Fourteen personnel of ACS participated in a Force Development (FD) day combining a visit to St Clement Danes Church, completing the Battle of Britain Heritage Walk and visiting the Imperial War Museum.
At St Clement Danes Church, the church of the Royal Air Force, we were informed that the first church to be built on the site was built by the Danes living nearby in the 9th century. The building there today, originally designed by Sir Christopher Wren and completed in 1682 was badly damaged by enemy action in 1941 and was rebuilt by the RAF in 1958 to become its spiritual home. The church itself is quite amazing from the outside as it seems to sit gracefully on the busy Strand, with the main entrance flanked by statues of the Marshal of the Royal Air Force ‘Bomber’ Harris and Air Chief Marshal Lord Dowding.
Inside the church, the architecture and décor are as equally breathtaking. The floor of the church is made from Welsh slate and is inscribed with over 800 crests of RAF Stations, Groups, Commands and Squadrons. Some attendees found crests of their previous stations and squadrons. There then followed a humbling moment as we were shown the ten books of remembrance listing the names of those RAF personnel who have died in service, especially as it was highlighted that the tenth book remains open. It was moments like this that highlighted the individual and collective bravery of our RAF personnel and all members of our services and those of other nations. As the tour of the church neared its end we learnt of a small piece of trivia knowledge, St Clement Danes Church is said to be the church depicted in the nursery rhyme ‘Oranges and Lemons’…and the bells do indeed play that tune.
We commenced the Battle of Britain Heritage Walk from the church, moved down onto the Embankment and along to Parliament Square. There are numerous monuments and statues along this route and each member of the visit had been given one to research and deliver back to the group as a stand. This was a nervous part of the day for some, but everybody supported each other and much learning took place. OC ACS started proceedings talking on Lord Dowding, followed by FS Dave Stott talking about ‘Bomber Harris’. Then it was onto the Victoria Embankment Gardens where stands were given on the Imperial Camel Corps and General Sir James Outram. We then moved to MOD Main Building Whitehall, where FS Stu Pullar delivered an excellent ‘stand’ on the Ghurkha Soldier. He recounted stories of bravery and courageous acts and cited a personal account of his own contact with an injured Ghurkha Soldier, who when told on returning to his homeland that his mother had died, all he wanted to do was to go back into battle with his unit and support his comrades. There were many more as each member of the visit delivered their stands, battling with the noise of traffic, sirens and even other members of the public who decided to tag along. The walk was concluded with a delivery from Sgt Nigel Rafferty on Sir Winston Churchill in Parliament Square.
A short walk led to the Imperial War Museum, initially opened in 1920 to collect and display items relating to the Great War. After the Second World War its terms of reference were changed to include exhibits from both world wars and all military operations in which Britain or the Commonwealth have been involved since 1914. There was so much to see including exhibits on Special Operations, The two world wars, the large exhibits of weapons, military vehicles, aircraft and sea vessels. But the most provocative part was the Holocaust exhibition where historical material is used to tell the story of the Nazis’ persecution of the Jews and other groups during the Second World War. Through graphic photography, personal letters and documents, newspapers and artefacts the exhibition tells the story of the rise of the Nazi party and antisemitism and how it eventually led to the so called ‘Euthanasia’ policies in 1939. The final part of the Holocaust exhibition is a ‘white room’ with a model of the concentration camp at Auschwitz. When walking through the room there is a deep feeling of sadness and emotions. There were many people present from different ethnic backgrounds and nationalities and the rawness could be felt by all.
The day provoked great thought and discussion afterwards which is something that helps our people develop. If our heritage shapes us into what we are, Force Development tries to maximise our potential by helping us to understand these lessons and to ensure this knowledge can be applied for the future.