405 Squadron Air Cadets visit Meharicourt and Amiens

Saturday 19th Jul 2014

In the early hours of a July morning cadets from Darlington, Stockton, Middlesbrough and East Cleveland left for the 10 hour journry to France via the Channel Tunnel. we arrived in 30 degrees of heat and eventually were met by our Canadian guide who took us to the Memorial Park where we saw how close and small packed no-mans land was between the trenches, and were told there were still unexploded munitions below the surface. We then went on to the Canadian Memotial at Vimy Ridge, dedicated to Canadians serving in WW1. We were shocked by the statistics - 60,000 served and 11,000 died in France and a further 11,285 are missing as not having been found or identified. After the long day travelling and visiting memorials we eventually arrived at our hostel in Albert, mostly 3 to 4 in a room with bunk beds - standard rooms but all we needed! After a wash and new set of clothes we headed out in our flights, "Mannock" and "Ball", named after 2 WW1 soldiers and had dinner in a local restaurant. Afterwards we had some frree time which the band used to practice and other cadets to chill out for the following day.

Day 2 we were in the small French village of Meharicort where Andrew Mynarski VC is buried. The weather was not good - it had been raining so much that local market stalls were dragged down. It eventually cleared up for the small service in the Cemetery, attended by French, British and Australian ex and current personnel. We then marched through the town and were given great support and encouragement from the local people, including the Mayor M De Flandres.. After drinks and snacks we travelled to the nearby Thiepval Memorial which bears the names of 72,194  men missing in action in WW1, and were shown ththe Stone of Remembrance, also known as the war stone. Then onto the Newfoundland Memorial Park where we learned about the Battle of the Somme, especially the 29th Division who had the Red Triangle as their badge. We also swa the Caribou Memorial dedicated to this Regiment, and then on to the Lochnagar Crater Memorial in La Boisselle, which is a permanent man made crater created by a WW1 explosion. It was at that time the loudest man-made noise and allegedly could be heard in London.

Day 3 off to Belgium and first arrived at the "Christmas Tree" which allegedly was the point on December 25th 1914 where British and German soldiers stopped fighting on Christmas Day, put down their weapons and played football!  There were no recorded deaths during this short truce. There was a small memorial cross, which had footballs and poppies around it. We then went to Canadalaan Hill 62 to the  Memorial mainly to Canidians who suffered most casualties and deaths on 2nd June 1916 SE of Ypres. Our tour guide gave us an acting session in which we had lines to reenact the story of German and British troops on the front line, and he kindly gave us gummy bears as a reward for our Oscar like acting. We then set off for Messines Ridge a memorial to the men of New Zealand. After visiting Sanctuary Wood Museum we were given free time for shopping and ice creams!  Next was the Menin Gate where our nerves were kicking in for most of the time, but we kept it together and marched in to a crowd of nearly 2000 people. We played a faultless set and it was a good performance by all, and then waited 20 minutes,(which seemed like a lifetime), before the firemen gave their Last Post, which is done every night at 8pm. We marched off feeling really proud of ourselves, and took many photos as the Menin Gate is  a huge and popular event.

Day 4 was the one looked forward to without a doubt - Disneyland Paris!  Everyone was in a positive mood and many "selfies" were taken. We thought Disneyland was amazing, and we could now enjoy this afterworking so hard on our performances. We went on as many rides as possible and enjoyed Disneyland meals with the 2 food vouchers we each had been given. After this really tremendous day we returned to our hostel where we had free time before going to bed for the final time.

Day 5 was the final day of our trip and our last performance was to be in Darlington's Twin Town of Amiens. We were confident we could finish on a high note, and after a Civic Reception with the Mayor in Amiens Town Hall where they were so welcoming, with platters of finger food for us to enjoy before the performance. We had time to relax and enjoy the atmosphere, and were then interviewed for French radio. I was asked if I wanted to pursue a career in the Air Force and also what the First Worl War had meant to me, and what Amiens was like as a town. After this we played a good strong concert on a stage in the Town Centre and it was aired on French TV. Everyone should be proud in that we represented our Country and Towns, and no doubt made them proud too.. It was a great experience for us all and we had a brilliant time together.

Report by Flight Sergeant Lauren Maclintock.

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