For two reasons the Heligoland anniversary seemed an odd battle to commemorate. First it took place in December 1939 and this was 2018 ie 79 years since. But mostly because it was a disastrous first air experience, a failure in which far too many lives were lost, in daylight bombing and in formation flying. Both anomalies were answered and it turned out to be a remarkable gathering for many reasons.
First the date and the place – the Ely Remembrance service is the start of a Commemoration year culminating with an event 18 December 2019 involving the Runnymede Memorial and Brooklands Museum, 80 years since the December raid on Heligoland and Wilhelmshaven. The project is led by Jack Waterfall (from Ely), with Doug Aylward in charge of researching relatives. Here’s how Doug explained his and Jacks involvement in an email to me.
The H39 project leader Jack Waterfall and I shared a common bond with another Wellington (which was shot down July 1940 on bombing raid northern Germany, in Jever, with no survivors, but all given military burial by German air force) My relative was Douglas Lindsay, the pilot, and Jack’s uncle was the tail gunner. Jack then had a brainstorm about researching the Heligoland Bight air battle which was depicted in a painting presented to us by our German friends at Jever during the memorial plaque ceremony. Jack subsequently volunteered me as the RAF contact and so that’s where we are today, and I will definitely be there at Ely as part of the H39 welcoming team.
I’d had a talkative email communication with Doug, who gave meticulous corrections to my writing up of Richard’s life, which I felt happily obliged to execute often late at night, Doug signing himself off finally as Your “rascally” friend.
Michael drove us down, what luxury, while I caught up on these connections. We’d been sent an itinerary, so while we were on the A14 at 10.00 we could imagine them ‘Check Union Flag is flying…Check caterers are OK.’ We were entering the life of an organised army.
The view of Ely out from the flatlands of Ely marshes made us both gasp in surprise. It is a impressive and a massive building dwarfing the land and lives around. It reminded me of Rheims cathedral coming out of the French flat lands, and yes, once we got inside, reminiscent of tall Romanesque French vaulted arches.
In the Lamb, Ely, I texted Simon to say, having coffee in the Lamb, and he walked across from a table by the window to show me my text! In true Kellett fashion he’d done a complete reconnaissance of the area, having arrived with Belinda the night before, and could guide us to the Bishops House for the meet and greet. The Kelletts, who usually only meet at funerals (far too few weddings) were here in force. Pepita, who I had not seen for may be 30 years, with Wanda, on the ball and full of mischief, annoyingly hampered by needing to sit down occasionally. Pepita’s 14 year old son who I’d never met before. (Caroline not here due to car breaking down), Simon and Belinda. Tory, Peter and Jessica, who’d come by train. Michael put on his identity badge to be associated with the Kellett clan, and we entered the room with hour sweet spiced apple juice.
I met two families, both of men who died in the Heligoland raid. In fact it became clear that this remembrance was as much for these people as anyone, and it answered the second reason. 59 men had died on this one raid, and all would be commemorated today. As Richard himself concluded
‘It was a complete farce. We had no self sealing tanks, and silly 1stworld war chaffer guns, hopeless against the heavy flak we received. Two good things came out of this: no more day time raids and no more formation. Oh and we got rid of the C in C, Ludlow Hewitt’
The first family – Taylor? – had only just heard this October of the authentic reason for their relations death. The airmans wife (who was there) and family had all been led to believe he had died spreading leaflets over Germany. Finding out 3 months ago the real reason, over Heligoland, was not only more authentic but somehow more satisfying reason. They were still in a kind of shock.
The second family was the Wimberley’s. It was the little lad who I saw was looking at me, so I asked him about his relative. He thought about it, and said he wanted to find a piece of paper to show me. We found his family, his mother (Rachel) and her father who’s father had been the pilot in a Wellington, and the sole survivor of 6 man crew. He’d been taken a prisoner of war. Where? I asked. ‘Stalagluft 3’, replied Rachel doubtful how to pronounce it. ‘Why, I exclaimed, it was the same place as Richard, my uncle, was in. They must have known each other’. We exchanged our details. Her son, however, wanted to write down the connection. I wrote ‘Air Commodore, Richard Kellett’. Beside this he wrote: was in the same prison of war as Patrick Wimberley’. Michael captured this moment in a photograph.
We moved through the Gothic dog toothed arch down the great Romanesque nave of the cathedral, felt in awe, took some seats, and entered into the moving service. It began with the sound of an aircraft flying over, a Wellington no doubt. A Lutheran German Priest together with an English priest, shared the service, each taking it turn to read out the 59 names of those who died that December day, and a relative laid a poppy disc for a blessing. A trumpet sounded the last post.
We repared to the lady chapel, famous for having not one head left after Dawling?
Pleasure of meeting Doug (suggesting of ways to find lost file and medal) / Jessica found the only relative in Richard’s crew.