Ypres 75th Liberation Ceremony

Today marks 75 years since Ypres was liberated by the Polish armies, and the responsibility for sounding the Last Post transferred from Brookwood back to Ypres.

When Ypres was occupied in 1940, the daily service ceased. Mr. Edgar Ashley Cook, MBE, a successful Woking businessman (and a WWI veteran) heard about this and was upset by the stoppage. Together with a group of friends, he formed an organisation to replicate the Ypres service and the Surrey Last Post Association was born.

The first service was held in Brookwood Cemetery in January 1941.  Captain GFW Wilson, DSO, RN was the first President. Despite the difficulties of those dark days and other commitments, the service was held as regularly as possible for the next four years.

On the 6th September 1944 the Poles rolled into Ypres and the nightly ceremony was restarted under the Menin Gate. Tonight’s ceremony was the 27,393th uninterrupted nightly ceremony held at the Menin Gate since the liberation.

Four Members of the Brookwood Last Post Association were at the ceremony tonight in Ypres. Our Chairman, Kevin Davis, Senior Standard Bearer, Tom Milne, Standard Bearer Eddie Jones and Treasurer, Stephen Wood. Our Chairman said the Kohima Epitaph.

We are extremely proud of Brookwood’s links to the Last Post Association and humbled by our involvement today.

September Last Post

The September Last Post was a Jewish themed ceremony with the Israeli Ambassador, Mr Mark Regev in attendance.

Paul McCue of the Secret WW2 Learning Network led tributes to a number of Jewish people lost in WW2, including the 23 Jewish volunteers for OPERATION BOATSWAIN, mounted jointly by the Special Operations Executive and the Palmach in May 1941. All 23, and their British liaison officer, Major Sir Anthony Palmer, are commemorated on Brookwood’s Memorial to the Missing 1939-45. In particular, and on behalf of Ambassador Gershon Gan, we remembered his cousin Amiram Shohat, one of the 23.

Our Individual Remembrance remembered the other Jewish agents of SOE and especially Captain Enzo Sereni and Ensign Denise Bloch, both also listed on the Memorial.

We welcomed family members, one of whom had come from New Zealand, of Flying Officer Ernest Fooks RNZAF and Warrant Officer Terry Riordan. Both had been commemorated, along with their crew members, the previous day (31st Aug) by the unveiling of a memorial where their aircraft crashed, following a mid-air collision, close to Dunsfold aerodrome, Surrey.

We also remembered the brother of Ernest Fooks, Pilot Officer Harry Fooks, who was killed in a flying accident 21 July 1941 and who is buried close to his brother, in plot 2, row F, grave 7.

Our Standard Bearer was Mr Alan Lopez, our bugler was Ms Taz Beattie, our Parade Marshal was Ian Cartwright and Mr Rob Bennett officiated over the ceremony.

Afterwards we retired to the Trench Experience for a cup of tea.

August Last Post

Today before the monthly ceremony, Members of the Brookwood Last Post Association visited the Woking Peace Garden on Horsell Common.

BLP Members at the Peace Garden, Horsell Common, Woking.

Our ceremony today was a multi-faith ceremony with representatives from the Baha’i, Buddhist, Hindu, & Jewish faiths, all reciting verses and prayers. The Mayor of Woking, Cllr Beryl Hunwicks was in attendance.

We remembered Flying Officer Arthur Tindale and Soldato Riccardo Pisillo,

Flying Officer Arthur Tindale, 406605 Royal Australian Air Force, serving with 267 Sqn RAF, died in an accident 4 August 1944, aged 33. A former pupil of Guildford Grammar School, Guildford, Western Australia. He is buried at plot 4, row O, grave 8.

Soldato (Private) Riccardo Pisillo, 66853 Italian Army died 4 August 1944. He is buried at plot 16, row C, grave 8.

Rob Bennett and Bert Steed ran the ceremony. Mandy Johns sounded the Last Post, Alan Lopez carried the BLP Standard, and Paul McCue of The Secret WW2 Learning Network read out the individual remembrances.

Afterwards we retired to the Trench Experience for refreshments.

July Last Post

Today we remembered the contribution that people from the Muslim faith have given to conflicts and those who paid the ultimate price.

A large gathering of Muslims and others paid homage to WW1 Muslim soldiers by visiting the Muslim Plot at the Military Cemetery and then joining us for our Remembrance ceremony.

The prayer was led by Imam Hafiz Hashmi -the Head Imam of the historic Shahjahan Mosque. Major Mohammed Naveed – Armed Forces Muslim Association gave a brief talk on the Muslim involvement of the Indian Army in the British Armed Forces past and present.

Our Individual Remembrance was read by Dr Zafar Iqbal for Sepoy Sikander Khan, who is buried in the Muslim plot.

Our Standard bearer was Alan Lopez and our bugler was Ruth Moore.

We were extremely honoured to have the Gordon’s School Pipes and Drums band attend and a lone piper performed the Piper’s Lament as his final act for the school.

The service was concluded with an inspection of the Standards by Major Mohammed Naveed and singing of the British National Anthem. Afterwards everyone went round to the Trench Experience for refreshments. Photos by Kevin Barker.

June Last Post

Today, there were many people to see several organisations parade their Standards in memory of the fallen. In addition to the BLP, there were Standards from the Artist’s Rifles, multiple Scout groups and we were honoured by the WAAF/WRAF/RAF(W) Association mobilising their Standards.

We remembered two individuals. S/L Dickie Leven was a bomber pilot at Dunsfold and flew alongside eight Dutchmen, from 320 Sqn, Royal Dutch Naval Air Service, operating as part of the RAF’s 139 Wing at Dunsfold.

We also remembered Captain Arthur Steele of the French Section, Special Operations Executive. Captain Steele of the MONK circuit in Marseille, was executed at Buchenwald concentration camp in September 1944 and is remembered on the Memorial to the Missing 1939-1945, Brookwood Military Cemetery. Supporter of the Secret WW2 Learning Network, Carole Yeats travelled from Southampton to honour the memory of Captain Steele. Carole’s father had served with Steele in the pre-war band of the Royal Artillery before their ways parted when Steele volunteered for the SOE. Carole was invited to read the Exhortation as part of the Last Post ceremony.

In a rare appearance and the first time in almost a year, the BLP Union Flag was paraded by Mrs Sue Stallard. The BLP Standard by Alan Lopez. Mrs Ruth Moore was a bugler and Bert Steed was our padre.

Mrs Tracy Watson, Chair of the WAAF/WRAF/RAF(W) Association was invited to inspect the Standards at the end of the ceremony before we went round to the Trench Experience for some refreshments.

May Last Post

Today, with around 30 people in attendance, we ran the long ceremony. The Mayor of Woking, Cllr Will Forster was in attendance for the third time during his mayoral year for which we are grateful.

We remembered Ronald William Poulton Palmer of the 1st/4th Bn Royal Berkshire Regiment. Son of Professor Edward Bagnall Poulton and Mrs. Emily Palmer Poulton, of Wykeham House, Oxford. Captain of the England Rugby Football XV in 1914. He was 25 years old when he was killed on 5th May 1915. He is buried in plot B.11 in the Hyde Park Corner (Royal Berks) Cemetery, Hainaut, Belgium.

Mr Rob Bennett was our reverend, Mrs Sue Stallard, our Standard Bearer, Mrs Ruth Moore, out bugler and for the first time, Mr Ian Cartwright our Parade Marshall.

Afterwards we retired to the Trench Experience and caught up with a troop of Czech Republic Scouts that had attended a ceremony elsewhere in the cemetery.

April Last Post

Today we were joined by Beavers, Cubs and Scouts from Horsell who brought with them two Standards and were impeccable on parade. There were seven Standards on parade and we had around 40 people in total.

Paul McCue from the Secret WW2 Learning network read the poem ‘After the soldier’s funeral’ by Samuel Francis Smith (1808 – 1895) and performed the Individual Remembrance.

We remembered Charles Milne Skepper, born on 26 February 1905 in Richmond Surrey. He was a gifted linguist, speaking German, Spanish, French and Chinese.

In 1939 he volunteered for military service in Britain and was later in charge of the propaganda broadcasting station of the British Ministry of Information in Shanghai. In 1942 he applied to join the Special Operations Executive (SOE).

Skepper was flown into occupied France by a Lysander of the RAF’s 161 (Special Duties) Squadron, from RAF Tangmere, on 17 June 1943 to work with the French Resistance. He organised a number of significant acts of sabotage, but was arrested with others of his team, and local French helpers, on 23 or 25 March 1944.

It is not known precisely what happened to Skepper but a year after the war had ended, Skepper’s death was officially recognised by the War Office on 28 October 1946, where it was recorded as ‘Presumed died while in enemy hands on or shortly after 1 April 1944’.

Our padre was Bert Steed, our bugler was Mrs Ruth Moore and our Standard bearer was Mrs Sue Stallard.

Afterwards most of us went round to the Trench Experience for refreshments.

Original biography of Charles Skepper by Chris Husbands, Emeritus Reader in the Department of Sociology at LSE. Photos by Kevin Barker.