On Remembrance Sunday Nov 11, at the 11th hour a very special ceremony to remember Eugene Seghers, the Belgian pilot who lost his life when he intercepted a V1 bomb over Uckfield.
His selfless actions saved a large part of Uckfield from a disaster as the bomb was heading into the town.
Duncan Bennett lead the proceedings at the Eugene Seghers Memorial in the garden of the Highlands Inn, Ridgewood. He placed emphasis this year of the ending of World War 1 with the birth of the Royal Air Force.
On this day of remembrance, it is particularly poignant for us to think back to a century ago, when the guns finally fell silent across the Western Front.
For four years the misery of warfare had blighted those Flanders Fields so close to where an 8 year old Eugene Seghers was growing, having spent half of his young life under the shadows of battle.
It is possible to think that this young boy may have looked skyward and seen the early pilots flying their machines above him and been inspired to make it his future.
Those brave early flyers were making use of rapid technological progress, something that often accompanies periods of conflict.
When the Great War started, the Royal Flying Corps consisted of just five squadrons, one of which was equipped with tethered balloons for the purpose of observing enemy movement.
Their four, winged aircraft squadrons consisted of underpowered slow flying machines which did little more than provide a more mobile platform for artillery spotting.
They also provided an easy moving target for the enemy.
The early part of the war saw the life expectancy of the average combat pilot at around 40 to 60 flying hours before they could expect to be killed.
The horrors of the trenches meant that many men considered the risk worthwhile, rather than suffering the conditions experienced by those on the ground.
As time progressed, their machines and techniques developed until they had proven themselves as a potent fighting force in their own right, having progressed from being a mere reconnaissance tool to undertaking fighter and bombing missions that had a major impact upon the military and industrial strength of Imperial Germany.
The defensive potential of fighter aircraft was displayed at home too, with aircraft stationed for home defence against zeppelin and bomber attacks, including those of No. 78 Squadron being based near this location at RFC Blackboys, between 1916 and 1917.
In 1918, following a report by General Smuts, it was decided to merge the Royal Flying Corps with the less well-used Royal Naval Air Service to form a new branch of service which would be on a military footing at the same level as the Army and Navy.
Thus, one hundred years ago, the Royal Air Force was created.
The march of technology raced through the twentieth century, yet the resentments and unrest which had their roots in the Great War did not subside, until finally they once again boiled over to bring about the tragedy of the Second World War.
The swift fall of Europe in the second great war was brought about in no small measure by the technique of blitzkrieg or “lightning war”, the method of using a forceful air attack, backed up by a powerful mechanised land force.
Ironically, this technique had been copied by former Great War German Fighter Ace Herman Goring, who had witnessed the combined RAF and Army Tank Corps advances of the last 100 days of the previous conflict in 1918.
The German advance of 1939-1940 saw many displaced European pilots, including our Eugene Seghers fall back to England.
Once arrived, they quickly joined the Royal Air Force and began flying aircraft which were so far away from the old “string bags” which the young Eugene may have witnessed over the Flanders Fields of his childhood.
No sooner had these brave men had the chance to enlist, they were pressed into service alongside other pilots from Britain and its Empire, as well as volunteers from the USA to take part in the Royal Air Force’s finest hour, The Battle of Britain.
In the face of incredible odds, these brave young pilots flew sortie after sortie against a determined and well-equipped Luftwaffe.
This battle, where all reserves were utilised led to a remarkable victory which caused Hitler to abandon his plans to invade our shores.
The RAF would continue to play a vital yet often sacrificial role in the bombing of the might of German industry, a factor which undoubtedly starved their war machine of fuel and equipment and hastened the end of the conflict.
The end of the conflict was heralded by the allied invasion of Europe, which could not have taken place without the efforts, bravery and skill of RAF aircrew and pilots such as Eugene.
We as a town have a particular debt of gratitude to the Royal Air Force, for it was in their service that Eugene Seghers was flying that fateful afternoon in July 1944, the day he gave his life to protect the people of Uckfield below.
In 1945, as the world was welcoming the return of peace, four years of war-accelerated development had seen further great leaps in technological advancement.
We were now in the Jet Age!
Our Royal Air Force has continued to provide our nation with what has become our primary source of defence and attack – Air power.
There have been notable actions carried out by our RAF since the two world wars, the ability to quickly deploy aerial forces across vast distances has meant that the RAF are often the spearhead of any involvement.
As we reflect upon the first 100 years of the Royal Air Force, let us give thanks to all who have served since then and those who have given their lives or their health in the cause of peace and freedom.
Let us remember all of the forces on the ground and on the sea whom the Royal Air Force was originally formed to protect and support.
Let us remember all those who have been touched by conflict, the families and loved ones, the displaced and homeless, the innocents so often the victims of war.
Let us give thanks to those who still serve today, on land, at sea and particularly in this centenary year of its founding, those men and women of our Royal Air Force.
“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old,
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning,
We will remember them.”
Response: “We will remember them.”
Two Minutes Silence was held before the Reveille.
‘When You Go Home, Tell Them Of Us And Say,
For Your Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today.’
The memorial to Eugene Seghers was dedicated on the 26th July 2014 – listen here