824NAS Battlefield Tour
Personnel from 824 Naval Air Squadron have taken an emotive and poignant journey to Belgiumand Northern France visiting some important battlefields of the 20th Century.
Setting off from Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose, the group ranging across ranks and rates had set an agenda that would be knowledgeable, provide an insight to all and pay respects to members of the Naval Service and Fleet Air Arm who died in two World Wars.
The first port of call was Tyne Cot cemetery in Belgium, the largest Commonwealth military cemetery in the world, containing almost 12000 British and Commonwealth soldiers. Additionally across the side of the cemetery the Tyne Cot Memorial inscribed with the names of more than 33000 men who have no known grave. “It’s a mesmerising sight,” said Leading Air Engineering Technician Chris ‘Crash’ Evans, who was part of the group. “Nothing can prepare you for the sight and the peacefulness of the cemetery; it brought home the horror of this War to the younger guys.”
After visiting the battlefields of Passchendaele and Zonnebeke they headed forYpresand the Menin Gate. The Menin Gate is one of four memorials to the missing inFlanderswhich has on its panel’s names of more than 54,000 officers and men who fell during WW1. Every evening throughout the year a ceremony is held to remember the dead and missing. Gathering at the memorial amongst hundreds, nine of the 824 NAS group listened as the Last Post sounded across its ancient cobbles, played by Buglers who carry on this tradition. Completed in silence the poignant ceremony hits home as the chill of the evening air brings a tingle to one’s senses.
Finishing off their journey through the Great War they moved onto the Flying Services Memorial in the town ofArras, and they lay a wreath on behalf of today’s Fleet Air Arm. The Memorial is adorned with the names of 1000 Airman, mostly Royal Naval Air Service who gave their lives fighting on the Western front.
Switching Wars and locations took the party next to the Normandybeaches and the town of Bayeux, 20 minutes away from the Operation Overlord Beaches. “We visited Omaha Beach the American beach immortalised in Spielberg’s film, ‘Saving Private Ryan, said Chief Petty Officer Jay O’Donnell QGM. “ It’s hard putting into words the feeling you get looking at the distances they would have had to cross to get into cover. We also stood on the British beaches, Gold, Juno and Sword, which equally stop you in your tracks at the sacrifices those Soldiers and Marines made in 1944.”
The final stop on the trip was the famousPegasusBridgeacross the River Orne, where on 5 June 1944 Gliders from the British Airborne Division landed near the city ofCaen. Under the codename Operation Tonga their Objective was to seize the bridge and delay any counter attack by the German towards the beaches. Purposefully crashed their gliders a matter a yards from the bridge, they caught the defending German by surprise andPegasusBridgewas taken in 10 minutes. However the operation also accounted for the first British fatality of the D-Day invasion.
This brought a memorable and moving end to a journey through the battlefields and sites of Northern France and Belgium for the sailors of 824 NAS who have taken away images that will stay with them for years to come.