On the 7th of December 2014 some 50 current IX(B) Squadron members departed their home at RAF Marham aboard 2 coaches, bound for Belgium and France. Initial plans were for the entire Sqn to go, however the current climate meant that this could not happen. Following arrival at Ypres and checking in to the hotel, a few folk ventured out into the beautiful City of Ypres to sample some of the local food and culture.
Please click on any of the pictures for a larger view.
The morning of the 8th Dec found us up early and on the coaches once more, bound for St Omer, a quiet little aerodrome where 100 years ago that very day, number IX Squadron was formed.
The Sqn members took the time to meet some of the association members and gathered foreign dignitaries, exchanging stories, laughs and memories.
Then the ceremony began, led by Padre (Wg Cdr) Ashley Mitchell, who had driven out from RAF Marham to conduct the act of remembrance.
The assembled guests then braved the weather to go outside and watch the flypast, conducted by our colleagues from 31 Sqn. Despite the rainstorms and terrible visibility, the superb flypast was exactly on time and location!
We then gathered around the beautiful memorial at St Omer, where wreaths were laid on behalf of the Sqn, the association and the local community.
Where it all began for so many Squadrons
We then retreated to the warmth and the dry of the hangar, for the presentation ceremony. VCDS made a passionate speech, during which he tested the ability of his French translator to the limits and beyond!
And also greatly amused the audience!
Following a speech by the mayor of St Omer, OC IX(B) Sqn then bravely delivered his speech in French! Which despite being interrupted by spontaneous applause when the mayor opened a print given to the town by the Sqn association, was well received.
Afterwards, executive transport was laid on for certain guests to return to their busy jobs back in the UK.
Whilst a buffet lunch was served for the rest of us, it was nice to see that the Sqn had not forgotten its roots in St Omer! Pride of place above the Flying Club bar…..
After lunch, the Sqn and the association both departed St Omer, destined for the nearby Mendinghem Military Cemetery, where the graves of 22 IX Sqn members are located. Crosses were laid on all the graves and wreaths were laid on behalf of the association and the Sqn on the memorial stone.
The setting sun provided some peaceful reflection time.
It was a truly humbling experience to see so many graves, both named and unnamed. None more so than for Sgt Andrew Jenkins of IX(B) Sqn, who by chance happened on the grave of a Second Lieutenant A. Jenkins, RAF.
Subsequent investigation revealed that he was an observer with 7 Squadron, flying RE8’s when he was shot and killed by an enemy fighter in 1918. His pilot, Second Lieutenant Rose was also shot and injured, but managed to land the stricken aircraft back at their home base.
We then returned to Ypres to prepare for the last post ceremony, held every night under the Menin Gate at 2000. This tradition has been going on for some time now as can be seen below.
The crowds assembled and the buglers sounded the last post. The acoustics under the Menin Gate were incredible to say the least. For me personally, this was the highlight of the trip, bringing to an end a truely memorable day. There was no need to explain the history of the Menin Gate, as it is written on every wall.
The next day saw the Sqn visit the cemetary at Tyne Cot, the Canadian memorial at Hill 62 and the trenches and museum as Sanctuary Wood.
Spotted at Sanctuary Wood was this poster
I wonder if this tempted any of our former members into service……
It only remains for me to say a very big thank you to Gp Capt Alfie Ferguson for organising the association side of the trip and SEngO and WO IX(B) Sqn for organising the Sqn side of it.
On behalf of both the Sqn and the Association, we wish you all a very merry Christmas and a wonderful new year.