Exercise Martine (Dickie’s Last Challenge)
Exercise Martine was the brain child of Squadron Leader (Sqn Ldr) Dickie James and was set to be one of his finest and last Staff Rides before leaving the RAF next year after completing 37 years service.
Exercise Martine was a staff Ride to visit the WWI battle fields and cemeteries strewn across Northern France and Belgium with the purpose to improve the fitness, courage and leadership of those personnel participating. In particular the places visited were the Somme, Ypres, Amiens and St Omer which saw some of the most significant battles of WWI resulting in a catastrophic loss of life.
The Team consisted of Sqn Ldr Dickie James as the Event leader ably assisted by Flight Lieutenant (Flt Lt) Ady Hargreaves as the 2IC, Mr Stu Wilkinson of BAE was the specialist tour guide, Chief Technician Bob Willis as the Purser, Sergeant Trevor Hart as the detachment Station Warrant Officer (SWO), Warrant Officer’s (WO) Steve Roberts and WO Paul Edwards. The rest of the team was made up of 20 Senior Non-Commissioned Officers and Other Ranks of all trades and backgrounds from across the Station.
Pre Exercise training began back in March with several ten mile walks being organised by the fine Senior Air Craftsman Tech (SAC(T)) Tommy Cooper who unfortunately was not able to make the trip to France. An important part of the preparation for the trip is the research undertaken by each individual into a particular aspect of WWI. The history and the places to be visited are researched and a 20 minute presentation (stand) is then delivered on site to the rest of the group. Additionally, all personnel participating in the Exercise had to attend at least one of the walks in order to prove their fitness and commitment prior to being afforded a place.
The expedition covered many of the WWI battlefields and historic sites. One of the most moving and thought provoking cemeteries was the Tyne Cott cemetery, due to its sheer size and number of war graves. It is the largest British war cemetery in the world, with 11,908 graves registered, making it a somewhat impersonal war cemetery – of this total 70% are unknown. On the wall at the back of the cemetery are the names of 34,927 soldiers who have no known grave and died from August 1917 to the end of the war – a continuation of the names inscribed on the Menin Gate.
Each day a Team Leader (normally of SAC rank) was allocated to plan and control the organization of events for the day, including overseeing of the delivery of the individual stands. All personnel involved gained a lot from the experience and it was clear to see both their confidence and ability to direct were significantly enhanced as the day progressed. (There are some budding SWO’s amongst the team!)
Of particular note were the superb efforts of our resident tour guide Stu Wilkinson, his extensive knowledge base and sheer passion for WWI was prevalent in his briefings. His graphic portrayal of events at the battle ground brought the area to life which otherwise would have been all but a picturesque landscape.
Finally after five adventurous and arduous days walking and cycling across beautiful French and Belgian countryside it was time for the team to have a well earned evening off, free to enjoy the sites and tastes of Arras. The only condition was that all personnel were to wear an extremely loud shirt, it was the oldies who appeared to lead the way with Sqn Ldr James coming up trumps dressing as an orange. One of the highlights of the evening was a special guest appearance by Magnum PI (Tom Selleck) and the infamous Captain Invincible (their real identity will remain a secret)!
We must not forget our intrepid support crew consisting of Chief Technician Nicholson and drivers Mr Joe Biddle and Tommy Eaves, their sandwich making skills were excellent; in contrast to their navigation skills – driving round and round in circles, I will comment no further! On behalf of all the participants of Exercise Martine I would like to say a very big thank you to Sqn Ldr Dickie James for organizing a most memorable staff ride. Hopefully there will be one last Staff Ride before his Service expiry date?
Written by WO Paul Edwards