847 NAS Armistice Day in Ypres
Royal Navy personnel from 847 Naval Air Squadron Commando Helicopter Force, based at the Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton, in Somerset have been taking part in Armistice Day memorial services in the Belgium city of Ypres.
This year’s memorial service held at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing was all the more poignant as this year marked the 100th anniversary since the outbreak of the First World War.
A detachment of 14 personnel from 847 NAS paraded through the City of Ypres scene of some of the Great War’s worst fighting before joining representatives from other members of the Armed Forces from the UK and overseas, Cadet Association’s, Police & Fire Brigade staff from the UK and Belgium, Veterans Associations, The Royal British Legion, local dignitaries and members of the local communities and thousands of members of the general public in paying their respects to all those who gave their lives in the line of duty.
The Menin Gate Memorial located at the eastern exit of Ypres marks the starting point for one of the main roads leading out of town that led Allied soldiers to the front line. Inscribed with the words “To the armies of the British Empire who stood here from 1914 to 1918 and to those of their dead who have no known graves” the memorial commemorates the names of 54,896 Commonwealth servicemen who died on the Ypres Salient but whose bodies have never been identified or found.
POAET Thomas Fox who laid a wreath at the Menin Gate of behalf of 847 NAS said, “Taking part in these centenary celebrations has been a humbling experience, coupled with a sense of pride in representing 847 NAS and the Royal Navy on such a prestigious occasion.”
On completion of the service the squadron visited Tyne Cot Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery burial ground for the dead of the First World War in the Ypres Salient on the Western Front. Situated on the outskirts of Passendale West Flanders, it is the largest cemetery for commonwealth forces in the world for any war and contains the graves of 11,954 of which 8,367 are unnamed.
During the visit to Tyne Cot members of the 847 NAS contingent laid poppy crosses at the gravesides of members of the Royal Naval Reserve who are buried in the cemetery and alongside 11000 other Royal Naval personnel gave their lives on the Western Front during the Great War.
The final service of the day took place back in Ypres where every evening since 1928 the last post has been played under the Menin Gate memorial at 8 o’clock sharp, Armistice Day 11th November 2014 marked the 29759th time that the event last post parade has taken place.
LT Graham Blick Fire Station Officer RNAS Yeovilton reflecting on the Armistice Day events said, “It was an honour and privilege for 847 NAS personnel to be amongst fellow servicemen and women, both past and present, coming together in a unique bond and paying their respects to those who gave the ultimate sacrifice in defence of their country.” He added “It was especially moving to be in Ypres, scene of some of the Great War’s worst fighting where so many lost their lives and something that will stay in our memories for a very long time.”
For two of 847 Naval Air Squadron’s Air Engineering Technicians the trip to Belgium was all the more moving as they followed in the footsteps of their great grandfathers, who 100 years before them made the same journey under very different circumstances to see service on the front line.
AET Robert Harrop’s great grandfather William Harrop served in the Royal Pioneers during the early part of World War 1 he was awarded the Military Medal in December 1916 for actions in ‘no mans land’ he was later also mentioned in dispatches by Sir Douglas Haig.
On transfer to the Royal Flying Corps as an observer / gunner aboard the Airco DH9’s of 104 Squadron, he became a World War 1 flying ace with five aerial victories, he was later shot down and captured but later escaped. William Harrop went on to become a Squadron Leader serving his country again in World War 2.
AET Robert Harrop said, “Going back to where my great grandfather fought is a huge privilege and getting a chance to show my respect for all the brave servicemen and women who died in the Great War is an honour.”
Both of AET James Witton Great Grandfathers fought on the Western Front during the First World War.
2nd LT Geoffrey Witton MC served with the Sherwood Foresters and upon his later death in 1978 his name was commemorated on a brass plaque and placed in St Georges Church Ypres where he saw service during the First World War.
John Edwin Carrall was born in 1897 in York. He won a scholarship to Archbishop Holgate’s school in York, distinguishing in chemistry and mechanics. He was head boy and captain of the school sports. In 1915 he lied about his age to join up to fight as his elder brothers were doing, becoming a private in the Royal Fusiliers and sent to France. In 1916 he was chosen as officer material and sent to officer training school in Oxford, after which he was sent back to France as a 3rd Lieutenant bombing officer in the East Yorkshire Regiment.
Once he and his brothers found themselves on the same battlefield and were allowed to share a dugout but they were so tired they fell asleep.
In 1917, whilst fighting at Oppy Wood, near Arras, he offered to take the place of his friend to deliver a message up the line. His friend was a married man. John Edwin was never seen again. No remains were found and for years after his family expected him to walk through the door. His father who was in his late 50s enlisted in the Royal Army Medical Corps and went to France to search for his son.
John Edwin Carrall is remembered in York Minster, York cemetery memorial, the Arras Memorial, the Oppy village Memorial and in the church and school that he attended. He was 19 years old.
AET James Witton said, “It was a particularly moving experience following in the footsteps of my great grandfathers as they had given so much so unselfishly in the service of their country.” He added, “It was a proud moment for me to visit St Georges Church Ypres and my great grandfather Geoffrey Witton memorial plaque, to place a poppy beside it like my grandfather and father had done before me was a moving moment.”