On Remembrance Sunday Nov 10, 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.
Nicola Bennett lead the proceedings at the Eugene Seghers Memorial in the garden of the Highlands Inn, Ridgewood.
The address spoke of the 75th anniversary of both the D-Day landings and their strong link with Uckfield, as well as the sad loss of the Brave Belgian pilot.
Thank you for attending this morning’s simple act of remembrance and for braving the wet ground conditions.
This year we particularly remember two events, both inextricably linked, which took place in the summer of 1944.
The first of these was D-Day, when well over 150,000 allied troops began the difficult and dangerous invasion and push into Normandy.
Uckfield was an important staging post prior to D-Day, with “Marshalling Point J7” established at Buckham Hill.
Here, thousands of troops and their equipment camped and prepared to move on to their ports of embarkation.
Eugene Seghers and his RAF squadron comrades were busy engaged in armed reconnaissance and beachhead defence sorties over Normandy.
After four years of exile, Eugene must have been bolstered by a sense of determination that, if successful, the allied forces would soon be at a point of liberating his homeland, meaning he could once again return to his beloved Belgium in freedom.
The story of D-Day is a fascinating one in terms of strategy, planning and deception.
I particularly need to mention an important Uckfield link at this point.
Colonel Rory Macleod, who some may remember as Churchwarden at Holy Cross in the Seventies, commanded the fictitious 4th Army as part of “Operation Fortitude”, which was an elaborate rouse to make the Nazi’s think that a greater force would land along a much wider front.
This caused them to spread their defensive capability much more thinly than was actually necessary and was a major contribution to the success of the invasion.
Sadly the dream of going home never came true for so many combatants in Normandy.
It is reckoned that 100,000 were killed on both Allied and German sides during the Normandy Campaign, plus around 20,000 French Civilians perished also, many of them victims of allied bombing, which was deemed tragically necessary to secure the overall success of the mission.
With the invasion and push into France progressing well, Eugene’s skill and experience as a pilot was seen to be required in another area.
One of Hitler’s desperate responses to the invasion was to unleash what he termed his “Vengeance Weapons”.
The V1 was an early pulse jet propelled missile with a very basic guidance system and carried a massive 850Kg of High Explosive.
Seghers and his speedy Mk14 Spitfire was assigned to tackle these flying bombs and posted to RAF Deanland.
Eugene was killed in action defending Uckfield from one of these weapons on the 26th of July, and along with him died his hopes of seeing his home once more.
So our second point of Remembrance is for him and we give grateful thanks for his ultimate sacrifice.
We also remember all of those other men and women who never saw their homes again because of conflict.
We think of all of those touched by conflict and whose suffering never stops.
Freedom from fear and oppression sometimes comes at a terrible price, and this is often the loss of some of the youngest and most capable in our society.
Let us remember them and leave here today with added resolve to work towards a world where the lessons of history are not forgotten.
In a moment, at 11 am, the last post will sound and we shall join the rest of our nation in observing the two-minutes silence.
Following reveille, I invite those with wreaths and other tributes to lay them at the memorial.
“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.’
Images (c) Christine Skinner
The memorial to Eugene Seghers was dedicated on the 26th July 2014 – listen here