Commemoration service in Chapel Wood
On Tuesday 2nd July 2019, over 100 people gathered around the stone memorial in Chapel Wood, Ampfield to remember and honour the death of 5 United States airmen who tragically died when their Cessna Bobcat aeroplane crashed into the wood exactly 75 years ago. For a few minutes that sunny afternoon, the atmosphere in the woodland glade was transformed into something very special, which will long be remembered by all who were there.
The events of the afternoon commenced with a formal procession from the front door of St. Mark's Church. Led by the St. Mark's processional cross and escorted by a detachment from the United States Air Force, this made a grand sight as it moved through the churchyard and into the woodland. At the memorial site, the airmen formed a guard of honour, as our vicar, Reverend Victoria, commenced a moving, magical service of remembrance.
Assisting Rev. Victoria with the service was United States Chaplain Major Michael Carollo and USAF Major Kenneth French who read out the names of the deceased. Martin Vear read one of the lessons and Chris Penny read the poem 'High Flight', a pilot's tale of his experiences flying through the air until he 'touched the face of God'.
Perhaps, the most delightful contribution to the service was that made by the children of the Ampfield Church of England School. Five laid attractive floral posies in perfect symmetry around the base of the memorial and another, with great confidence, joined Steve White, an eye-witness to the crash 75 years ago, to provide the responses to the Act of Remembrance.
Afterwards, wreaths were laid on behalf of the armed forces, local government organisations and St. Mark's. The anthems, the Star Spangled Banner and the United Kingdom National Anthem were played, whereupon the assembled company dispersed to the sound of the Glen Miller Orchestra echoing through green woodland, as the leaves danced in the sunshine.
They did not disperse very far, however, as there was a tea laid on in the St. Mark's room, adjacent to the church. It was a lovely experience to watch the residents of Ampfield tucking into delicious home made cakes, provided by some of the ladies of the parish. It was an opportunity for people to catch up with old friends and make a few new ones. Our American guests slotted right in with everyone else as if they had lived here for years.
Duly refreshed, everyone went into the church to listen to an account given by Steve White of the events of 75 years ago. He was so vivid in his descriptions it was almost as if we were all there!
This was followed by two fascinating presentations given by Martin Vear and Chris Penney. Martin is the real instigator of these events as it was he that found a small piece of metal in Ampfield Wood, some thirty years ago, and with the help of his school chum, Chris, pieced the story together. Their persistence and investigative skills allowed them to reunite the families of the five young airmen that died with the personal possessions of their loved ones.
However, more than that it has also helped us to remember two additional important lessons. The first is that it is amazing what can be achieved when a community, the church and the civil authorities, come together to act in one common cause. The second is that, as the mayor of Test Valley put it in his closing remarks, it does not matter who is in no.10 Downing Street or the White House; it is the firm friendship between the American people and ourselves that really binds our two great democracies together. Never was either of those facts more evident than in our woodland and church last Tuesday afternoon.