Tony Luckens BEM writes
27 members of the branch travelled to Zeebrugge to commemorate the 1918 raid this year and we were pleased to have our President, Lt. Gen. Sir Robert Fulton KBE, travelling with us on the coach. We also had our great friends from RMR London with us represented by the Commanding Officer Lt. Col. Jason Durup RM and WO1 Mick Wakeham RN. We picked up our two buglers Sgt. Kerry Silk and Cpl. Jo Barnes at Dover. That evening we had our normal superb dinner organised by our hosts the local Zeebrugge organising committee. Its our chance to mix with the locals who are always very appreciative and enthusiastic about us coming over each year and being part of the various ceremonies. Lt. Col. Chris Nunn OBE, accompanied by his lovely wife, Siobhan, had travelled a long distance from their home in France to be with us. There were a number of complimentary speeches and we then retired to the bar……..or went ‘ashore’….it was a late, late night. The next morning we mustered on the Zeedijk (seafront) and then marched on to our position by the memorial. As the ‘Detachment Commander’ I had a good view of our group and considering our eldest member was 88 years of age the marching was excellent and we put on a very good show all weekend. The weather was predicted to be stormy and as we stood by the memorial we was expecting the rain to come down with a vengeance at any minute, but we got away with it. However, the wind was very strong and it was whipping up the sand and, together with the low temperature, made standing there quite uncomfortable but we ‘did the business’ for the RMA and the Corps. Let me set the scene for our march off.
All golfers of long standing will tell you that a lot of golf is in the mind! For instance – if you are just about to tee-off and you have a lake in front of you and you think “don’t go into the lake’ LAKE is the last word the brain records and a very high percentage of the balls go straight in it! As there were no VIPs on parade we did not have it in the schedule for someone to take the salute so you can imagine my total surprise when at the last minute I saw the Belgian Marines in front of us doing an ‘eyes right’ I had about thirty paces….’Royal Marines Association eyes… (thought…what foot is the command given on…right or LEFT …….showing their true professionalism and experience, the detachment completely disregarded my ‘direct order’ and executed an eyes right! (that cost me a bottle of port the next day on the ferry!). We then went to Fisherman’s Cross to view The Mole, where HMS Vindictive deposited the Marines and Sailors onto Belgian soil who were then involved in a most vicious firefight. Over 200 troops were killed and over 350 wounded and the action resulted in 8 VC’s being awarded. We had a short ceremony by the plaque, which our Chairman, Jim Ellard MBE arranged to be erected in sight of The Mole.
That afternoon most of the branch had an afternoon in Brugge to do some shopping, have a meal and sample some Belgian beers. That evening, a good number then went ashore to a lively bar which has become a regular venue…that day happened to be the owners birthday, to which we were invited…..a free drink and seafood buffet….with ‘eat as much as you like’ oysters!! Talking about living it up….Another good evening/early morning followed. The next day, we attended a church service and wreath laying ceremony in the churchyard where there are a number of British and German graves. We then marched to Lord Keyes Square (Admiral Keyes was overall in charge of the raid) to lay a wreath. We then marched to the Town Hall for a presentation to the local schoolchildren….drinks and a lunch followed……..excellent food and a continuous flow of wine made for an excellent two hours……The coach back to Calais was unusually quiet. The weekend showed the RMA at its very best. The two buglers, Sgt.Kerrie Silk and Cpl Jo Barnes were superb…..they integrated immediately, were excellent fun socially and totally professional during the ceremonies. They were sound-perfect on the Zeedijk in spite of the testing conditions. We were all most impressed with you both ladies.