Remembrance Sunday At A Venue In Belgium
On 30 May 1940 a force of seventeen Wellington bombers (10 from 38 Sqn) from RAF Marham took off to provide close ground support to the British Expeditionary Force as they withdrew from the beaches of Dunkirk. Fg Off Vivian Rosewarne and crew took off at 2225 in aircraft R3162; they were lost near the town of Veurne in Belgium and the six-man crew were killed.
What makes the story all the more poignant was that on 18 Jun 40, as The Battle of Britain was about to begin, The Times published an anonymous letter that struck a chord in a nation facing the prospect of invasion. It had been written by a young airman in a bomber squadron, to be posted to his mother in the event of his death. He was reported missing, believed killed, on 31 May, at the height of the Dunkirk evacuation. Within days of its appearance The Times received 10,000 requests from readers for reprints; by the end of the year more than 500,000 copies had been sold in Britain, the US and Commonwealth countries. The handwritten original in
The Times archives discloses the author to be Flying Officer Vivian Rosewarne, the pilot of a Wellington bomber, stationed at RAF Marham, Norfolk, whose death notice was eventually published 23 December 1940.
Believing the words to be a morale boost the letter was sent to The Times by his Station Commander, Group Captain Claude Keith, who found it among the missing airman’s personal possessions writing: “I sent the letter to the bereaved Mother and asked her whether I might publish it anonymously, as I feel its contents may bring comfort to other Mothers, and that everyone in the country may be proud the read of the sentiments which support ‘an average airman’ in the execution of his present arduous duties.”
Though I feel no premonition at all, events are moving rapidly and I have instructed that this letter be forwarded to you should I fail to return from one of the raids that we shall shortly be called upon to undertake. You must hope on for a month, but at the end of that time you must accept the fact that I have handed my task over to the extremely capable hands of my comrades of the Royal Air Force, as so many splendid fellows have already done.
First, it will comfort you to know that my role in this war has been of the greatest importance. Our patrols far out over the North Sea have helped to keep the trade routes clear for our convoys and supply ships, and on one occasion our information was instrumental in saving the lives of the men in a crippled lighthouse relief ship. Though it will be difficult for you, you will disappoint me if you do not at least try to accept the facts dispassionately, for I shall have done my duty to the utmost of my ability. No man can do more, and no one calling himself a man could do less.
I have always admired your amazing courage in the face of continual setbacks; in the way you have given me as good an education and background as anyone in the country; and always kept up appearances without ever losing faith in the future. My death would not mean that your struggle has been in vain. Far from it. It means that your sacrifice is as great as mine. Those who serve England must expect nothing from her; we debase ourselves if we regard our country as merely a place in which to eat and sleep.
History resounds with illustrious names who have given all; yet their sacrifice has resulted in the British Empire where there is a measure of peace, justice and freedom for all, and where a higher standard of civilization has evolved, and is still evolving, than anywhere else. But this is not only concerning our own land. Today we are faced with the greatest organized challenge to Christianity and civilization that the world has ever seen, and I count myself lucky and honoured to be the right age and fully trained to throw my full weight into the scale. For this I have to thank you. Yet there is more work for you to do. The home front will still have to stand united for years after the war is won. For all that can be said against it, I still maintain that this war is a very good thing: every individual is having the chance to give and dare all for his principle like the martyrs of old. However long the time may be, one thing can never be altered – I shall have lived and died an Englishman. Nothing else matters one jot nor can anything ever change it.
You must not grieve for me, for if you really believe in religion and all that it entails that would be hypocrisy. I have no fear of death; only a queer elation … I would have it no other way. The universe is so vast and so ageless that the life of one man can only be justified by the measure of his sacrifice. We are sent to this world to acquire a personality and a character to take with us that can never be taken from us. Those who just eat and sleep, prosper and procreate, are no better than animals if all their lives they are at peace.
I firmly believe that evil things are sent into the world to try us; they are sent deliberately by our Creator to test our mettle because He knows what is good for us. The Bible is full of cases where the easy way out has been discarded for moral principles.
I count myself fortunate in that I have seen the whole country and known men of every calling. But with the final test of war I consider my character fully developed. Thus at my early age my earthly mission is already fulfilled and I am prepared to die with just one regret: that I could not devote myself to making your declining years more happy by being with you; but you will live in peace and freedom and I shall have directly contributed to that, so here again my life will not have been in vain.
Your loving son
Honoured to represent RAF Marham and up hold the Station’s strong links with the Town, Sqn Ldr Steve Wood travelled to Veurne to take part in the Town’s Remembrance Day ceremonies including visits to the Cemetery where Fg Off Rosewarne and his crew are buried, and the church in Eggewaartskapelle, the burial site of a Lancaster crew of 103 Sqn which crashed on 28 May 1944. Present throughout the ceremonies were the Chief of Police, Chief Commissioner José Clauw and Mr Tony Gore, the son of Air Gunner Flt Lt Philip Charles Gore of 103 Sqn, who has been visiting the town every year for over 20 years.
Rounding off a very moving visit to Veurne, Sqn Ldr Steve Wood was privileged to be asked to lay a wreath at the Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing on the evening of Remembrance Day, and stated how incredibly proud he was to be able to mark the loss of so many Serviceman at a ceremony that has taken place every night since 1928. A humbling experience.
Lest we forget.