I’ve sometimes been accused of only writing a rant. This is patently not true as those who have followed my scribblings for the last year will testify. I try not to rant all the time, but this world makes me see it’s injustices and what it’s coming to. Statement over.
On 16th August 1943, Flying Officer Baron Jean De Selys Longchamps DFC was returning from a sortie over Oostende in his 3(Fighter) Squadron Hawker Typhoon when he was set upon by German fighters and badly shot up, just as he was approaching his home base of RAF Manston in Kent. He crashed landed and the tail of his aircraft broke up killing him:
He was well known for a) being a member of the Belgium aristocracy who escaped to England from the French Vichy government after being interred and b) shooting up the Gestapo headquarters in Brussels in January 1943. There is still a plaque on the wall of that building commemorating his exploit. He joined the RAF (after lying about his over-age, remarkably his 28 years at the time was considered too old), learnt to fly and became an ace pilot.
‘Wings Of Memory’ (www.wingsofmemory.be) who are based in Belgium, commemorate Belgians world wide who may have been forgotten about, and who fought in both world wars. I was invited by them to take part in a ceremony on August 16th to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Baron’s demise. In attendance would be senior Belgium air force officers and representatives from the family of the Baron and the Belgian Embassy in London. Of course I accepted straight away and was proud to represent the squadron the Baron was on when he died. I also represented the 400+ members of the 3(Fighter) Squadron Association, of which I am chairman. The whole thing was organised by Wings of Memory in conjunction with the Minster Royal British Legion branch and was held at the cemetery in Minster-in-Thanet in Kent.
Me accompanying an air cadet to lay a wreath from 3(F) Squadron at the headstone
BBC TV South and Kent local radio were in attendance and a member of the squadron at the time, and a great friend of the Baron, 92 year old Bob Barckley was interviewed for radio KMFM:
There was also this page on the BBC News web site:
The whole event was carried out with great dignity, and it was interesting to hear from the Baron’s relations and what they remember of him. Some were not even born when he died, but his life had a lasting impression on the whole family.
A selection of views from the day: top left; the marquee for the guests, top right; the headstone of Baron Jean de Selys Longchamps DFC, bottom left; the wreath laid by 3(F) Squadron Association, bottom right; the goat mascot of 609 Squadron*
* The goat is William de Goat, Mascot of 609 Sqn and written that way because it was a young Belgian Pilot, Vicki Ortmans who introduced him. William is Air Commodore DSO DFC, the Mascot of 609 (West Riding) Sqn. 609 was Jean de Selys first Sqn, and he was on that sqn at the time he attacked the Brussels Gestapo. Thanks to Omer Vanden Bosch (Boomer) for this information.
There were flypasts from an RAF 3 Sqn Typhoon, and two Belgium F-16s fighter jets. The proposed flypast by a Hurricane from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight was cancelled presumably due to the weather. Wreaths were laid by various groups, including the family, the Belgian air force, Belgian Embassy, the Royal British Legion and many others. There were many moving speeches and anecdotes, and the Squadron standard was paraded by the standard party of 3(Fighter) Squadron. The whole event went off with military precision. Afterwards we were all invited to the Royal British Legion in Minster for a drink and a buffet. They laid on a magnificent spread and many new friendships were forged. Presentations were made to various organisers who enabled things to happen, like the fly-pasts and the erection of the marquee and many other incidentals without which the event would not have gone ahead. I sat and chatted with Bob Barckley who remarkably had come all the way from North Wales to attend, travelling the 200+ miles by taxi! He was determined to get there, despite the distance and his age, and thoroughly enjoyed the whole day. As is usual for people who were in the war, he is totally unassuming about his role during the conflict. He flew with 3(F) Squadron and it’s Typhoons (the piston engineered variety, not the modern jet!) and was one of the pilots who destroyed V1 doodlebugs in that very fast aircraft. In fact one technique was to flip the wing of the V1 with his own wing, which upset the gyroscope within the machine and caused it to crash harmlessly. A modest, self-effusive man and one of many we should all be grateful for.
So after the farewells and handshakes it was off home. It was quite an experience, and one that shall stick in my memory for some time. That we still commemorate the exploits of those who fought and died so many years ago is testament to the esteem in which they are still held. It can’t be underestimated what a profound effect winning the 2nd world war has had on particularly this country, even after 68 years. If it had gone the other way, it doesn’t bear thinking about how our world would have ended up. We may not have a perfect existence, but due to men like Flying Officer Baron Jean De Selys Longchamps DFC and his ilk, we sure have one that is better than the alternative.