Battle Of Britain Memorial Day Capel Le Ferne

Jan Leeming

Shoreham 2007

Shoreham Airshow 2007
Me looking brave before taking to the air (and the wing) of the plane. Wow, it was cold !! But the whole experience was totally exhilarating.

 

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Computers and the internet are amazing things. One of my concerns with putting together this site was that it could remain current, yet with all my travelling I've often much to say, but little time to say it. Years ago when reading the news it would take me days on end to reply to the kind letters people sent. Now, with the magic of the modern age, I can keep you up to date with what I'm doing and other events in my life.

BATTLE OF BRITAIN MEMORIAL DAY - CAPEL-LE-FERNE

Date: 11th July 2010

 

BATTLE OF BRITAIN - 70TH ANNIVERSARY

Where does one begin?  This was my fourth year of attending the Battle of Britain Memorial Service and Lunch and, of course, this year was extra special it marking the

70th Anniversary of the commencement of the Battle which raged from 10th July through to 31st October 1940 which marked the official end to the Battle, though not, of course to the hostilities which continued until 1945. But it was those few months in 1940 which were to make Hitler realise that an invasion of our country would not succeed.

The Memorial -a pilot sitting on a propeller boss surrounded by the badges of the Allied Squadrons  and other units that took part in the Battle of Britain - was erected in 1993 and the official unveiling was carried out by the late Queen Mother.  The blades of the propeller are set into the ground - the memorial must look superb from the air - it is imposing enough at ground level.

In 2005, Prince Michael of Kent unveiled  the black granite Foxley-Norris wall - carrying the names of around 3000 pilots and aircrew who lost their lives in World War 11. (Air Chief Marshal Sir Christopher Foxley Norris, a Hurricane pilot in the Battle of Britain, was the first President of the Battle of Britain Memorial Trust. He and Lady Foxley Norris  provided the funds for the building of the Wall)  It is sponsorship which pays for the upkeep of the Wall and I was very surprised to read that so far there are only 450 sponsorships. (Sponsorship forms can be obtained from the Hon. Sec of the Fund - 01732 870809 or by emailing battleofbritain@btinternet.com.  You could be a sponsor for as little as £30 - hardly the price of a meal for two!)

As Patron of the Battle of Britain Memorial Trust, it was Prince Michael of Kent who honoured us by his visit today.  There is a rumour that the Prince carries good weather with him - and we had the best weather of the four since I've attended.  The day could not have been bettered - hot and sunny with a slight breeze and the public turned out in droves. The BBC were there to record the even and the  public turned out in force. All around the Memorial grounds there was activity - the Re-Enactment groups are always a joy to see and talk with - I'll post some photos in my Gallery.

There were 500 guests today to sit down to lunch followed by the very moving Service.  I'm sad to say I rarely feel proud anymore of being British but today I did - there was a lump in my throat as I watched the old-stagers carrying their banners, the young cadets marching proudly (if a little out of step) and the placing of the wreaths on the monument. It was hoped that we would have a Fly-past of The Lancaster, Hurricane and Spitfire but in the event the Hurricane was missing.  However, it was wonderful to see the two planes etched against a perfect blue sky.  (Last year, the weather was dreadfully wet and windy and there was no Fly Past as it was too windy at RAF Coningsby for the Aircraft to take off)  So we were really blessed today.  And it is lovely to hear the Veterans recognising the sounds of the engines.   Later, after tea, there was the Sunset Ceremony and Beating Retreat.

Probably the most moving moment came for me at an additional unveiling next to the Foxley Norris Wall - it was a poem etched into the granite, not only composed but read by one of the Veterans, in his 90's, William L.B. Walker of 616 Squadron.  I simply cannot get the poem to transfer onto this site so, when I have more time, I'll type it out for you.

The veterans of the Battle are now very few in number - even  I have seen the numbers  dwindle over the last four years.  One of the Veterans and his wife knew, worked with and liked Rene Mouchotte, the first pilot I sponsored and I was pleased to see Wing Commander Neil and his wife at the ceremony again this year.  (I say the first pilot I sponsored because I've now done the same for Alexander Henry Pettet and Henry William Pettit. ) The former may well be a member of our family according to our 'archivist' Rita Pettet. And Henry might well be from another branch of the family.  The Pettets came to Kent in the mid 1500's and were well to do Yeoman farmers.  The original family home - a beautiful Elizabethan farm house is situated not far from Dover.  It is privately owned but I hope some day to be allowed to go inside.

I didn't realise how few of the names on the wall were sponsored so I can see myself sponsoring most of the French if they haven't already been.  I think there were about 12 French pilots who fought for us - remember how difficult it would have been for them to get out of occupied France and they wouldn't all have had the opportunity to steal a plane which Rene Mouchotte and Charles Guerin had.  By my reckoning there are eight French names on the Wall - four survived the war.  Wednesday 21st - I have just been contacted by Col. (Rtd.) Pierre-Alain Antoine (we've exchanged several emails though he was unable to attend the service on the 11th) who told me that there were in fact 13 French pilots who refused to Capitulate to the Germans.  A few survived the war and one is still alive Adj. H.G. Lafont.  How I would love to meet him.

Some exciting news - my attempts to have a documentary made about the life of Rene Mouchotte and his comrades met a brick wall.  I don't have friends in high places!

But spurred on by the great success and interest in the excellent documentary shown a few weeks ago on '303 Squadron' one of the two Polish Squadrons, I decided to have one more shot at getting Rene's story in print at least.  The Editor of the Features Section of the Daily Mail commissioned me to write 2000 words.  Did I burn the mid-night oil!  It would have been so much easier to have written 10,000 as I had so many notes compiled from my two readings of the diaries of Rene Mouchotte - published originally in French and translated into English and published in 1956.  They are a fascinating documentation of the feelings, fears, frustrations and ordinary life during his three years fighting for us.

Those of you who perhaps read my Blog regularly will know that I've mentioned him several times.  Anyway, I'll let you know when the article is printed.  And it's made me feel that I'll have another 'go' at getting a documentary off the ground.  It wouldn't be an expensive programme to make - lots of old footage and an exciting and human story - beats the endless repeats and reality shows.

On arrival at Capel the veterans are presented with a Blue Rose (a real one died a beautiful blue/my favourite colour).  One of them paid me the honour of presenting me with his Rose at the end of the afternoon.  I should have written down his name and am now badgering poor Janet Tootal (who with her husband  Group Captain Patrick Tootal) does such a superb job in organising so much which contributes to the success of the Battle of Britain Memorial Day.  If anyone can locate my Veteran, she can.  And she has - he is  Flight Lieutenant Bill Green.

I have some very nice informal photos of Prince Michael of Kent but protocol dictates that I must get approval before I can use them - so if the Prince is happy I shall bring you a photo of Commander Neil (who knew Rene) and the Prince.  Meanwhile I have to get up very early to go to Genoa.  Those lovely people at Sacla have invited me down to the Factory in Genoa to see some of the process of their sauce making.  Well it's a good excuse for a good time.

Those of you old enough to remember a film (can't think of it's name) in which a girl sang 'With me it's all or nothing ...'  made me think of my life.  I'm either frantically busy or have a totally empty diary.  When I get back, there will be plenty to say about Sacla and Genoa, about seeing 'Hair' on Monday and perhaps eventually bringing you the full report of my fabulous few days in Florence.

I've just been given permission to use a photo of HRH Prince Michael of Kent talking with Wing Commander Neil - whom I met last year and who knew and worked with Rene Mouchotte.  (In the background is R.H. Hunting and they all look engrossed in the conversation)

 A Bientot and God Bless.  Jan

BATTLE OF BRITAIN MEMORIAL DAY - CAPEL-LE-FERNE

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