216 Squadron – Dedicating the new Memorial
You may recall a little while ago that a request was circulated around the Company on behalf of 216 Squadron who were one our of Affiliates for many years before disbanding. Their Association was collecting to raise funds to make and install a memorial to those who served and those who died in the line of duty. I am pleased to say that they reached their goal and on 2nd April 2022, from both personal donations including my own and some from individual Fuellers and also our Charitable Trust Fund.
My family and I arrived at the National Memorial Arboretum on a crisp morning with thick coats at the ready. We partook of refreshments in the Aspects building, a large yet cosy and peaceful function area. After a short time we walked among those present to the area of the Arboretum where the memorial had been erected only the day before. One of the first to arrive, the quiet sight of the memorial, by sculptor Matthew Lane Sanderson Ma AWG, took my breath away. An eagle grasping a water droplet within which is a bomb. The eagle representing the RAF, the water droplet representing provisions and supplies brought in by 216, and the bomb to signify their time as a bomber squadron.
The Squadron was formed in 1918 in France and originally operated 0/400 Handley Page open cockpit bi-plane bombers. The inter war years saw them delivering mail and freight as well as route-proving and survey work throughout North and West Africa. In 1941 216 Squadron transported the SAS on their first ever operation SQUATTER and a few years later in 1944 worked on detachment in Burma supporting Chindits where in three months the Squadron dropped more than 600 tons of supplies, carried 7,200 passengers and evacuated 500 casualties. 216 Squadron was the first military jet squadron receiving the Comet C Mk2 in June 1956 and the C Mk4 February 1962. The squadron reformed on 1st November 1984, flying the Tristar aircraft as a result of the Falklands War. In the course of the Tristar era, the Squadron was awarded Battle Honours for ‘Gulf 1991’, ‘Kosovo 1999’, Afghanistan 2001-14’, ‘Iraq 2003-11’ and ‘Libya 2011’. The Squadron was disbanded on 31st March 2014, before being reformed on 1st April 2020 as a swarming drone experimental Squadron.
There were many present both from 216 Squadron in days gone by and friends and supporters as they formed a semi circle around the Memorial for the short service of dedication. The Padre welcomed us and after we had sung a rather moving ‘I vow to The My Country’ with accompaniment, spoke about the Squadron, in particular remembering a 216 Squadron crew that had died one this day some years ago. There followed a reflection by Air Vice-Marshal Paul Atherton OBE, who had been our Affiliates link with the Fuellers. He explained that a time capsule containing all the names of donors, including our family name and the Fuellers, were within the capsule that was being inserted into the base of the Memorial and sealed by an inscribed plate, resting there for perpetuity. One this had been placed, we stood for the last post and a minutes silence. Finally, the Padre gave a blessing before the Departure.
We lingered while photographs were taken to record the day, including being invited into a photograph with Paul Atherton as The Fuellers, before taking a short walk through the nearby RAF Memorials and returning to the Aspects Buildings for Refreshments. We had been invited to join in the evening dinner but were only able to join for the day. Ahead of the evening meal, the Chairman of the 216 Association announced that the sculptor had also created a smaller version of the Memorial, but no less impressive, about a foot high, which was going to be auctioned at the evening dinner and those not able to stay were invited to submit sealed bids. Meanwhile we had very interesting chats about the Squadrons current work, as a small group of 8 or so personnel working with drones before reminiscing about Beer for the Boys which we personally supported having invited their representative to our WWII Revue, ‘Don’t Forget Your Gas Mask’ through our local Am Dram where we had a collection each night for the cause.
After lunch, my family and I walked around the Arboretum and took in the many different Memorials from each of the services and for many different conflicts and units. One that particularly struck me was the sight of sparkling gold poles through the trees, gleaming in the sun looking rather out of place. As the path lead to the area I realised that the poles were those that you would find on a Carousel, depicting the corners of an area of remembrance. Approaching the Memorial, there was a beautifully painted and highly polished Carousel horse next to the plinth detailing the Showmen who left fairs and circuses in the service of their country, from all over the country, and who did not return. Such a strikingly peaceful and innocent sight amongst so much neutral stone and so many silent trees. Nearby, the WWI Memorial ‘Shot At Dawn’ to commemorate the 306 British Army and Commonwealth soldiers executed after courts-martial for desertion and other capital offences.
In contrast, rounding the final corner of the Polish Memorial before walking through the vast area of beautifully cut grass and striking daffodils, lined with memorials to the army, tank divisions and bomb clearance personnel back to where we started. A peaceful, beautiful, emotional place. I will carry the day with me for a very long time to come.
By Master Fueller, Carrie Marsh