Saturday, 15 August 2015

Recall 70 Years On from VJ Day

This year of 2015 has been a year of commemorations, being 800 years since the signing of the Magna Carta; 200 years since Waterloo'; 160 years since the ending of the Crimean War; 100 years since the start of the Great War and 70 years since the end of World War 2. 


Ten years ago (2005) the Village Hall, together with the History Group commemorated the end of WW2 by inviting the village veterans of that war to a Celebratory Lunch in the Village Hall. It is not known how many Eton Wick men and women served in the war time forces, although a very rough estimate of 130 is suggested. In the intervening 60 years many had moved away or died.

The occasion was largely financed by a National Lottery funded scheme known as 'The Home Front Recall United Veterans'. Fifty three ex-service persons attended the function which was kindly attended by Eton College Bursar; Commander Andrew Wynn R.N. (Retired) And the Eton Mayor Douglas Hill, also Lt. Col. M. L. Wilcockson, C.O. of the Eton College Combined Cadet Force. Many of the veterans had set up homes in Eton Wick after the war had ended, but all were now village residents, and all had served in the armed services during the conflict. All were given a souvenir book of their service titled 'Recall 60 years on'. Ten years later, in 2015, the History Group decided to present an evening; open to all; that depicted the Special Lunch and the veterans involved. Sadly many had died; become incapacitated, or were in nursing homes.

Very moving speeches had been made in 2005 and this is what prompted this article to place on record, and to serve as an appendix to the souvenir book of that year. For the follow-up event of 2015 invites were extended to 17 veterans, and 7 of these were able to attend. During the last ten years thirty four of the fifty three had died, and others found it no longer possible to attend.

Three weeks after the lunch celebration of 2005 a three day WW2 Exhibition was held in the village hall, largely due to the enthusiasm and experience of veteran John Denham. This was the third exhibition held in Eton Wick, with all of which John had been a co-organiser. The first ever was in 1977 and specifically to launch the book of the village history written by Judith Hunter, and this more than anything eventually led to the starting of the Eton Wick History Group. Sadly John has since died, but his legacy lives on. Catering for the three course lunch was organized by Mrs Margaret Everitt and her son Andrew, who were ably assisted by a team of volunteers. Margaret and Andrew also kindly provided the buffet food for the more recent History Group follow-up event.

During the 2005 lunch there were toasts and speeches by the Eton College Bursar, Commander Andrew Wynn R.N. (Retired) and by the Eton Mayor, Douglas Hill. We print here our written record of the Bursar's speech which is very slightly reduced where appropriate.

Speech by Commander Andrew Wynn LVO, RN (Retd.) at the Veterans' Dinner celebrating the 60th anniversary of VJ Day, 15th August 2005 

I spent eighteen years in the Royal Navy and traveled the world. The closest I got to a war, or anything like a war, was the 'Cold War' that thankfully never turned hot; but I was in the 'Cod War', serving in HMS APOLLO in 1973: I can remember coming on watch at 4.00 a.m. and finding waves higher than the bridge, and I can remember heavily built Icelandic gun boats ramming the thinly-plated frigates which were protecting British trawlers in waters we thought were open to all. But that was not the same as being in the way of bullets and high explosives or being in a world war.



My main sense is one of humility in standing in front of you like this, but I am honoured to do so. One of the most striking things, I think, in reading the book titled `Recall 60 Years On', is the roll call of places far and wide across the globe which resonates with the fame and deeds of British soldiers, sailors and airmen in global conflict: Dunkirk, Norway, Londonderry, Newfoundland, the Atlantic convoys, Gibraltar, Alexandria, Malta, the Mediterranean convoys, Cairo, Benghazi, Algeria, El Alamein, Tripoli, Sicily, Italy, Athens, Salerno, Anzio, Normandy, Belgium, Holland, Caen, Calais, Boulogne, Brussels, Arnhem, Bremen, Lubeck, Hamburg, Berlin, Dresden, Palestine, Assyria, Aden, Port Said, Trincomalee, the North West frontier, Malaya, Lahore, Chittagong, Calcutta, Poona, Madras, Quetta, Bombay, Rangoon, Singapore, Changi, Hong Kong, the Burma railway. You know them: you were there.


 The places where men and women with connections to Eton Wick served cover this kingdom from Portreath in Cornwall to Dover in Kent and Scapa Flow in the Orkneys. Looking further to Europe, North Africa and the Middle East and elsewhere, you can see that wherever there was action, there were men from Eton Wick on the land and sea or in the air, or in support of them.

You fought until Rommel left Africa; you forced up through Italy and then you fought through Normandy and on to Berlin. Of course the war did not end there: it is just as remarkable to see it reach from Eton Wick across the world to the Far East, India, Burma, Malaya, Singapore and Japan; and in fact you can see the footprints of those in this room, between 1939 and '45 right across the globe's land and oceans from East to West and North to South; and they all came back here to Eton Wick.

I was very much moved by the experiences that you had, what they meant to you, and the memories that you had and remembered with modesty: 'packing the belongings of aircrew who did not return'; 'serving in mine-sweeping trawlers in the North Sea'; 'malnourished, near-naked and amidst sickness

 and death these shadowy figures clung to life and hope'; 'an American tank very close to us exploded and blew my ambulance and me to pieces'; 'we were escorting convoys between Gibraltar and Malta which always meant three or four days of constant air attack'; 'this was the start of a wolf pack attack that took four days to fight off'; 'the stay there was mostly enjoyable apart from the funerals of numerous casualties for which I was paid a shilling extra'; 'we had to drink a pint of milk daily because we worked with acid'; 'she did find dodging buzz bombs not to her liking'; 'unfortunately, I had a further posting to a unit engaged in disposal of unsafe explosives'; 'the awesome sight of the number of dead and wounded on that beach' [Normandy, of course]; 'I was lucky on various occasions, being narrowly missed by enemy shells etc. and was witness to many fatalities'. One of you, before joining the Army, 'having helped repair damaged boats, found it exciting to take them to sea on trials, even though we often got machine gunned by German aircraft'; 'we finally left Palestine, after clearing up the dead when the Arabs and Israelis stopped fighting each other'; 'wrapping the dead in blankets and stacking them on top of one another'; 'after walking fifteen hundred miles en route to a POW Camp near Berlin we decided to escape, chose the wrong house to call on and entered the home of a German policeman'; 'I spent a long time in Egypt —four and a quarter years'; 'I read of the sinking of the ROYAL OAK and wondered who was in that ship'; I read of one of many veterans who, 'for three and a half years, worked under appalling conditions in constructing the notorious Burma railway'; one of you had 'vivid memories of moving the bodies of the congregation from the Guards' Chapel in London, after it had been hit by a flying bomb'. Hilly Hilliard there, his Mosquito was 'damaged in attacking a submarine but he made it home to base and landed without brakes and with just ten gallons of fuel left' — which is not much.


 I am going to pause at this point. Hilly had severely damaged the German U-boat, U-960, and I have a message here from the Captain of that German submarine: this is a message from Gunther Heinrich, the Commander of U-boat 960: he pays tribute to the Eton Wick veterans of World War II gathered here today; he writes: 'All warriors, friends and foes, experienced hard and tough times and yet sometimes there were happy times to remember from when they were fighting for their country.' He further says he wishes 'all the veterans an honourable and dignified day on
the 15th August at the Village Hall in remembrance of the end of the war; best wishes for a joyful get together'. He thanks the organisers of the event, and especially John Denham and Frank Bond for the booklet he received which depicts a record of the conflict. He also mentions that he and some of his crew of U-boat service pay tribute every 19th May, at the U-boat Memorial north of Hamburg, to the thirty-one men who were lost at sea when their U-960 was sunk in May 1944 in the Mediterranean. He quotes from a prayer called 'The Sailor's Grave': "Auf einem Seemansgrab, da bluhen keine Rosen" - 'There are no roses on a sailor's grave.'


A little more optimistically, I find in this book: 'I was on Luneburg Heath at the time the German generals signed the final surrender'; 'I was in Trafalgar Square on VE night'; 'back at Broken Furlong, work was resumed after a six year break'. I make no claim to voice my own experience of the passing horrors that you went through, but I do think I have at least some awareness of it. I was fascinated actually to find one physical connection between what all of you here did and the easier life I have led: George Wilson served in the fast and modern HMS ULSTER in 1944: she was still fast but she was not modern when I joined her as my first ship for navigation training in 1970.

I have no illusions about why it is that I have been able to have a life less threatened than yours: it is because of what your generation did in those dark years of '39 to '45. Of course, there has been conflict since then and probably you were involved: Korea, Malaysia, Suez, the Falklands, and Iraq, and now religious fanaticism; but it is nothing like '39 to '45 when the whole world suffered. That people like me have had a less troubled life is of your making. Memories fade and society moves on; babies born when man first walked on the moon will soon be grandparents; recently, at a school in Bexley in Kent, none of the pupils knew what the Battle of Britain was; and their teacher didn't know either. When one thinks that some, and I do mean some and only some - when one thinks of some young people in Eton Wick, one thinks more of vandalism than of a valuable contribution to society, and yet they have much more than you did when you were fourteen, when you went to work and then to war; but they can't take away the legacy of peace that you gained with your sacrifices, suffering and hardship.

I think this reunion is a wonderful achievement by those who thought of it and made it happen, and by you who are here. You have given me the privilege to stand here and take this opportunity, which I am very glad to take, to thank you on behalf of my generation and those following for what you and your generation have given us. I salute you and I thank you. I said a moment ago that they all came back to Eton Wick, but of course they did not all come back: Stanley Bond, Alfred Brown, Clifford Chew, William Farmer, Thomas Flint, William George, Richard Hood, Thomas McMurray, William Pardoe, Walter Pates, Alfred Prior, and George Prior did not come back, and some who did come back are not with us today. I will ask you to stand, once again, and drink to absent comrades.

A message from Commander Andrew Wynn which was read to the audience on  8th July 2015 after the film of the 'Recall 60 Years On' event:

I was very touched to be reminded about the 'Recall 60 Years On' that was arranged in 2005, and to be told that the speech that I had the honour of making on that special occasion is to get a second hearing at this evening's meeting of the History Group. It is sobering to think that ten years have passed since then. It was such a pleasure then to see so many Second World War veterans from Eton Wick, and in the 60th anniversary year of VJ Day to speak in their praise and to thank them. Now we are near the 70th anniversary, and Old Father Time has been at work as he always has and always will. So the veterans with you are fewer than in 2005. But our debt to them, and to the spirits of their comrades who have gone ahead of us, is every bit as great now as it was 10 years ago. I would like to congratulate the History Group on making sure that the memory of the hardships and sacrifices faced by so many in the Second World War still stay alive.

I salute the surviving veterans of Eton Wick. Those who have died, let us remember in the words of the imperishable Royal British Legion Exhortation: "They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old. Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them."

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