Archive for the ‘WWI Memories’ Category

The Hawker 2016 Ceremony Picture Gallery

07 December, 2016

Here is a stand alone post featuring the submitted images of the November 2016 Hawker Memorial Ceremony. It does bring home all the good work and effort required to organise such a successful event like this.


Hawker VC Memorial and Ligny-Thilloy Remembrance Ceremony

16 November, 2016

This years Hawker Memorial visit and Ligny-Thilloy remembrance ceremony was a well attended event involving a great deal more  additional planning and organisation, which certainly paid off.

Here are a few images and a summary from the 11 Nov 2016 visit to Ligny-Thilloy via Chris and Di Carrington.

Group photo at memorial

Group photo at memorial


Somme battlefield pipe band

Somme battlefield pipe band


In Sam Wright’s absence the Mayor of Ligny-Thilloy had managed to get some of the members of the Somme Battlefield Pipe Band to perform at the ceremony. A video showing them playing in the Salle de Fêtes is available and an embedded link is here.

Hawker Memorial panel

Hawker Memorial panel

The new panel erected by Phil Mobbs and the XXIV Squadron team the day before the ceremony provides visitors new to the site with important historical background details relating to Lanhoe Hawker.

Full Size replica of Fokker DR-1

Full Size replica of Fokker DR-1


W/C Daz Rawlins with Cloe Bruce

W/C Daz Rawlins with Cloe Bruce

Cloe Bruce is a Hawker family member.

UK and German OC's

UK and German OC’s

Squadron Wreath

Squadron Wreath


Chas with Mayor and Cloe

Chas with Mayor and Cloe




08 July, 2016
Hawker Memorial

Hawker Memorial in Ligny-Thilloy


All recipients will be aware that there is a Memorial to No 24 Sqn’s first Commanding Officer – Major Lanoe G Hawker VC DSO – erected in front of the Mairie in the village of Ligny Thilloy (LT). LT lies 26 km due South of the town of Arras in the Pas de Calais region of France.

The site of the Memorial is geographically close to the site of the Luisenhof Farm (destroyed in WW1). Major Hawker was shot down by the Baron Manfred von Richthofen after an aerial combat lasting some 30 minutes and his DH2 aircraft crashed adjacent to the Farm on 23 Nov 1916.

With the approval and enormous support of The Mayor of LT, Monsieur Dominique Deleplace, and of his Assistant Brigitte Le Grand, the Memorial to Maj Hawker was erected and inaugurated on 11- 11 – 11 (11 Nov 2011). The Ceremony was attended by a strong XXIV Sqn team led by OC XXIV (now the Station Commander of RAF Brize Norton) as well as by a large turnout of Assocn members and partners.

The occasion was also noteworthy for the participation of an Honour Guard provided by the Luftwaffe’s Richthofen Geschwader, with the Geschwader Standard paraded in honour of Maj Hawker. The French Air Force was represented by the Base Commander and the Commander of a Mirage Fighter Sqn from Cambrai Air Base.

This year sees the 100th anniversary of the death in action on 23 Nov 16 of Maj Hawker. This event will be marked by a Centennial Remembrance Ceremony at the Hawker Memorial in LT on Remembrance Day – Friday 11 Nov 16. This will be led and coordinated by XXIV Sqn Assocn in close cooperation with XXIV Sqn.


Before I ask you to consider attending the Memorial Ceremony in honour of Major Hawker, I thought it might be appropriate to place Lanoe Hawker’s sacrifice in context with those thousands of others who also lost their lives in the terrible “Great War”.

I am sure you will all have seen on the News this last week that 1 July marked the 100th Anniversary of the commencement of the Battle of the Somme. I imagine we all know how totally horrific the figures for the loss of life were in that campaign over the next 6 months.

Just for the record, I show below the appalling statistics, with figures derived from Wikipedia.

Western Front Casualties
July–December 1916.Month Casualties

July                      196,081
August                  75,249
September         115,056
October                66,852
November           46,238
December            13,803

British                 513,289
French             c. 434,000
Anglo-French  c. 947,289
German            c. 719,000
Grand Total   c. 1,666,289

The historical archivists, Prior and Wilson, recorded that the British lost 432,000 soldiers from 1 July – mid-November (c. 3,600 men per day).

The specific focus for the 100th Anniversary Commemoration of the Battle of the Somme was the Ceremony held at the Thiepval Memorial last Friday – 1 July 2016 .

Exactly 100 years earlier, thirteen divisions of the British Army launched an offensive on a line extending from north of Gommecourt to Maricourt on the River Somme. South of the river, the attack was made by the French Army. The attack had been preceded by a preliminary artillery bombardment of German positions which lasted seven whole days from 24 June. Despite the shock and awe of that action it did not destroy the German defensive capability – with disastrous consequences.

By the end of 1 July 1916 , the FIRST DAY, the British losses were unprecedented in the history of the British Army. There were approximately 58,000 casualties on that day alone – including 19,000 men and boys killed.

By comparison with Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria in this Century…….. THERE IS NO COMPARISON !!

If you feel the need to understand a little bit more about this horrific and incredible campaign, before you perhaps join No 24 Sqn and the XXIV Sqn Association visit to Ligny-Thilloy (L-T) on 11 Nov 16, may I commend to you Wikipedia’s “Battle of the Somme”,, from which source I derived the statistics above.


Why have I included the above information in my letter to you about our visit to L-T this year ? It seems to me that whilst many of us have visited Major Hawker’s Memorial in L-T before, we may not have placed his last year of life and his operational role in the context of the Battle of the Somme – or considered the pressures under which he would undoubtedly have been operating No 24 Sqn.

The war at Ground Level was unquestionably awful – as depicted in the writings and films of the day. The men of the Royal Flying Corps were in effect only one step away from their comrades in the Army. They would have understood the importance of their operational roles – including acting as reconnaissance spotters for the British Artillery with the parallel task of preventing the German Air Arm from providing a similar service to the German Artillery.

Conditions at Bertangle, the Squadron’s operating base, would have been far from comfortable and the men would undoubtedly have been aware of the even worse conditions being endured by their Army colleagues and the terrible rate of attrition they were suffering. It would seem unlikely that these parameters could have been kept totally secret.

Lanoe Hawker would have had no previous experience to prepare him for the circumstances with which he was confronted. He would have had to call upon all his personal strength of character to overcome his concerns and those of his men, and to inspire them to maintain their morale and to carry out their tasks to maximum effect. By all accounts, he would seem to have been able to do so. His death must have left a significant hole in the operational capability of No 24 Sqn for a period of time.

That as background then.


The XXIV Sqn Association has been actively involved since 13 March in planning the events scheduled to take place at L-T on 11 Nov 16. This is of course not straightforward as they will involve 3 nations – France, Germany and the UK ! It is now timely to let everyone who may have an interest in attending know what the proceedings are likely to be on 11 Nov 16. (An expanded, Draft programme is attached).

First of all, we expect that the format of the Remembrance Day ceremonies will be similar to those conducted each year since 2011. The principle difference is that we have received tacit confirmation from the Kommodore of the German Air Force’s Richthofen Geschwader that he will provide an Honour Guard and the Geschwader Standard – as in 2011.

Second, it is hoped that it may be possible to arrange a Flypast by a Royal Air Force transport aircraft and a Luftwaffe Eurofighter at a particular point in the Memorial Ceremony. At this stage this is unconfirmed and it will be entirely dependent upon the weather factor and the availability of Royal Air Force and German Air Force airframes.

Third and significantly, Dominique Deleplace, the Mayor of L-T has decided that – in contrast with previous years, he will arrange for a Luncheon and Vin d’honneur to take place in the Salle des Fêtes (ie the Village Hall). This is instead of all participants transferring to the neighbouring town of Bapaume for Lunch, as we have in the past.

(As an aside, we are aware that a Memorial to the First World War German Ace, Oswald Boelcke, is scheduled to be unveiled in Bapaume on Friday 28 Oct 16 (the 100th Anniversary of his death following a mid air collision). Oswald Boelcke taught the Red Baron to fly and he was highly respected by the RFC. The Luftwaffe’s Boelcke Geschwader has apparently received approval to fly a Eurofighter over Bapaume (less than 5 kms from Ligny-Thilloy) on the occasion of the inauguration of his Memorial.).

The Mayor’s Luncheon in the Salle des Fêtes will cater for a reasonably large number of attendees. As a consequence, “covers” available for the UK contingent will be limited to 50 persons. The price per head will be 20 Euros and that sum will be collected in advance (in £ Sterling) by transfers to a Bank Account which will be notified in due course.

At this stage, the hypothetical breakdown of numbers (within our 50 limit) is as follows:
a.   No XXIV Sqn Personnel Up to 8
Wg Cdr Rawlins, Sqn Ldr Hogg, Sgt Llewellyn-Smith (Hawker Liaison),
      Sgt Slater and the Sqn Standard Party.

b.   OC RAF BZN (Gp Capt and Mrs Jones, if poss.) Up to 2

c.   XXIV Sqn Association Personnel and Partners. Up to 24

d.   No 6 Sqn Association (and Partners ?) Up to 4

e.    Luftwaffe Richthofen Geschwader (and Partners ?) Up to 8

f.     Relatives of Maj Hawker. Up to 4
TOTAL Up to 50


I anticipate that everyone attending will have been to Arras and Ligny-Thilloy before and will need no advice as to how to organise their travel across the Channel. Past experience has shown that the most suitable venue for accommodation on the night before the events of Remembrance Day in L-T is the romantic city of Arras. There are numerous hotels and a popular one is the Hotel Mercure, which is located adjacent to the main railway station and which enquiries have shown still has plenty of rooms available on 10 and 11 Nov. It is located  at No 59 Boulevard Carnot.

Traditionally, the XXIV Association members tend to meet for a dinner in the City on the evening of 10 Nov. Our President Keith Chapman has already booked the Restaurant for Supper that evening. He has reserved a (large) table at Le Bouchot restaurant in Arras for 19.30 hrs. (We ate there last year). Here is a link to this nautically themed restaurant

(You will find this contains a sitemap)

The next day’s timings will all be based on arriving at the village of Ligny-Thilloy not later than at least 20 minutes before the Remembrance Ceremony commences at the Village’s War Memorial at 11:00 a.m.


It is requested that any XXIV Sqn Members who wish to attend please notify their interest to the e-mail address Selection will necessarily be on a “first come, first served ” basis with reserves nominated.

Given the need to ensure Ferry/Eurotunnel passages and Hotel accommodation remain available, could persons notify their interest in attending the events in L-T on or before Monday 25 July. The list of attendees will be finalised and notified on or before Sunday 31 July.

I trust that the above is helpful and I look forward to receiving a flurry of notifications of interest !

With Best Regards
Chas Whitaker
Wg Cdr RAF (Retired)
XXIV Sqn Association Ligny -Thilloy Liaison Officer
Mobile: 07810 505059


Attachment: A to Op Lima Tango 2016



A. Timing of Hawker Ceremony

1. At Ligny-Thilloy, as throughout the whole of France, the French Ceremony of Remembrance will be held at precisely 11.00 hrs on 11 November. This usually lasts at least 20 minutes, to allow time for:
a. The Mayor to read aloud his copy of the address to the nation by the President of France.
b. The individual names on the Village War Memorial to be read out, and
c. Flowers and wreaths to be laid on the 2 Memorials.
d. The Last Post will be sounded on a trumpet at some point during this first ceremony.
2. Final timings have yet to be defined by the Mayor (especially important if there is a Fly-past). However, we could provisionally anticipate that the Hawker Remembrance Ceremony will begin at 11:30 and end at 11:50 – with the FlyPast at 11:45.

B. Format of Ceremony

1. For planning purposes, we are assuming:

a. OC XXIV will lead a small team from the Sqn and that the Sqn Standard will be paraded. If the Standard is present, it should take centre-stage.
b. The Kommodore Richthofen Geschwader will lead a contingent totalling 4 representatives, and that the Geschwader Standard will be paraded.
c. The Commandant and up to 3 representatives of a French Fighter Escadron will also be on parade (to be confirmed).
2. The weather in Pas-de-Calais in November can be bleak, so in principle we should aim for a brief ceremony of not more than 20 minutes. This would allow time for:
a. A few Words of Introduction by the Mayor, for the benefit of local French attendees.
b. Two very short speeches (two mins max) at the memorial, one by OC XXIV, Wg Cdr Daz Rawlins and one by the President of the XXIV Association, Gp Capt Keith Chapman, immediately before the laying of poppy wreaths.
c. A lament played on Bagpipes by Sam Wright, Chairman of XXIV Sqn Association.
d. Weather permitting. a slow Flypast by one RAF Transport Aircraft and one Luftwaffe Eurofighter.
e. The Marseillaise played on the Trumpet by a representative from the Bapaume Orchestra.

3. A walk to the Village’s Cemetery (10 mins) to attend the Village’s Remembrance Day protocol in memory of those who perished in the Austro./ Franco War (15 mins). This to be followed by a walk back to the Village’s Salle des Fêtes (10 mins)

C. Vin d’Honneur and Luncheon

1. The Mayor, Monsieur Dominique Deleplace is planning to host a Vin d’Honneur and a Luncheon in L-T’s Salle des Fetes commencing at c. 1245. At this juncture it is not yet confirmed whether this will be a standing buffet or a seated event. This is likely to be dictated by the final rollcall of participants. It is anticipated that the speeches and hospitality will end by 1430 thus enabling those aiming to return to England that day the opportunity to reach ferries or the Channel Tunnel in reasonable time.

Hawker VC – fascinating information from New Zealand

01 April, 2016
Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre

Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre NZ

When  Association member Chris Carrington was in NZ about three months ago, he visited the Aviation Heritage Centre in Blenheim (South Island) which has been set up and funded with no expense spared by Peter Jackson, the film mogul famed for his ‘Lord of the Rings’ Trilogy and ‘The Hobbit’.

The focus is on WW1 aviation. Displays include many original and replica aircraft of the period. Most are maintained in flying condition.

Of particular interest to us in XXIV Association, as we prepare for OP LIMA TANGO 2016, is the fact that, alongside these wonderful machines are displayed collections of RFC & Luftwaffe memorabilia, including original material relating to XXIV, Hawker himself and Manfred von Richthofen. Chris reports that among the most interesting items he found were an Op Order signed by Hawker ( Zoom your Browser window to enlarge image)

At the bottom, you’ll see that the Orders were signed “In the Field” by Hawker himself on 19 July 1916. Of special note are the hand-written annotations in the left margin. The word ‘Self’ occurs frequently (!!) confirming that Hawker liked to lead by example by flying as much as possible, even if it meant disregarding instructions from Field HQ that commanding officers of fighter squadrons were not to fly on combat sorties.

Hawker - Op Order

No. 24 Squadron R.F.C. OPERATION ORDERS for JULY 20th 1916

and also a display of Richthofen’s post-combat trophies, including a silver cup commemorating his victory over Hawker on 23 Nov 1916.

That date is rather crudely engraved on the cup, a photo of which is also shown below. It seems that Richthofen was not the most modest of men and had a cup specially made for each of his victories, thus keeping his silversmith busy for quite a long time! His victory over Hawkers was his 11th and the number 11 is engraved on the cup, together with the type of aircraft that Hawker was flying.

von Richthofen Silver Cup

von Richthofen Silver Cup

Any other contributions and comments are most welcome to our growing on-line history of XXIV.


18 November, 2015

Hawker Memorial, Mayor and Pipes. 11-11-2015

Hawker Memorial, Mayor and Pipes. 11-11-2015

Another excellent turn-out by Association Members and partners for the annual act of remembrance at the memorial to Major Hawker VC DSO RFC (XXIV’s first OC)  in the French village of Ligny-Thilloy.

A total of nineteen assembled for dinner in Arras on 10 November with the same number sitting down for a good lunch in Bapaume after the various ceremonies on 11 November. The Mayor and village council once again extended generous hospitality both before and after lunch in the village hall, where a musical dimension was provided by our Chairman, Sam Wright, whose playing of the pipes was much appreciated by one and all. Sam also piped at the ceremonies, adding his own version of the Marseillaise to that played by the Mayor’s grandson on his trumpet.

For once, the weather was mild and no brass monkeys were seen on parade, either at the village war memorial or during the one kilometre route march down to the cemetery.

[with thanks to Keith Chapman, words and Di Carrington, photo]

“Fair Stands the Wind for France!” – 11th Nov 2015

21 September, 2015

Area Map to Ligny-Thilloy

Background article about these visit’s from the XXIV Sqn Association’s Nominated Hawker Memorial Liaison Officer – Chas Whitaker.

As Remembrance Day 11 November 2015 approaches I thought it would be pertinent to write a piece for the Association Blog about the visits that 24 Sqn and XXIV Sqn Association members, and their wives and partners, have made to pay our respects to our first Sqn Cdr, Major Lanoe Hawker VC DSO, at his Memorial in the village of Ligny -Thilloy.  As you may know, this Memorial was erected in 2012 – due largely to the initiative of Flt Lt Phil Mobbs (then a serving C-130 Captain on 24 Sqn at RAF Lyneham).

We had a very good trip again last year, but our party was very much the same team as has travelled on each of the three trips so far.  So I thought I would try to encourage a few more to make the journey with us this year!  First of all, a little background may be appropriate.

Although Major Hawker lost his life on 23 November 1916, his Memorial was actually inaugurated on 11 November 2012.  This date was chosen because it was considered better to align the Inauguration with France’s Remembrance Day Commemorations.

Unlike our own Remembrance Day, which takes place on the closest Sunday to 11 November,  France’s Commemorations ALWAYS take place at 1100 on the 11th day of the 11th month each year, (because this was the time that the Armistice was signed at the end of the First World War in 1918).  So it is in an easy date for us all to remember!  But it is not always a Sunday – and indeed 11 November 2015 falls on a Wednesday.

When settling on the 11th  November 2012 for the Inauguration, this date was chosen – rather than the anniversary of Major Hawker’s death – because it was felt more people would  visit and pay their  respects at the Hawker Memorial in years to come if ceremonies coincided with France’s Remembrance Day.

Whether we will retain this tradition in 2016 – the one hundredth Anniversary of Major Hawker’s death – remains yet to be determined.  Next year is also the 100th Anniversary of the Battle of the Somme and it may prove appropriate to align the 2 Memorial Ceremonies

Naturally enough, the initial ceremony in 2012 was well attended by OC 24 Sqn and several of his officers as well as by a very good turnout of XXIV Sqn Association members.  The Inauguration of the Memorial was deliberately crammed full with interesting touches, such as the participation of members of the German Air Force’s Richthofen Geschwader (named in honour of The Red Baron).  Baron Von Richthofen was Major Hawker’s foe on the fateful day in 1916 when they met at 10,000 feet in the skies above the town of Arras.  The dogfight lasted an incredible 30 minutes and finished at near ground level over Luisenhof Farm less than a mile from the village of Ligny -Thilloy.

Also present  on 11 Nov 12 were  the Station Commander and the Squadron Commander of the French Air Force Fighter Squadron then based at Cambrai – less than 10 miles from Ligny-Thilloy. This seemed appropriate because No 24 Sqn had been a Fighter Squadron in the First World War.  It was considered worthwhile to involve members of the 3 Air Forces at the Memorial Inauguration, if possible, to underline the fact that the Royal Air Force, the Luftwaffe and the Armee de l’Air are all now allies.

2012 was of course the first year in which we met the Mayor of Ligny Thilloy, Monsieur Dominique Deleplace, and his excellent administrative assistant – Brigitte Le Grand.  From the outset, they were fully supportive of the idea to erect a Memorial to Major Hawker alongside Ligny-Thilloy’s own Memorial to the villages fallen – military and civilian – of the First and Second World Wars. They were instrumental in ensuring that the Memorial was erected in a prominent position and that the whole area was beautifully landscaped. They also ensured that Major Hawker’s Memorial can be lit at night on important occasions.

Should you travel to France and decide to pass by and have a look, the site of these two Memorials is directly opposite the Mairie in the centre of the Village.  I think that the location of Major Hawker’s Memorial alongside Ligny-Thilloy’s larger War Memorial is poignant, as it makes the point very clearly that Lanoe Hawker was flying in the defence of France.

In modern RAF parlance he was effectively providing Close Air Support  and seeking to achieve Air Superiority over the German Air Force as the Battle of the Somme, and the Battle for Vimy Ridge in particular, raged beneath him a Century ago ! 100 years ago and yet for our generation,  many of whose parents experienced the Second World War, it seems only a few yesterdays ago.  And indeed, the Two World Wars were partially responsible for many of us joining the RAF when we were young men!

Returning to the present, Dominique Deleplace and Brigitte Le Grand’s organisation and unstinting cooperation during 2012 – and their continued and unfailing support ever since then – have been an absolute inspiration. When one is alongside them in Ligny-Thilloy each 11 November the reason for their support becomes clearer.  Dominique always stresses the importance of the village’s children understanding France’s history and realising that their country has been under the heel of invaders repeatedly during the last 2 Centuries.

This is assuredly why Dominique was so supportive of the Plan to erect the Memorial to Major Hawker.  And it is also why he and all the citizens of Ligny-Thilloy took XXIV Sqn Association Members under their wing and made us feel entirely part of their family when Dominique inaugurated the Hawker Memorial on 11 Nov 12.  We were given the same wonderful welcome when we attended the Remembrance Ceremony in Ligny Thilloy the following year on 11 Nov 13, and again on 11 Nov 14.

Each year Dominique conducts the Memorial Ceremony in a secular, non religious manner and supervises the programme to permit the laying of Flowers and wreathes at the foot of both Memorials. His speech is always translated in parallel into English so that those of us who never learned French, or who have forgotten it over the years, understand what he is saying!  Last year, he introduced a new theme, which was to review the contribution that women made to the War Effort in France in The Great War and to outline the terrible hardships brought about by the separation of families as the struggle for survival continued for years.

Ceremonial is added to the Commemoration Event by the presence of the National Flags of France, Australia and The United Kingdom – and also by the playing of the appropriate music at particular points in the Ceremony.  Our own Sam Wright, in full Scottish Piper’s regalia, is always an instrumental part of the proceedings (sorry for that inadvertent pun!).  And in 2012, Dominique’s Son in Law – a member of the highly acclaimed Orchestra of Bapaume – played an evocative rendition of The Last Post on his trumpet (rather than a Bugle). Later on 11 Nov 12, he joined a select number of musicians from the Bapaume Concert Orchestra when they played during the Vin d’Honneur Ceremony.  In 2013 and Last year, his place was taken by his son Julien – not yet a teenager – who has clearly inherited his father’s musical gift.

Dominique is always at great pains to involve the village’s children in the Ceremonies as he wants them to fully understand the significance of France’s troubled history.  They are always positioned where they can follow events easily and they are made to feel part of the proceedings. And one child is always chosen to lay flowers alongside Major Hawker’s Memorial.

In 2013, and again in 2014, Dominique has led us on a short 10 minute walk along a road through very lovely surroundings until we reach the Village’s cemetery.  This is kept in pristine and beautiful condition and is a very interesting site to visit as it somehow feels more human than cemeteries in England! You will understand what I mean if you come with us in 2015!

This cemetery is the site of the Village’s Memorial to the Fallen of the Franco Prussian War  of 1870 and 1871 and Dominique always conducts a short commemoration here too.   Again, the children are made part of the event as he wants them to remember that war has been a repetitive element in the history of their nation.  Last year a group of 6 of them, lined up in a prominent position, read out elements of a relevant account by Victor Hugo. Sam Wright also adds a special element to this ceremony each year when he plays appropriate music on the plaintive Scottish Bagpipes in this cemetery.

Once the 2 Commemorative Ceremonies are over, we then walk the short distance back to the Village’s modern Community Hall – the Salle Polyvalante Jacques Lolele (named after Dominique’s predecessor as Mayor), where we attend a Vin d’Honneur laid on by Dominique and where we are always made to feel incredibly welcome by all the villagers. They invariably offer us inexhaustible canapés and more libations of Kir or Champagne than are good for us!  We respond by inviting Dominique and his wife Michelle to be our guests for lunch at Le Gourmet Hotel in the nearby town of Bapaume.  In 2014, it was almost a Hospitality Competition because Dominique invited everyone back to the Village Hall again for another Vin d’Honneur after lunch!

It was during this last Convivial Ceremony in 2014 that the idea of Dominique and his wife Michelle attending the 100thAnniversary of the Formation of No 24 Sqn Royal Flying Corps later Royal Air Force was first proposed.  Who could have known then that this would ultimately come to pass on 11 September 2015 at RAF Brize Norton and that they would be introduced to HRH Princess Anne on this auspicious occasion.

The reason that I am writing about the atmosphere and the excellent rapport that has developed between 24 Sqn, the XXIV Sqn Association and the village of Ligny-Thilloy is because I would like to encourage more of you to set sail for France in the years to come !  I should also stress that our trips also have a splendid convivial social side to them, beyond their official purpose!

As we have now been three times, we have discovered the most affordable and pleasant hotels in which to stay and the nicest restaurants in which to eat!  We always deploy to France on the 10th of November and we cross the channel using the Ferries or the Channel Tunnel to reach Calais.  We then drive some 80 miles on an excellent uncrowded auto route to reach the historic town of Arras – our Forward Operating Base!  Last year, one of our members and his wife travelled by train via Lille – arriving in Arras at about 1715 and able to walk from the railway station to their hotel in just 5 minutes !

As most of us stay in a choice of 3 hotels in the vicinity of the Main Railway station (the Mercure, the Ibis and the Holiday Inn), their chosen mode of transport was very convenient and their arrival time was well planned! The rest of the team, who arrived a couple of hours earlier by car had initially entered the hold at the Leffe Bar in the Place d’Heros after reaching Arras’s beautiful, historic town centre. Yours truly was late on parade as I had “crashed” (metaphorically speaking!) at an Auto route Rest stop and only awoke when a “squawk” from Leffe Bar Control arrived via i-Phone! All of us eventually RV’d at the bar in the Mercure before taking a 5 minutes stroll to one of Arras many excellent restaurants for a pre-booked dinner (Well done the Chairman, now the President of the Association!).

Some sixteen of us duly sat down at Le Bouchot restaurant at 3, Rue Chanzy, where we enjoyed an excellent 2 or 3 course meal with wines (which came in at about Euros 25 per head if memory serves correctly!).  Such meetings are great because they are really the mortar that binds our ever youthful band of ancient flyers together, cementing great friendships that we owe to our time on 24 Sqn.

We usually make Arras our HQ for 2 days, but some stay a third,  so that they have time to take in the amazing breadth of places which can be visited in the vicinity of Arras  – as well as in and and under the city of Arras itself.  Yes, especially UNDER Arras!  Until Keith and Peggy Chapman and I conducted a reconnaissance mission a year before the erection of the Hawker Memorial, I had no idea that beneath Arras there are over 20 kms of tunnels!  These tunnels can be accessed via an entrance inside the Town Hall.  And your tour guide will then recount how, in the First World War over 20,000 – yes THAT MANY – British and Commonwealth soldiers were garrisoned in these tunnels.  Some lived in them for many, Many MONTHS! Take a moment to consider the implications of keeping this number of men alive and combat ready? Exactly! The task hardly bears thinking about!  And no it wasn’t just a garrison; it was a hub from which expeditionary tunnels were extended beyond our own lines under the German trenches. And, of course the Germans counter attacked……. Make the journey, listen to the history recounted, and be amazed!

On this same trip in 2012, we also visited the Memorial to the Royal Flying Corps Cemetery at Arras where there is also quite an impressive Memorial to Major Hawker.  Elsewhere in the RFC Cemetery there is a large Bronze plaque laid horizontally on stones at knee level facing some 200 or so headstones.   This provides a map of the salient points where the RFC provided Air Support and then tells the story of the Air War as well. It is a small Memorial to a significant contribution and very well worth finding!

Also worth finding is the intensely sobering “Mur de les Fusillees” Memorial in Arras

This memorial is to those members of the Resistance who were captured and executed in Arras by the German Occupying Forces during World War 2.  The area is about the length and width of one half of a football pitch split lengthways.  At the centre rear is a solitary, vertical, dark stake.  The purpose of that stake is crystal clear and totally sobering. The near vertical side walls and rear wall of this sombre area have been covered uniformly in plaques – made of  engraved stone – bearing the name of each victim, male and female,  stating what they did for a living and the date of their execution by firing squad.  I was chilled by the memorials to 4 Polish men who were killed on 24 December 1944 – this date undoubtedly selected because it is Christmas Day in Poland.

There are of course many other locations which are worth visiting. It is incredibly thought-provoking to visit Thiepval.

As explained in this link, Thiepval is the Memorial to the Missing of the Somme battlefields. It bears the names of 72,194 officers and men of the United Kingdom and South African forces who died in the Somme battle sector before 20th March 1918 – and who have no known grave. Over 90 percent of those commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial died in the 1916 Battles of the Somme during the 5 months July to November 1916.   This of course was the period when Major Lanoe Hawker was supporting them from the air.

History tends to glorify air aces, but there was nothing glorious about the War in which Hawker fought. It was awful. This was the word my father used when he watched the brief BBC TV News reference to the 50th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme on 1 July 1966. It was the only time I ever saw him cry.  When I asked him why he was crying, he told me that nearly 40,000 British soldiers had been severely injured and nearly TWENTY THOUSAND had been killed in THREE hours on that day in 1916.

When I visited Thiepval in 2012 with a few of the XXIV Association members, I found the plaque that confirmed those facts.  It made me think because at that time we had lost some 300 in Afghanistan and the British public was getting uneasy about that war by then.  I wondered how the British public would have reacted to news about the failed offensive of 1 July 1916?  I guess in those security-conscious days they probably didn’t hear about it for months!

I also walked the lines of the graves in Thiepval’s Anglo French Cemetery, where I found the headstone to a young boy who died at the age of 18.  I would not have known that he was the Headboy and Captain of the First XI Football team of Hereford Public School had I not read the account left by his school.  A party from Hereford school apparently lays poppies at his headstone on Remembrance Day every year.  I wondered how his enthusiasm to join up must been effected when reality confronted him.

Why have I spent so much time proposing that you visit these sobering Memorials if you have not already done so?  I am not entirely sure, except that it made me feel lucky that I was not born 120 years ago and very lucky that my whole RAF career had been served without exposure to anything like the Battles of the Somme.

I came away from these visits (and from an earlier visit to the Menin Gate) hugely conscious of the need for Politicians to consider their options incredibly carefully before they commit young men to war. It was interesting to me that this same sentiment was an instrumental element  of the impressive Speech made by Lt Col Matthias Fensterseifer, OC 2 Sqn of the German Air Force’s Richthofen Geschwader , when he made his Presentation during the Vin d’Honneur following the Inauguration of the Memorial to Major Lanoe Hawker on 11 Nov 2012.  And this, I guess, brings me neatly full circle!

Please give serious consideration to making a trip to visit Major Lanoe Hawker’s Memorial in Ligny-Thilloy the next time you are in France or, better still, join up with us on our visit in November this year.  And of course, we need a large contingent on the occasion of the 100th Anniversary in November 2016 of Major Hawker’s Final Flight in November 1916………

No matter what the reason that helps you decide to come with us, I am certain that you will find the journey very worthwhile – and the social dimension will be great fun too! It always is!

“Fair stands the wind for France!”

(Derived From “Agincourt” by Michael Drayton).

It would seem that Every Generation has to learn The Hard Way……..

WWI Aviation Book – The Sky Their Battlefield v II

09 March, 2015
The Sky Their Battlefield

The Sky Their Battlefield

Had a letter from Trevor Henshaw about his recently re-published WWI Aviation book, The Sky Their Battlefield II.

It remains a chronological listing of the air activity on all fronts on every day of the First World War. It is no longer just about enemy action – every part has been expanded, and accidents have been added with references to many Squadrons, including of course XXIV.

If your interested,  try this link to Trevor’s web site.

Major Hawker Memorial at Ligny-Thilloy – Upkeep

09 January, 2015


Hawker Memorial Overview

Hawker Memorial Overview


Hawker Memorial Close Up

Hawker Memorial Close Up

Here is a resume and update of some of the background work that has been taking place thanks to the efforts of our Chairman/President and the local people over in France.

Following the visit to Ligny-Thilloy for the ceremony on 11 November 2014,  a fair amount of pointing had fallen out of the brickwork on the Hawker Memorial and that some of the lettering had already become indistinct. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) were contacted to ask if they could send an expert to have a look at the memorial and advise what repairs, if any, were needed.

We received a holding reply, saying that someone from CWGC would inspect the memorial in due course. Meanwhile, they politely reminded us that, since the memorial had been privately erected and was not under the care and maintenance of CWGC, there would be a charge for any repairs which they carried out.

You will be pleased to know that they have given the memorial a clean bill of health. The CWGC expert had found the memorial to be in “near pristine” condition and that this was entirely due to work organised by our good friend the Mayor, Dominique Deleplace.

During the reception on 11 November, some of the visitng party had informally expressed concern to Dominique about the state of the memorial … but had no idea he would take remedial action so swiftly. The repairs and cleaning must have been done quite soon after the visit because everything had been completed by the time the CWGC inspector arrived only a fortnight later. Anyway, we are indebted to the Mayor for taking this initiative, which has saved the Association and Squadron a tidy sum.

We now have further corroboration, if any was needed, that the village attaches great importance to the Hawker Memorial.

Red Baron’s WWI German Fokker triplane rebuilt by flying enthusiast

14 November, 2014

A post that is a little bit topical at the moment, especially with a contingent of the Association over in France for the 11/11/11 commemoration.

Aviation enthusiast Paul Ford has built himself an exact replica of the Red Baron’s Fokker triplane. He spent endless hours, and £180,000 on the aircraft – and it’s now available for passengers to take part in mock dog-fights. The original Fokker Dr1 Dreidecker, a German World War One fighter plane, was made famous by Manfred Von Richtofen, ‘The Red Baron’. He downed at least 70 allied pilots until his death in 1918.


Hawker Memorial Remembrance Day Ceremony – 11/11/14

16 October, 2014
Aerial Combat

Aerial Combat

Hawker Memorial Remembrance Day Ceremony

Currently there are some 12 or so XXIV Sqn Association members, and one serving 24 Sqn Member, planning to participate in our annual visit to the Village of Ligny-Thilloy to pay our respects to Major Lanoe Hawker VC – the first OC 24 Sqn – and French victims of The Great War.

We will meet for a dinner in Arras during the evening of Monday 10 November.  We will then assemble by the War Memorial in the village for the Ceremony, which will commence at 1100 on Tuesday 11 November.  After the Ceremony, there will be convivial Celebrations with the Mayor and a lunch at a hotel in the town of Bapaume.

If  you would like to attend – or would like more information before making a decision, would you please contact me on the e-mail or telephone shown below.

Yours sincerely

Chas Whitaker, XXIV Sqn Association, Hawker Memorial Liaison Officer

E-Mail :
Mobile:  0044 (0) 7810 505059