The 53rd International Military Pilgrimage to Lourdes
In May I was lucky enough to attend the International Military Pilgrimage to Lourdes for the second time and it did not disappoint.
Having been the previous year, I was happy to find that although the agenda was slightly different, the whole experience was thoroughly enjoyable.
In total there were about 150 people making up the British contingent consisting of all ranks from the three Services. Of this total 12 were from RAF Marham, eight of whom had been the previous year and were keen to return again. Arriving at the airport and meeting up with people I had encountered the previous year, ensured that the trip started off in high spirits, which only increased throughout the pilgrimage.
On arrival in Lourdes we got changed into uniform, which we stayed in for the duration of the visit. You did not feel out of place in uniform as all the forces did the same for the entire visit, including any off-duty time (this year there were about 21,000 Servicemen and women from 44 different countries!). Once changed we all formed up outside the accommodation for the first of many marches though the town of Lourdes accompanied by the band. The streets were duly lined with onlookers from other services and many locals, all clapping us as we passed, which gradually increased throughout our time there.
Each day we all formed up and, being a military pilgrimage, marched smartly down to the various Masses. It gave you time to think of what is really important and provided you with a better outlook on most things in life. For me though, the evenings were a particular highlight and one of the most social events I have ever been to.
The pilgrimage was set up shortly after the second world war with the emphasis on people from different forces around the world meeting up and getting to know each other. Every evening people from all the forces from around the world gathered around the main bridge in Lourdes to listen to the various bands playing in the streets.
On one of the evenings we got the chance to go up to Hosanna House (a hostel for Servicemen and dependants who need support to attend the Pilgrimage) for a BBQ and meet some of the remarkable people who stay there, all willing to join in and share their stories, which proved to be a very worthwhile and moving experience.
On both pilgrimages I have yet to meet anyone who does not like it and who doesn’t gain something from being on it. I was not surprised to see familiar faces from the previous year, as everyone has a fantastic time and, along with myself, looks forward to returning again and again. It is a truly remarkable event that everyone gains from and I hope to be able to attend the 54th next year.
By SAC Ben Pearson Tornado Support Sqn
HOSANNA HOUSE VISIT
On 22nd May 2011, whilst attending the 53rd International Military Pilgrimage to Lourdes in France myself and Cpl Caroline Routledge, together with other Service Pilgrims visited Hosanna House (a Charity Registered Hostel owned and managed by the Pilgrimage Trust, catering for young people and adults with special needs).
In addition to being treated to a fantastic barbecue and sharing stories with ex servicemen, we were entertained by the Band of the Royal Corps of Signals. We also met some truly amazing hostel guests, justifiably referred to as VIPs. Spending time with these ex service personnel and their relatives, whilst extremely humbling, was also very enjoyable and entertaining. In the short time spent there we made many new friends and enjoyed the experience tremendously.
During our visit we presented a cheque for £500 to the Hosanna House Group Leader, Mr Richard Tipping, raised through a collection from RAF Marham personnel attending the pilgrimage plus a donation from the Station Charities Fund.