by Warrant Officer Shobha Earl.
I was very privileged to represent the City of London Squadron Association members and join 600 squadron personnel during the Sqn’s annual memorial visit to Rotterdam.
This visit commemorates the six aircraft of 600 Squadron who on 10 May 1940 were sent to support Dutch forces during the German invasion of Holland. German fighter aircraft to the south of Rotterdam intercepted the mission and five of the six aircraft were shot down resulting in the death of seven 600 squadron aircrew members including the commanding officer.
I met up with 600 squadron personnel at the Harwich ferry port on Tuesday 2 May 2017, we travelled on the overnight ferry and thankfully had a smooth crossing, so slept soundly. It was great to see the familiar faces of the project officer – Flt Lt Alisa Rebbeck, ICT – WO Don Meechan, Adjutant – FS Vicky Bannister, Trg Co-ord – Sgt Derek Jelley and Ops Flt – Sgt Angie Luddington.
The ‘old and bold’ who I know so well from my 10 years serving on 600 Sqn were accompanied by 4 more recent joiners to the squadron. I was delighted to meet with and get to know personnel from Int Flt – SAC Robin T’ung and SAC Steve Wignall, Logs Flt – LAC Eddie Armstrong and Admin Flt – LAC Millie Popova. Media support was provided by photographer SAC Rob Bourne of 7644 Sqn. The sqn folks were great company, a wonderful mix of characters from different backgrounds and employment in civilian life, their contribution to the visit made this a memorable occasion for me.
3 May 2017 – Day 1
We arrived early morning at the Hook of Holland ferry port on Wednesday 3 May 2017 and were fortunate to have a smooth traffic free drive to the Marine barracks in Rotterdam. We unloaded our heavily laden minibuses of kit, No 1 uniforms, shoes, hats, ceremonial gloves & webbing, the boxed wreaths and much more… phew! Vicky Bannister had brought a kettle and I supplied brew making kit, so, the girls were comfortable knowing we could start the day with a cuppa in the accommodation, which was to be our home for the next 3 days.
Once unpacked, we were quickly organised by Alisa Rebbeck and Don Meechan, they commenced rehearsals for each wreath laying ceremony and the vignette readers had the opportunity to practice the words to be recited over the next few days.
By 1200 on Day 1 we were dressed in ceremonial best blues and departed for our first ceremony at Waalhaven. We visited the site whereby on the morning of 10 May 1940 six Blenheim 1F fighter-cruisers from 600 Sqn had been directed from Manston. Sadly, they did not reach Waalhaven, German Messerschmitt Bf-110s of 3/ZG1 intercepted the planes over Pernis. Five of the six aircraft were shot down; the crew killed in the four Blenheims that day were:
Commanding Officer Sqn Ldr Wells and Cpl Kidd
Fg Off Moore and Cpl Isaacs
Plt Off Anderson and LAC Hawkins
Plt Off Echlin.
Surviving to fight another day were:
Sgt John Davis, the navigator on board the Commanding Officer’s aircraft. He managed to evade capture and escaped on board HMS Hereward.
Flt Lt Hugh Rowe, the pilot on board Plt Off Echlin’s aircraft. He was badly burned on impact and treated for severe burns before being taken PoW by the Germans.
The 5th Blenheim flown by Plt Off Haine and Plt Off Kramer crashed at Herkingen.
The sixth plane flown by Fg Off Hayes and Cpl Holmes escaped with heavy damage but made it home to Manston.
Our wonderful friend of 600 Sqn and the City of London Squadron Association – Kees Stoutjesdijk will be well known to many of you, he was once again our Dutch host this year and without him working behind the scenes these visits would be a logistical nightmare to organise. Kees was waiting at Waalhaven for our arrival and as per previous visits, he kindly translated and made introductions between us, the local mayor and other dignitaries of Waalhaven district.
Following the wreath laying by Steve Wignall at the Waalhaven plaque. We concluded this ceremony and all the other ceremonies over the next 2 days with an extract from Laurence Binyon’s poem ‘For the Fallen’
They shall grow not old, As we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, Nor the years contemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.
Unfortunately, the UK wet weather had followed us to the Netherlands, so once the memorial ceremony was concluded we were invited to shelter from the rain over a coffee reception with our hosts from Charlois municipality. Don Meechan read a vignette explaining what happened on that fateful day of 10 May 1940 at Waalhaven.
Information Panel Waalhaven
At 1530, we departed for Herkingen Harbour the site where the 5th Blenheim had crashed but the crew members survived and escaped from Holland on HMS Hereward.
At the plaque, Eddie Armstrong laid the 2nd wreath and a vignette was read by Robin T’ung.
4 May 2017 – Day 2
Dutch National Remembrance Day.
This is always the busiest day during these annual visits, so we started early at 0800 and headed for our first wreath laying at Piershil Cemetery, Korendijk District, where PO Robert Echlin is buried. We were generously hosted by the Mayor at the town hall before and after the wreath laying with coffee, cake and some delicious local specialty biscuits. A vignette was read by Steve Wignall and Robin T’ung laid the wreath.
600 Sqn members at Piershil Cemetery
At Piershil we also met the family of Fg Off Moore, his nephew Peter, niece Penelope and great nephew Sam travelled to Holland to participate in all the memorial ceremonies but in particular at Crooswijk Cemetery where Fg Off Moore is now buried. Fg Off Moore and LAC Hawkins were not identified at the time of the crash in 1940 and were buried as ‘unknown British pilots’ near the airfield. The Germans later moved the graves to Crooswijk cemetery due to concern over the reverence being paid to them by the local population.
Family of Fg Off Moore, Peter, Penelope & Sam
Another long-standing friend of 600 Sqn and local Dutch historian – Hans Onderwater painstakingly researched British archives for many years to establish the identity of the unknown airmen. Once identification was confirmed in 1981 Fg Off Moore and Cpl Isaacs were given new headstones and moved to the Allied War Casualties plot at Crooswijk.
Crooswijk Wreath Laying Party
600 Sqn were invited to participate in another local remembrance ceremony at the Crooswijk Cemetery. The Sqn contingent marched to the Allied War Casualties Memorial and Don Meechan laid a wreath. The cemetery is serene and beautifully maintained for which we are thankful.
On arrival at Crooswijk Cemetery we conducted wreath laying for Sqn Ldr Wells, Fg Off Moore, Cpl Kidd and Cpl Isaacs. Fg off Moore’s family laid flowers by his gravestone. Vicky Bannister read a vignette retelling the events of 10 May 1940.
Wreath laying Crooswijk
We moved onto our final destination for the Remembrance Day, a Church service at Dorpskerk Spijkenisse followed by a slow march through the town to participate in the Act of Remembrance at 2000 hours. A white floral tribute and the Association wreath were laid at The War Memorial, Vredehofstraat Spijkenisse.
March to PO Anderson & LAC Hawkins graves
Following the Mayor’s speech, we sang the Dutch and British National Anthems and hymn ‘Abide with me’ The last post and a 2-minute silence was concluded with the final wreath laying at the graves of Plt Off Anderson, LAC Hawkins and an unknown Dutch soldier. This was a wonderful poignant occasion and I felt privileged to participate in this ceremony and very honoured to lay the City of London Squadron Association wreath.
Wreath Laying at Spijkenisse Cemetery
5 May 2017 – Day 3 Dutch Liberation Day
Allied Forces at the 5 May 2017 Concert
Each year the Dutch hold a concert to celebrate their freedom and this year they wanted to say thanks to the Allied Forces who came to help them during WWII. 600 Sqn were selected to participate in the event and parade alongside representatives from all the other allied nations. It was a proud moment for Robin T’ung to be selected to carry the Union Jack on behalf of all British Military Forces.
King Willem-Alexander & Queen Maxima
This will be an unforgettable visit for all involved,
but the final day especially so for Alisa Rebbeck. As the senior officer, responsible for the 600 Sqn contingent in Holland this year, Alisa was selected to meet King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands, an honour few Dutch will have experienced let alone a Brit! So, congratulations to Alisa she deserved to be selected to meet Dutch Royalty in recognition of all the effort she has contributed not only organising the 2017 trip but also many previous visits too.
This visit is a timely reminder as to why it is so important for the City of London Squadron Association to maintain close links with 600 (City of London) Sqn and for squadron personnel to get to know Association members as we have so many shared interests and goals for the future.