Remembrance Day 2020
Remembrance Sunday took a hammering this year through all the Covid-19 restrictions. Parades were banned and gatherings discouraged at this most significant time of the year.
BACKFIRE Promotions, along with the York Inset Scooter Club, had successfully organised several events from September but, with the current restrictions, decided we should pare back our plans to commemorate this special day. Richard Smith, of York Inset. S.C.,agreed to explore possibilities for an intimate and discreet ceremony at my favoured memorial location, RAF Lissett, home to 158 Squadron, Bomber Command. The initial idea was to help raise funds to complete the installation of the York Normandy Veterans ‘memorial window’ at St Lawrence’s Parish Church in York. We had arranged to have two runs on Remembrance Sunday with invited,powered, two wheel riders, but decided to erron the side of caution and arranged bucket collection points to support the ‘memorial window’ appeal. Mike at Seaways Cafe, Fridaythorpe, installed two donation points as did Gemma, of The New Derwent Coffee Bar & Bistro in Stamford Bridge.
Ex Bomber Command and York Normandy Veteran, Douglas Petty, heard we were to mark the occasion at RAF Lissett and offered to attend with a wreath on behalf of the remaining York Normandy Vets: unfortunately, on the day, hewas unable to attend but his representative was on hand with the wreath.
I easily gained the support of four local pals, including John ‘Hodge’ Hawden, all with an orientation towards motorcycles. And the cherry on the proverbial cake? My old pal, John Gabbetis, jumped at the chance to be involved and play on this special day.
When I arrived at the Lissett Memorial, John was already there and putting the finishing touches to his chosen dress for the occasion, accompanied by his pal Ian Smith, who is ex RAF Police, also known as ‘snowdrops’ because of their white caps. I asked John to supply me with the details of his attire.
“On my head is a four feather bonnet and the cap badge is the Seaforth Highlanders. The tunic is military and the tartan is Cameron of Erracht Muted. Belt buckle is from WW1 and the horse hair sporran is roughly 100 years old. Footwear are standard military parade boots with white spats. The main components of the uniform were given to me by a very good friend and also a Pipe Major, Hag Taylor, who sadly is no longer with us.” John also proudly wears the badge of The Legion Riders.
A few exchanges of pleasantries and the dreaded question was asked: ‘Soo... what do you want us to do?! Ahh.... I was hoping to dodge this bullet and,miraculously, it would all just happen. Nooo.... and once more I looked for the most likely suspect to kick things off. ‘John... err how do you want to do this?’ Then, ‘Hodge’ exclaimed: ‘I hate bloody bagpipes!!’ His outburst was so funny, yet seemed to enforce my determination to make this thing happen and take ‘Hodge’ with me. As John marched up the incline towards the memorial sculpture accompanied by Ian, an eerie and solemn silence fell over all the folk gathered there. It was as if we were in the presence of something unquantifiable. Ian leaned forward to the base of the sculpture and returned to stand to attention diagonally opposite John and from nowhere the sound of the Last Post played to all assembled. John, positioned to one side wearing his Highland military uniform,complemented the vision and the memorial sculpture superbly. Then, like clockwork and following the laying of The York Normandy Veterans wreath, John struck up the pipes.
Tradition is something I’ve fought against over my time but as I arrive at an age many,unfortunately, couldn’t reach, I’m so grateful we can still make and share these quality moments. But before we all departed, we arranged those two beautiful motorcycles at the forefront of the monument and John offered his final rendition on the pipes.
Words can’t fully describe the emotions which received a serious stirring that day in November, on a lonely country lane in God’s Own County but the actions of all who attended are testament to just how special this day was and will remain for all of us.
A massive thank you to Richard Smith, Stuart Henshall, Neal Garfitt, Joy Harrison, John (Hodge) Hawden, John Gabbetis & Ian Smith for making this a Remembrance Sunday none of us will ever forget.