Many of you will know that our Rector, Eleanor Rance, has been fundraising to support the RAF100 Appeal. Here she writes of her experiences, using the posts from her Just Giving page. With online donations, Gift Aid and offline donations, Eleanor is delighted that she met her £1000 target. She’s hugely grateful to all those of you who have supported her.
Eleanor Ashton RAF100 Spitfire100k Challenge
These are my ‘diary entries’ on Just Giving’s fundraising page for the walk I have completed:
My T-Shirt has arrived! So that means when I do my next few kms I’ll be able to show people what I’m up to. I’ve been away in the States for a holiday, so my only official walk so far was at Kennedy Space Centre. Planned for the next few weeks are some walks to significant places in my parish- memorials and graves to RAF/RFC personnel for example, and then some walks on special days- but more of that as I do them. I’m so thrilled that so far generous donations have already brought me to £380! Thank you for all your support….
4km On this day, while I was serving in the RAF a young man called Lee lost his life in a road traffic incident, while training at RAF Cosford. So today I walked to remember him and his family. As I walked, I also remembered Rob & Pete who died early in 2007 and 2009, so their anniversaries aren’t covered by this period. I thought of the widow of Brian, who lived here in this parish and died in a flying accident. Finally, I paid my respects to the chap in the photo, who is buried in our churchyard. 90 years between them, none forgotten.
Finally in my t-shirt! Today we enjoyed a trip to Wroughton airfield, walking through the married patch, and thinking about the numerous people cared for at the old hospital. For me it was also an opportunity to remember those who lost their lives in the Lynx crash on 6th May 2006, and those who grieve them still 12yrs later. I know many of us who were at RAF Benson (and those at RNAS Yeovilton) at the time will never forget them or the weeks that followed their loss. May they rest in peace and rise in glory…that’s a padre thing to say.
Such a glorious day, I got out first thing, walking out of Shrewton, up towards Elston (officially another hamlet, belonging to Orcheston), and then back past this field. Every 16th December, we trudge up here through thick mud, just as the day begins to turn towards dusk. Then we can get onto the field itself, and we share a bottle of Spitfire beer, and remember Harry Birtles, who died when his Spitfire crashed on this field in 1941.Today’s walk was for Harry & countless others who have died in defence of our nation. Per Ardua ad Astra.
6th June, D-Day. I had to walk today! On this day in 1944, Padre Harding is reported to have ‘walked up and down the beach as calmly as if he were in church’. The beach was Omaha, and Padre Harding, an RAF chaplain, was later to receive the MC for his ministry that day. Not only did he tend the wounded and dying, but he also walked into the village, still under German control to negotiate a safe extraction of the wounded to the relative safety of beach beneath the cliffs. His response for walking not running ‘I’m inherently lazy…’
Yesterday, another 7km completed in bright sunshine and with my big sister for company! These foxgloves were the first I’ve seen this year. I am always struck by the peace of our villages, and how different it must have felt for servicemen from here surrounded by chaos and the mess of conflict. Today I remember Luke, a young man who died in August 2002 on a bright, calm summer’s evening. His loss reminded us all of how suddenly ‘ordinary’ life can change, and how precious is every moment we spend doing what we love, with those we love.
Sometimes life becomes unbearable. People might look at you & think ’employed, well paid, doing something worthwhile, settled with a family’, but they miss the stress, anxiety, or depression. Maybe they don’t realise your family life is in turmoil. Maybe they can’t grasp what it’s like to live & work in a war zone, to see friends injured or killed, to be scared every day but still get on with yr job. Today I remembered Paul who lost his life while in the RAF, and others who’ve lived with mental health stresses throughout their service lives.
This has been a massive, hectic, happy weekend for me. It marks (today) the day I was promoted in the RAF, and the day I had my son; (yesterday) my ordination 22 years ago; on both days, new ordinations of friends & colleagues. But 30th June is also the day on which, 18 years ago, three young men lost their lives on their way home for the weekend. Jason, Paul & Ian are the men I remembered yesterday as I buzzed between my various events (7k walked). Every year I remember them & their loved ones whose lives were changed forever that day.
I wanted to walk to this memorial today, 106 years after the men commemorated lost their lives in a flying accident near Stonehenge. Unfortunately I had other more pressing commitments, so I completed a far shorter walk and stopped at the cross to take a photo on my drive home from the crematorium. Although the RAF didn’t yet exist, these men and their peers with courage and skill paved the way for all who followed.
Today I walked up out of the village at about 9.30am. It was already hot & most of my route was in the direct sun. The mud track along which I was walking has turned to dust in recent weeks. I reckon today was a good 25 degrees below the temp in Iraq during July ’04. Then I spent a fair amount of time pottering about, reflecting on why we need chaplains. Then we lost a Puma, & we lost Kris. It was immediately clear why chaplains go on ops. It was a privilege to look after Kris and his friends. Today I think of all who serve in hostile places.
It’s done! I’ve completed my 100k walking in 100 days!!! Yesterday I remembered John Parker. He was attached to the RFC &, on 21st July 1915 the aircraft he was commanding was shot down. His pilot survived and became a POW. The Germans overflew their airfield and dropped a note to say John had died. These were the days of the Knights of the Air. John has a window dedicated to him in Tilshead, his village, and one of the churches in my parish. The inscription says ‘honoured by his friends, respected by his enemies’. A fitting epitaph for many.
These are the people I have remembered as I have walked my 100km:
Rob, 1st January 2007
Brian, 14th February
David 24th February 1919
Pete, March 2009
Lee, 24th April 2002
Stephen, 29th April 2000
Sarah & John, 6th May 2006
Padre Harding on Omaha Beach 6th June 1944
Paul, Jason & Ian, 30th June 2000
Capt Loraine & S. Sgt Wilson 5th July 1912
Kris, 19th July 2004
John Parker 21st July 1915
Luke, 14th August 2002
Paul, November 2001
Harry Birtles 16th December 1941
Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds- and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of;
wheeled and soared and swung high in the sun-lit silence.
Hovering there I’ve chased the shouting wind along,
and flung my eager craft through footless halls of air;
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace,
Where never lark nor even eagle flew;
And while, with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
John Gillespie Magee (1922-1941)