Towards the end of a cloudless balmy June 5th afternoon, with barely a sound from the sleepy green of the Southwell Burbage where local residents watched, Air Cadets from 1359 BEESTON Squadron gathered under the shade of ancient oak trees to stand before the proud war memorial of the town. Along with colleagues from other squadrons in the northern sector of the South and East Midlands Wing, the cadets made ready to begin an act of homage to the Senior Service, the Royal Navy.
As the combined 40 cadets, 10 officers, Warrant Officers and Senior Non Commissioned Officers (SNCOs) formed the wing contingent in two flights, the spectacle was completed by the falling in of the Wing Banner into the ceremonial safety between the ranks, watched by the admiring Lord Lieutenant of Nottinghamshire, Sir John Peace resplendent in his ceremonial attire. The far side of the war memorial opposite shone as the sunlight caught the many medals of the massed members of the Royal British Legion who were accompanied by representatives of the Army Cadet Force and Sea Cadet Corps.
Following the haunting bugle call of The Last Post which floated across the green calling those present to silent attention, the notes caused the hairs on the neck to equally stand straight and more than one eye to water. Not a sound could be heard as a respectful 2 minutes silence took the memorial and parade in its grasp as bodies stood rigid and palms held a salute. Following this simple yet traditional act of solemn remembrance, wreaths were laid on behalf of Her Majesty The Queen by Sir John, her representative in the County of Nottingham, and Flt Lt Phil Bannister, representing the South and East Midlands Wing. As the notes of the Reveille signalled an end to the silence, banners were lifted and orders of preparation given as the parade began to move off towards the town and dignified majesty of Southwell Minster, itself gleaming golden in the setting sun, as the observing public provided applause.
100 years previously, at the height of the First World War, the Royal Navy found itself engaged upon its first major encounter since the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, as the German High Seas Fleet raised its battle flags and steamed into the North Sea ready to lure the British Grand Fleet to combat and challenge the age old belief that Britannia ruled the waves. May 31st 1916 saw the two battle fleets, 250 ships in total clash, as Dreadnought steamed against Dreadnaught, flags flying, smoke turning day into night as fire belched from massive guns causing untold destruction to take hold of proud capital ships. Aboard light cruiser HMS Chester, 16 year old Boy Seaman Jack Cornwall would earn the British Empire’s highest gallantry award, the Victoria Cross for his actions during the battle. With constant German fire being directed against the heaving ship, Seaman Cornwall remained at his post engaging the enemy while all around him lay dead men. He died two days later. By the end of that bloody battle the Royal Navy had lost 14 ships and over 6000 men while Germany 11 vessels and 2500 men. The German Imperial High Seas Fleet never again attempted to sail into a fleet action.
Within Southwell Minster, the Royal British Legion standards were proudly lay upon the alter as representatives of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces sat in quiet contemplation and sang the opening hymn, ‘For Those In Peril On The Sea’. Air Cadet Parade Commander Flight Lieutenant Jodi Hudson gave a reading on behalf of the Corps high lighting “outdo one another in showing honour” from Romans Chapter 12.
Towards the finale of the service, voices could be heard to be raised as they sang with heart and cause to the stirring sounds of the National Anthem and heads were held slightly higher with pride as the Union Flag was paraded high through the Minster before the congregation. Act of Remembrance complete, VIP guests including The Lord Lieutenant, Air Vice Marshall The Venerable Robin Turner CB DL and OC South and East Midlands Wing, Wing Commander Nigel Dickenson RAFVR(T) OBE carried out a short inspection of cadet forces upon leaving the service. The keen eye would note that the light blue footprint of the Royal Air Force was heavily evident as the Air Training Corps proudly represented the parent service and attracted much attention from the senior officers present. Parade Warrant Officer Warrant Officer (ATC) Rob Phillips commented, “this was a special centenary for our colleagues in the Royal Navy and Sea Cadet Corps and the South and East Midlands Wing provided a superb, smart contingent of highly trained and well turned out cadets to show our respect for the White Ensign and those that died in the service of the Royal Navy and their country at the Battle of Jutland. It is particularly sobering to think that Jack Cornwall VC was the same age as many of our cadets on parade, a fact I am sure was not lost on our number.”
As the sun finally set over Southwell Minster, the footsteps began to fade away on the stone path, a final mournful bugle call echoed across the ancient grave yard from green jacketed Robin Hood Rifles before silence once again took the memory of those lost in its arms for another year.
WO (ATC) Rob Phillips
(Photo credits Off Cdt Stair 504 SQN)