Sell-out concert celebrates RNAS centenary
Music and verse soared from the Fleet Air Arm Memorial Church on Thursday, 19 June, as HMS Heron’s Volunteer Band led a Centenary celebration of the Royal Naval Air Service including a commemoration of the start of World War 1.
The concert - “On Eagles’ Wings” - featured traditional band music, World War 1 compositions and marching medleys, the Last Post and Sunset, and finished with the audience joining in for a stirring, Union Flag waving, rendition of ‘Rule Britannia’ and the Royal Navy’s official march, ‘Heart of Oak’. The Memorial Church, also known as St Bartholomew’s Church, Yeovilton, was packed with serving personnel, veterans and many of the local community. The Trustees’ Fund that is responsible for maintaining the fabric of the Church befitted from approximately £1,000 that was raised by the event.
The evening started with the Reverend Martin Evans Royal Navy, Chaplaincy Team Leader at the Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton and Chaplain of St Bartholomew’s, presenting donations from the Church to 7 local charities: the Dorset & Somerset Air Ambulance; the Story Book Waves Project; St Margaret’s Hospice; the Weldmar Hospice; the Somerset Community Foundation; the Bournemouth Churches Housing Association; and the Chaplaincy Mission.
The concert then began with a rousing performance of ‘Salute to a Hero’ by Philip Sparke. Band Colour Sergeant Dave Edwards led the acclaimed and talented all-volunteer band through an evocative and lively repertoire of music. The music was interspersed with often poignant readings of verse associated with World War 1 and the sacrifices made by those who never made it ‘back to base’. During the interval, the audience enjoyed a ploughman’s supper and refreshments. The supper was subsidised by generous donations from the Ilchester Cheese Company and Barber’s Farmhouse Cheesmakers of Ditcheat.
Julie Halford, a retired Royal Navy Warrant Officer and the Church Custodian, masterminded production of the authoritative printed programme for the Concert. It included a description of the history of the Memorial Church that, when unsafe and no longer used as a parish church, was purchased in 1992 by the Royal Navy for £1. The Church was then restored; reopening as the Feet Air Arm’s Memorial Church in November 1993. The origins and history of the Royal Naval Air Service, the forerunner of the Feet Air Arm, was also featured. Formally established on 1 July 1914, the Royal Naval Air Service - the Air Arm of the Royal Navy - distinguished itself throughout World War 1 with the award of the Victoria Cross to 2 illustrious aviators and many other decorations and Battle Honours. The Fleet Air Arm Memorial Church houses the 6 volumes of the Fleet Air Arm Roll of Honour and the concert programme included the names of all the personnel known to have died whilst serving in or with the Royal Naval Air Service up to 28 June 1919 when the Treaty of Versailles was signed ending the war between Germany and the Allied Powers. The list includes over 900 names although there are inevitably omissions for which no historical data exists.
At the end of the concert, the Commanding Officer of RNAS Yeovilton, Commodore Jock Alexander, thanked the audience for attending, paid tribute to the band and the key organisers from the Chaplaincy and the congregation of St Bartholomew’s. The Reverend Martin Evans said,
"This has been an emotional evening; a mixture of remembrance and celebration. We have paid tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice but also recognised the remarkable achievements of the Royal Naval Air Service a century ago".