech during the Vin d’Honneur – and I suggested he apologise on the Red Baron’s behalf – he just cracked up !

So, what are the arrangements for the day itself?  As you know, The French mark Remembrance Day with a Ceremony which starts at the 11th Hour of the 11th Day of the 11th Month and it will of course be the same at L-T this year.  You are of course very welcome to join Mayor Deleplace at the village’s own secular Ceremony, which will be attended by OC 24 Sqn and his Sqn members.  Both Wg Cdr Tim Jones and the Chairman of No 24 Sqn Association, Keith Chapman, will lay wreaths during this Event. Thereafter, of course, there is a lengthy gap until we re-assemble for our own, major Ceremony at15:00.

So, what are we going to do in the interim?  First, you may care to start by accompanying Flt Lt Phil Mobbs to an area some 2 km or so South of L-T in order to view the site where it is known that  Major Hawker’s DH-2 hit the ground – and to ponder on the terrible struggle that was waged on the ground and above those fields nearly a hundred years ago. (As you may know, the farm near the crash site and Lanoe Hawker’s last resting place were totally destroyed by artillery shelling).  Then, second, we have made provisional arrangements for two restaurants to provide lunch for our party – and to cater, with a bit of contingency reserve, for about 90 persons.  One restaurant is in the Hotel de la Paix and the other is in the Hotel de la Gare, both in the small town of Bapaume – just 10 minutes from L-T.  We shall be hosting the Maire of L-T, Monsieur Deleplace and his personal assistant Brigitte Le Grand (plus partners), both of whom have been enormously helpful to our planning for well over a year.  We also expect to look after the officers from the German Air Force’s Richthofen Geschwader and the French Air Force Fighter base at Cambrai.   So this day which is so important to No 24 Sqn will clearly be a significant International Occasion.  There is no obligation on you to visit or to eat at either restaurant (where lunch can be purchased for approx. 25 Euros per head. or less). However, if you do, I would be grateful if you would settle your own bills before leaving!  We aim to depart the restaurants no later than 14:30 so we can assemble in good time outside the Mairie (Town Hall) in L-T.

The Inauguration of the Memorial to Major Lanoe Hawker VC DSO will commence at 15:00.  The service will again be secular and the arrangements for this just require final definition.  I expect that Maire Dominique Deleplace will lead the proceedings.  There will be three Sqn Standards on display, although it is not currently planned that these will be paraded.  The Maire, OC 24 Sqn and the President of our Association (Air Cdre Dick Gould) will lay wreaths after the Memorial has been unveiled by OC 24 Sqn.  I anticipate that wreaths will also be laid by OLT Fensterseifer of the Richthofen Geschwader and by Col Gernez, Airbase Commander at Cambrai.  And then, weather permitting, the DH-2  – flown by Stewart Smith –  will approach the Memorial from the South, having dipped his wings in salute over the site near Luisenhof Farm where Major Hawker was buried alongside his crashed aircraft on 23 Nov 1916. He will overfly the Inauguration Ceremony at relatively low altitude, orbit and then fly up the main street of L-T to pass directly over the Memorial again. The Last Post will then be played, not by a bugler, but on a trumpet by Monsieur Deleplace’s son in law – so I am sure we can expect all the notes to be hit accurately!

By this time, some of us may be feeling pretty chilly and looking forward to the Vin d’Honneur – indoors and under a roof only about 150 metres from the memorial!  The Vin d’Honneur (reception) is a French tradition and we hope that the one which is being organised and will be held in the L-T Salle des Fetes will be very memorable. We fully expect some 130 persons to attend, including the Maire’s own guests.  Monsieur Deleplace anticipates that the Inauguration and the Vin d’Honneur will be attended by the local Deputé (MP), the Mayors of several neighbouring towns and villages, members of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and representatives of several Societies associated with the War Graves.  Monsieur Deleplace will also invite the villagers and children of L-T as he wants them to understand their history.  The Vin d’Honneur is likely to last about an hour. We will be served Champagne and savoury and sweet canapés, and non-alcoholic drinks will be available for those of you who are driving!   The Maire has arranged for an Orchestra to serenade us and they will play appropriate marches to suit short speeches by the Maire, OC 24 Sqn, our Chairman, OC 211 Staffel of the Richthofen Geschwader and the Commandant of the French Air Force Base at Cambrai.  A number of presentations will be made and we expect to show a very short film to remind us of the role of the Royal Flying Corps and the conditions in which Major Hawker was operating during 1916.  The Celebration in honour of Major Lanoe Hawker VC DSO is likely to include a symphonic rendition of the Last Post and a medley of 3 National Anthems as we say our farewells and wend our weary way back to our Hotels!

No 24 Sqn and your Association together with the Maire of L-T are jointly covering the cost of the Vin d’Honneur for ourselves and up to 24 French guests, which seemed appropriate.  We anticipate that the final cost per head to members of the Association who are attending the Vin d’Honneur will be between 10 and 12 Euros per head.

Important ! Planning Cut Off Time and Financial Arrangements.

I shall be visiting L-T myself again on Monday 24 and Tuesday 25 October to carry out final liaison with Brigitte Le Grand and to visit the two Hotel Restaurants in Bapaume again.

I will have to finalise the Vin d’Honneur arrangements and costs with Brigitte Le Grand during that visit.  I therefore propose to set Saturday 22 October 23:59 hrs as the Final Cut Off Time for anyone who has not yet made up his mind to let me know if he would like to attend the Inauguration Ceremony and Vin d’Honneur, with or without a partner, on 11 Nov 11.

If anyone is planning to attend the Inauguration Ceremony but cannot stay for the Vin d’Honneur, would they also please advise me by the same Final Cut Off Time.

When I return from France I will e-mail details of the menus and prices at both restaurants in Bapaume to all attendees on or before 27 October. We will need to split our numbers for those wishing to have lunch in the two pre-booked restaurants. I shall come up with a cunning plan by the time I next write to you on Thursday 27 October – and rest assured it won’t involve a seating plan based on former rank, domicile North or South of Watford or back-handers to your Project Officer (well, the latter might be part of the formula !)

As indicated previously, you should please settle your own food and drinks bill in whichever restaurant you take lunch on 11 Nov 11.

I will confirm the final price for single or double attendance at the Vin d’Honneur in my e-mail of 27 October.  To keep the payment for this as simple as possible, we will collect cash in euros from you when we are in France.  Keith Chapman will collect cash payments from those who are night-stopping in Arras.  I will collect cash payments from everyone else on the day.  I will then be able to pay our share of the costs to the Mayor immediately after the ceremony.

I hope this brief gives you a reasonable understanding of the events in which we are participating on 11 Nov 11.  However, if anyone has any questions, observations or reservations, do please feel free to contact me via my e-mail ChaslWhitaker at hotmail dot co dot uk or via mobile phone 0044 (0) 7810 505059.

I look forward to seeing you in France on 11/11/11 !

With Best Regards,

Chas

 

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