Westminster Abbey A Service Of Thanksgiving And Rededication

Jan Leeming

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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.

WESTMINSTER ABBEY - A Service of Thanksgiving and Rededication

Date: 18th September 2011

Whatever I've done for the Battle of Britain Memorial Fund has been more than repaid in shovel fulls of wonderful experiences.

I counted myself extremely fortunate to be invited to the Service at the Abbey - a ticketed affair as so many wish to go.  I was giving a little help to the Veterans and their Wives which was, as always a pleasure.

Before the main ceremony the Dean, the Very Reverend Dr. John Hall, conducted a small ceremony in the RAF Chapel which is right at the back of the Cathedral.  I've only been to the Abbey once before when we took some Russian visitors and my purse was stolen.  It was so crowded that it was difficult to fully appreciate this wonderful building and I didn't know about the RAF Chapel.  It's well worth seeing.  Don't know which came first, the stained glass there or at Biggin but the top panels are exactly the same as in Biggin with the Angels holding the Squadron Badges. 

Do look up the provenance of the stained glass etc. it’s very interesting. When I went onto the Internet a query was answered for me. Whilst standing in the little chapel I wondered why there appeared to be a hole in the wall - it was damaged by bombs during the war and has been covered with glass and left as a reminder.

The Chapel is basically dedicated to those who died or were mortally wounded during the three and a half months which comprised what is called The Battle of Britain. (On the wall at Capel le Ferne, there are almost 3,000 names of those who took part in the Battle but didn’t necessarily die during the conflict)

I was interested to see a simple memorial plaque set into the floor dedicated to Frank Whittle the inventor of the Jet Engine. A friend of mine married the late Lord Kings Norton who was a great friend and supporter of Frank Whittle who had to fight to have his invention taken seriously. (It nearly went to America) Have a look on the Internet - it’s shameful that nothing is being done to mark the 70th Anniversary of Whittle’s invention of the Jet Engine. Why do we Brits play down our heroes?  And yet mark the 30th Anniversary of the Brixton Riots!!   Ridiculous.

The Dean was a delightfully approachable man and as we repaired to the Deanery for coffee I asked him about the Shrine to Edward the Confessor on which the Shrine to Thomas Becket was modelled. Although very large, the Shrine is almost hidden from view in a very dark spot at the back of the Abbey but it is impressive. (Also I share something with the Confessor - I was born on January 5th and that’s the date of his death - as Michael Caine would say - not a lot of people know that!)

At Coffee I was very interested in a portrait of a Queen who looked a little like Elizabeth 1st but far too pretty to be her. The Dean informed us that it was indeed a portrait of Elizabeth 1st which had been prettied up in the 18th Century but X-rays show the portrait underneath which is very definitely that of the Virgin Queen.

I felt extremely proud and honoured to be at the Service and very moved when the huge Roll of Honour of the Dead in the Battle of Britain was carried through the Abbey accompanied by six of the Veterans as well as currently serving members of the RAF.

The Sermon by the RAF Chaplain in Chief - the Venerable Raymond Pentland - was extremely interesting.  He got off to a good start with the tale of a young Chaplain giving the sermon on Battle of Britain Day who got through the whole address without mentioning the Battle. When queried afterwards he declared that ‘I wasn’t alive at the time so didn’t mention it’ - to which the response was ‘ it will be interesting to hear the sermons at Easter and Christmas’!

The whole service was very moving and afterwards we repaired for Drinks and to watch the Spitfire Flypast.

At the drinks I re-connected with the French Air Attaché and his wife whom I’d met at the Memorial Service and Lunch at Capel in July. He was only two days into Post then but I know he thoroughly enjoyed the occasion and was in heated discussion with Veteran Michael Wainwright and his wife who were on the same table at lunch.

After drinks it was rounding up the Veterans (like a lot of naughty schoolboys - as fast as you got them mustered to go to the coach, they wandered off to talk to someone else) and back to the RAF Club for lunch. I was fortunate enough to sit next to Geoffrey Wellum again (First Light) who at 90 has the enthusiasm for life of a man half his age.

And finally - Home. Not easy getting out of London because of a Cycle Race and the man on my Sat Nav was going giddy with all the turns I was making.

Have had a thoroughly lovely ten days - have spent almost a day writing up my blogs and exporting photos but there’s nothing on the horizon for the forseeable future. Couldn't take photos in Westminster Abbey but here is one from the Internet.  We tell visitors to Canterbury that Thomas Becket's shrine was modelled on that of Edward the Confessor and I'd often wondered what it looked like.  Apparently pilgrims knelt and prayed in the niches below the coffin.

So, until the next adventure. Au revoir, Jan 

WESTMINSTER ABBEY - A Service of Thanksgiving and Rededication

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