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At 11 AM on September 11th, I was standing in a muddy field in France at the dedication ceremony of the British Air Services Memorial to the memory of the men who served in the Royal Flying Corps, Royal Naval Air Service and Royal Air Force in the First World War.
Many RAF squadrons connected with the airfield had sent representatives with standards and wreaths. The Mayor of St-Omer and other French and British dignitaries were in attendance, including Lord Trenchard, whose grandfather, Air Marshal Hugh 'Boom' Trenchard, commanded the British Air Services.
Also present was Henry Allingham, 108 years old and a former mechanic with the RNAS. I didn't get to speak to him, as whenever I approached he was being wheeled off somewhere, but apparently he was quite bemused by all the attention and kept insisting that he 'was only an erk'. When he stood up from his wheelchair to lay a wreath there cannot have been a dry eye in the house.
The ceremony took the form of a service by the Chaplain-in-Chief of the RAF. We stood for the Last Post, the Reveille and the National Anthems of both countries.
On the ground were aircraft from the Great War Air Display Team: a Nieuport (the silver one), an SE5-A (the green one) and a German plane I now think might be one of the Junkers C1s I saw at Biggin Hill (the, er, German one). They didn't fly, sadly, but as the memorial was unveiled a Spitfire flew over, and at the end of the ceremony four Jaguars, that beautiful symbol of Anglo-French cooperation, made a pass in two pairs.
From the service:
|Let us remember before God the deeds and example of all those who, whilst serving with the British Air Services, were called upon to serve their nation giving even their lives in the course of duty. May the fruits of their courage inspire us to live lives of honour, goodness, and self-sacrifice.||Rappelons-nous avant Dieu des exploits et de l'exemple de tous ceux qui, servant dans le British Air Services, étaient appelés à servir leur nation, renonçand même à la vie au cours de leur devoir. Espérons que leur courage va nous insuffler à mener nos vies avec de l'honneur, de la bonté et avec abnégation.|